Posted in What not to do

How to fail at communication: song and dance

Some things benefit from the addition of music and dance.

Corporate, professional communication… not one of them!

I suspect Siemens will survive this naff folie de grandeur. One of the greatest mysteries of capitalism is the way that companies can say and do boneheaded things while their business sails imperviously on.

Even so, it has set an example to companies everywhere of how silly you can look when you ignore three basic rules of corporate communication.

The first says large companies must never turn to song. There is not a single example of a business putting its values to music without mass humiliation.

Read more: AFR, 15 May 2016

Posted in Uncategorized

Tickets: Situational Reasonableness

The other night, I went to Rod Laver Arena to see Black Sabbath on their final tour, The End. It was epic. So awesome. And it was great to see a diverse crowd of metalheads, families of several generations, older couples in the “smart casual” dress (that looked so out of place next to the metalheads, to be honest!) and middle aged folk who had grown out of their rebellious youthful phase but wanted to see the band of their childhood/teenage years.

Sabbath rocked so hard.


But my night was almost ruined by people complaining. The situation was sorted out, thanks to the help of a wonderful security guard, but it did give me inspiration for a new blog post:

What is “reasonable conduct” for various ticketed events? 

What things should people bear in mind before complaining about someone else’s conduct? 

Or to be put it more plainly: if you are complaining about someone standing up and rocking out at a rock concert, are YOU the problem instead?! 

Continue reading “Tickets: Situational Reasonableness”

Posted in Social impact of words

Default: male — language: a feminist guide

I highly recommend reading this blog.

English as a modern language has a problematic default to gender binary. While it is grammatically correct to use the neutral “they” to refer to a person who does not identify as male or female, or is in transition between one gender to another, or plans to remain gender fluid, it is awkward and sounds odd. It requires the speaker or writer to consciously remember to alter all verbs to the third person plural conjugation, and makes your language feel clunky and unwieldy. He or she is easier. It is depersonal, and in that depersonalisation is entirely offensive and inappropriate to use as a pronoun for a transgender or gender fluid person.

Why does all of this matter?

Because everyone has the right to self determination. It’s the first article in all major international human rights law treaties, and is a strong point of liberal democratic philosophy. You have the right to determine how you will live, who you are, how you present to the world.

But sadly, for many transgender or gender fluid people, the grammatically difficulties of using non-gender specific language adds to the transphobic bias in general society. Language is a powerful tool for social engineering: think of the evolution of racist, homophobic or transphobic taunts over time and how often these words, such as ‘nigger’, ‘fag’ or ‘tranny’ were once commonplace.

LANGUAGE MATTERS. So be a responsible person and use appropriate language when dealing with transgender or gender fluid people.

Better yet, refuse to buy into the gender binary: use gender non-specific words wherever possible. 



On Twitter recently, the British Green Party’s women’s organization explained why it had chosen to refer to its constituency as ‘non-men’ rather than ‘women’. This inspired an outbreak of the kind of mockery and parody Twitter excels in. ‘What’s all this in my mentions about the non-blue party?’ inquired one user. Others urged the immediate […]

via Default: male — language: a feminist guide

Posted in Uncategorized

Communicating via Interpreters

In a multicultural society, it is highly likely that any Australian lawyer will need to communicate with clients who do not speak English well.

Unless you can communicate in your client’s language clearly and effectively, then your best bet is to use an interpreter. And frankly, having seen lawyers from bilingual backgrounds also use interpreters because they aren’t confident that they can adequately interpret to a standard that would be recognised by the courts, I would err on the side of caution on this one if you have any doubts. Unless you are 100% totally fluent in the other language, hire an interpreter. You need to be able to ensure that you can prove your instructions were obtained properly, when it all boils down to it.

Continue reading “Communicating via Interpreters”

Posted in Interview techniques

Awkward Conversations

Many of the conversations we need to have with clients as lawyers involve awkwardness. We need to pry into details that most people who much prefer to keep private. We need to be satisfied of capacity to give instructions, continually check that the client understands what is happening, and confront the client with uncomfortable truths and legal advice – all without sounding like a patronising arse.

It’s… difficult!

What are ways to lay down boundaries and explain why we are asking awkward questions that can maximise client rapport, instead of diminishing it?

Continue reading “Awkward Conversations”

Posted in Uncategorized

What the client wants to hear versus what you need to say

Everyone’s been there. The client is adamant about something, and the lawyer needs to break that delusion with a cold hard dose of reality. How do you balance maintaining authority and credence, while maintaining a good rapport?

This is hard, and something that I have learned the hard way. What I want to discuss in this blog post is the importance of balancing your professional duties to provide accurate and reasonable legal advice, with the rapport and relationship building between lawyer and client when the client adamantly refuses to accept your advice.

My examples will be from criminal practice, as that has been the bulk of my experience and the area where this has arisen most starkly.

Again, I reiterate: I am no expert. But these are the things I have learned, sometimes through training or collective observations in a team, and sometimes the hard way by making the mistake myself, and learning from it.

  1. Rapport with a client is important, but you are not their friend, you are their lawyer. Ensure the client always understands this distinction.
  2. Empowering the client to make an informed choice is a much better framework than “I am a lawyer and my way is right.”
  3. When a client starts showing resistance to sensible advice, you need to make a choice about how to proceed next, and file note the hell out of all of your discussions with the client!

Continue reading “What the client wants to hear versus what you need to say”

Posted in Uncategorized

The basics: Opening Letters

Communication is a Two Way Street

Communication entails a two way process: it means to transmit or impart knowledge via written or spoken words or non-verbal cues, and to “succeed in conveying informationand “evoking understanding” in the audience.[1] Logically, speaking or writing without considering if the audience has understood the message to be imparted is not communicating, yet this is exactly what so many lawyers appear to do.[2]

The expectation that clients are to have their case’s progress clearly communicated to them, in a manner that they understand, is a common principle in professional ethics and legal practice rules.[3] In the same way that someone who is not a fan of football might be entirely lost in a description of the offside rule,[4] it is useless when lawyers speak to their clients in waffle, or deliberately use terms that they should know the client does not understand.

Continue reading “The basics: Opening Letters”

Posted in Uncategorized

New blog!

I am a lawyer, who was born and raised in Devonport, Punniilerpanner country, and now living and working in Melbourne, on Wurundjeri country.

I am passionate about plain language. It drives me up the wall that so many lawyers speak and write without thinking about how the terms they are using don’t actually make sense.

I hope to encourage lawyers and law students to think about the language they use, and improve their communication.