“Problems” Called by Another Name Sound Sweeter

Sometimes it’s all in the name.

Lawyers learn in law school to spot “issues” and “problems.”  In the real world, many clients resist hearing legal advice when it focuses on “issues” and “problems.”  Sometimes lawyers can ease this communication gap with their clients by using the client’s own jargon to discuss legal matters.

A few days ago I was chatting with international lawyer Thomas E. Evans, VP and General Counsel of Wal-Mart’s Logistics Division.  In his corporate culture, “problems” are renamed “opportunities.”  So, when a client brings him a legal crisis with Wal-Mart’s Indian suppliers, Tom and his clients end up looking at the crisis as an “opportunity.”  Using the positive wording puts the matter in a better light, and gets the parties focusing on how to solve the issue, not dwell on it.

Effective in-house lawyers quickly learn how to use their company’s favored phraseology.  Outside counsel should do the same as much as possible, and ask their client contact (whether a lawyer or business person) about favored phraseology, presentation and communication styles.

For more on this topic, see the May 25 post about effective in-house lawyers who work to become “part of the team.”

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