2_4_DiscoverBenelux_Issue20_August_2015_Q10.qxp_Scan Magazine 1 24/07/2015 14:40 Page 60
Discover Benelux & France | Business | Columns
What communicates? TEXT & ILLUSTRATION: JOSIAH FISK
Are lawyers terrible writers? Depends on how you measure. We all know that lawyers write long, convoluted, jargon-packed documents just to confuse the rest of us, right? Well, not quite. We nonlawyers may find legal documents confusing all right, but that’s generally just an unintended consequence. For most lawyers, job #1 is protecting the interests of the client. The documents they write are essentially just tools for accomplishing that goal. Whether any non-experts understand the document is not so important. But what if lawyers did write in plainer language? Would it help their business? Might it even make life easier for them in certain ways? Tialda Sikkema believes the answer is yes. A faculty member at the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, she trains budding law students how to design, structure and write legal documents. The Netherlands has long been a leader in plain language, in part because it sees accessibility of the law as a civil right. Thus it is one of the few places where you will find someone like Sikkema: a non-lawyer with the job of helping law students think like lawyers but write like regular humans.
It’s an approach that is both idealistic and practical. While it is hard for anyone who learned traditional legal drafting to re-learn how to draft in plain language, new students can learn Sikkema’s way just as easily as the traditional way. Two features stand out in Sikkema’s approach. One is that students’ drafts are reviewed in class, meaning that identifying issues and possible solutions becomes a group exercise. The second feature is that the training doesn’t end with feedback. Students polish their drafts until they’re readable. As Sikkema notes, the process of writing always involves rewriting. And how do her students like the idea of being taught plain language? “That’s hard to say, since we don’t tell them that’s what they learning,” says Sikkema, with a sly smile. “We just present it as good legal drafting practices. But the more time they spend dealing with old-style
legalese, the more they come to appreciate the advantages of the new approach.”
Josiah Fisk is the head of More Carrot LLC, a clear communications company with offices in Boston and Luxembourg.
A foolproof guide to doing business with the French TEXT: STEvE FLINDERS
Now that there is a nice Gallic flavour to this magazine, I offer my instant easy-to-use guide to doing business with the French. Language. Don’t take what people say too literally. Despite French pride in Cartesian precision, you should prepare yourself to wait for a while when you hear ‘Un instant’. Plus, ‘J’arrive’ in an office or restaurant usually means ‘I’ll be back ... sometime’. Business appointments. For a 9am appointment in Norway, I must be sitting down in front of the person I’m meeting in his or her office at 8.59am. In France, it’s enough to be at reception by then. How long you then wait is an indication of the importance of the person you’re seeing, or at least of their own measure of importance: ten minutes is standard, 20 for a higher-up. Meetings. Seniority is indicated by the order in which people arrive, the lowliest first and the most senior last (again, around 20 minutes after the
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scheduled start time). I have never understood how they manage this – it must be genetic. You may know when the meeting is supposed to start but not necessarily when it will finish. Shaking hands. British business people shake your hand when you meet for the first time and then will avoid physical contact until it’s time to say goodbye. Your French colleagues will want to shake your hand every morning, something I rather like. I once worked in a Paris company where the PDG (CEO) arrived around 9.15 every morning but kept his diary free until 11. He walked round the whole office shaking hands with 60 or so people, thus giving everyone a chance to raise any issues they liked with the boss on a daily basis, a great example of MBWA – Management By Walking Around. Opinions. You must have lots. Conversation and discussion are games of combat. If you don’t joust with opinions couched in the language of to-
tal certainty, they will be disappointed and may think you are a wimp. Rude? We love and are exasperated by the French in more or less equal measure. Maybe you will allow me a little licence if I tell you I’m married to one.
Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, now based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally: email@example.com; www.coachingyork.co.uk/item/steve-flinders/