The Common Scold

The Common Scold is named after a cause of action that originated in Pilgrim days, when meddlesome, argumentative, opinionated women who displeased the Puritan elders were punished by a brisk dunk in the local pond. Believe it or not, the tort lasted until 1972, when State v. Palendrano, 120 N.J. Super. 336, 293 A.2d 747 (N.J.Super.L., Jul 13, 1972) pretty much put it to rest. But the thought of those feisty women, not afraid of a little cold water, has always cheered me up and inspired me. I first used the moniker as the name of my humor column at the University of San Francisco School of Law many moons ago, and revive it now for this blawg!



Jargon_2Huge thanks to the Legal Sales & Service Organization, and especially to Silvia Coulter and Catherine Alman MacDonagh, for inviting me to keynote this morning at the second annual RainDance conference. I had an absolutely wonderful time, and the audience was so very warm and supportive.

During my presentation, I issued a challenge to law firm sales/marketing/bizdev folks, and I'm going to recite it here as well. I challenge you to STOP USING JARGON. It's bad enough in the technology arena, but it's starting to creep into bizdev presentations as well.

Here's why I care so passionately about this: You all face one hell of a battle. You have to first win the hearts and minds of your lawyers before they are going to trust you to help them work with existing clients and future clients. If you use jargon, you create walls, not bridges. And you desperately need to bridges if you are going to convert law firm leadership to the brave new world -- where firms operate more like corporations than private clubs.

Remember an essential reality: No one -- especially a lawyer -- likes to admit that he or she doesn't understand a presentation. When I wrote this "Fear Factor" article about how few lawyers are using trial technology, after talking to just a few folks for the story, it became obvious that one of the reasons why lawyers resist technology is that they simply don't understand how it can help them service clients better, faster, and cheaper.

Why? Because the vendors don't speak English. They talk robotically with so much jargon and so many meaningless cliches that they simply overwhelm the lawyers, who are too embarrassed to tell them that they don't have a clue what the vendors are talking about.

Think I'm kidding? Trust me, I deal with this every day. I get zillions of press releases that sound like this:

"The Widget Company, the world's leading provider of scaleable, mission-critical enterprise applications, has released WiDget 5.3.2(a)XS, our robust, client-centric solution, now available in blue, pink and purple form factors."  I'm truly not exaggerating.

Here are some examples of jargon that you simply must jettison:

-- Strategic planning:  Who in their right mind would do NON-strategic planning?

-- Client-centric. AKA client-focused. Oh please. Who is going to offer services that AREN'T geared toward clients. Are you going to offer opposing-counsel-centric services?

-- Leverage: Only on rare occasions have I ever heard this word used appropriately.

-- Silly capitalization: I have big news for you: the word firm is NOT a proper noun. The only time it should be capitalized is when it is the first word of a sentence.

--Value-added: Is there an industry that doesn't use this ridiculous term? It SOUNDS like something you would negotiate when buying a car.

--High-impact: See value-added.

--Initiative/enterprise/implement: yawn.

-- Deploy: We're law firms, not military operations. Enough said.

-- Seamless: Since when did we start sewing in legal organizations?

--Solution: Hands down, the biggest cliche and most overused and worthless word on the planet. Good only in math class, chemistry, or when you give up and call Nanny 911 because you can't stop your two-year-old's temper tantrum. It is NOT a marketing, legal, or technology word. It says absolutely nothing. The word solution is banned (except for company names) in any publication I manage.

O.K. Those are the words. Here are examples of how they are abused in marketing/bizdev, taken directly from the LSSO conference and handouts: 

The first example appeared on a PowerPoint slide. I will send a gift pack of Peets' coffee to the first person who can translate it:

"Our solution: to sell our ability to leverage efficiency."


Here are more examples from LSSO handouts, (company names and IDs excised to prevent humiliation):

* "The [company name] is the leading provider of high impact strategic market research....."

* "[Company name] provides high-impact information and workflow solutions ...."

* "we have helped clients develop and implement creative marketing and advertising solutions..."

* "Specialists in developing business solutions..."

* "[Product] is your law firm's suite of services for strategic business development."

* "Establishing metrics to align sales and service strategies with key client initiatives."

* "The strategic objective is competitive distinctiveness."

*"She created the only widely disseminated research initiative on strategic marketing perceptions..."

Hello!!!! I challenge each and every one of you to start using plain English. I guarantee you that if you use plain English, you will generate more "Helen Keller" moments when you try to convert lawyers. Speak in English, eschew jargon, and you WILL get them to drink the Kool-Aid of marketing and biz dev.

Try it! They will like it! And you'll get a promotion instead of a pink slip.

Update: Bob Ambrogi takes issue with my quarrels with the word "seamless." And Al Nye rightfully teases me that "biz dev" is jargon! OK OK -- business development :)  Guilty as charged!  THANKS guys!

More feedback: Stephen Barrett, of Testa Hurwitz & Thibeault suggests we all visit this hysterical site: Herring & Waffleman - "A Truly Great Company. With a Truly Lengthy Mission Statement."  Curt Meltzer of Dorsey sent me a spot-on Dilbert cartoon but copyrights prohibit me from putting it here so ask him to e-mail it to you. And Jim Hassett, of The Advertraining Group Inc. just launched his own blog, with very kind words about my keynote, here.

Another update: Larry Bodine has a terrific write up of the LSSO keynote here.

June 14, 2005 | Permalink


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"I challenge you to STOP USING JARGON. It's bad enough in the technology arena, but it's starting to creep into bizdev presentations as well."

Monica, are you saying that jargon is creeping into the "bizdev" presentations -- oh my!


Posted by: Al Nye | Jun 15, 2005 10:35:20 AM

Since at least the '70s, with with the advent of the American Lawyer and the gospel of Steve Brill, law firms have looked to the business world for ways to better manage and market their firms. In addition, they've told clients to think of them more as business partners rather than someone they call to close the barn door after the horse has bolted. In both cases, lawyers have learned to speak the language of big business, which includes words like "strategic planning," "value-added," and "leverage." Maybe "res ipsa" and "nunc pro tunc" "create walls not bridges," but not the words and concepts you mention.

Posted by: Sam Adler | Jun 22, 2005 10:17:08 AM

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