In the June 19 Wall Street Journal online article “This Embarrasses You and I, Grammar Gaffes Invade the Office in an Age of Informal Email, Texting and Twitter,” the author, Sue Shellenbarger, discusses the workplace implications for a “looseness with language [that] can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors.”

LESSONS FROM THE ARTICLE . . .

Does the younger generation’s writing style reflect a skills gap or a new norm? 

The intense and seemingly constant attention many bring to texting and social networking has given rise to a shockingly casual approach to grammar, writing and editing, contend authors, consultants, recruiters and human resources managers.

Grammar gaffes are at epidemic proportions. Donald Silver, CEO of Ft. Lauderdale communications firm, Boardroom Communications, confesses that he imposed a 25-cent fine on new hires for each grammatical offense.  “I am losing the battle,” he says.

Bryan A. Garner, attorney, lexicographer, editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary, and president of LawProse, requires all job applicants at his consulting firm, even those who move boxes, to pass spelling and grammar tests before he will hire them.  He requires employees to have at least two others copy-edit and make corrections to their work before it goes out.

At a recent meeting of the Metro Philadelphia chapter of the LMA, a leading recruiter of law firm talent shared that her firm gives writing tests to attorneys (some of their law firm clients do as well) before moving them to the next step in the recruitment process.

Is there a fix?

Should managers step in and correct mistakes?  Should firms implement training programs?  Should they screen more effectively?  Is it about lack of skill?  Or, is it generational and about a new normal?

The article states that at firms where most employees are in their 20s and 30s, these questions do not come up.  “Sincerity and clarity expressed in ‘140 characters and sound bytes’ are seen as hallmarks of good communication―not the king’s grammar.”  And those are the people, they say, who will succeed.

LESSONS FOR THE LAW FIRM . . .

It’s all about the client.  It is always about the client.

Do the old rules still apply for law firms?

We are paid to walk in our clients’ shoes.  We are frequently measured on language, paid on language, hired for our skill with language.  In part, the practice of law is about language.

What do clients want to see from their law firms? 

    • Accuracy
    • Attention to detail
    • Due diligence/standard of care 
    • Anticipating and exceeding expectations 
    • Respect that our time is their dollar

 

If we agree that the rules still apply, then it becomes quite simple.  Use the same high standards across the board, at all levels, whether communication is internal or external, client-directed or non-client-directed.  Treat all communications as if they are attorney work product because you and your firm can be judged by your most important audience by what you say and how you say it. 

If this is an issue for you, how do you get started?

  • √  Develop a set of standards
  • √  Come up with a system for checking and proofing work
  • √  Create a consequence for continued inaccuracies