We live in a nation that simultaneously idolizes, fears, and holds contempt for members of the legal profession, depending upon how we and they are situated at any particular moment. One odd side effect of that relationship is a desire to imitate attorneys in an effort to make ourselves appear to be smarter.

You’ll see it when executives try to draft legal-style language or when ad writers try to pen their own small print. You’ll also see it when people borrow elements of contracts, such as that odd habit of spelling out numbers and then showing the numerical value in parentheses, which I notice thirty-one (31) times in the average day.

Playing a lawyer can be lucrative for an actor who lands a part on one of the “Law & Order” shows. Playing a lawyer can be deadly for a manager or a company, because most really do not know what they are doing when they dabble in legal language. They may use incorrect words and poorly constructed phrases that can actually put them in legal hot water.

A great example is the time a bank client handed me a draft of a letter written by a staff member, wondering if it could be improved. The letter was about a legal matter, and it sounded very official and impressive, but in trying to prove she was smarter than everyone else, the writer actually managed to state the exact opposite of her position. In effect, instead of saying the recipient was liable for something, she had written the letter in a way that made the bank liable.

That’s not an isolated situation, either. Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid. Just don’t try to write or talk like a lawyer, unless you’ve earned a law degree and been admitted to the bar.

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