English in the Legal WorkplacePublished on: 22 November 2021
Who are we?
Miriam is in the Private Client department and works with Wills and dealing with estates.
Eleanor is in the Court of Protection department which deals with people who are applying to the Court for an Order that will allow them to make decisions on behalf of someone who lacks the mental capacity to make that decision, as well as the ongoing management of the property and affairs of people with professional Deputies.
Why are English skills important in your workplace?
There are numerous English skills that are applicable to everyday life including in the workplace and especially in a legal environment. These can include communication, accurate writing, proof reading and listening.
Private Client involves a great deal of drafting, such as drafting Wills, Lasting Powers of Attorney and letters to clients, beneficiaries, and other bodies. It is important that you use the correct letter format. You also have to adjust your writing style and tone depending on who you are writing to. You need to be able to communicate quite complex concepts to clients in a way that they can understand. Particularly in Private Client, some things are quite tricky like inheritance tax or trusts. It’s important to us to communicate in clear English, not legalese, but if you’re writing to banks or other bodies you can use more formal and complex language.
In Court of Protection we spend a lot of time talking to people who have Deputies appointed. Those people have a really wide range of comprehension ability, and often things like reading lengthy letters or emails is just not possible for them, even though they would be able to understand the concepts. We therefore have to select the most effective methods of communication before we even start thinking about what we say and how. Because we are regularly involved in looking after very complex financial affairs, there can often be a lot of formal documents and letters involved, all of which have to be drafted completely accurately so as to ensure we are looking after the best interests of our clients. The Court is also very specific, quite rightly, and therefore all our communication must be exact and precise which requires top level English skills.
Proof reading is key. One of the things I learned very early on in my time as a trainee is the importance of attention to detail and good proof reading. Even if you make small mistakes that seem insignificant, there is no room for anything that could make you seem unprofessional. I have been asked to reprint letters for reasons such as a one word had a capital letter when it shouldn’t have.
The smallest details in law can have the biggest impact, so attention to detail and proof reading is essential to avoid any potential discrepancies. This leads on to why listening is also a key skill to utilise.
Listening carefully to your supervisor, and others who are giving you work to do, enables you to do the work to a good standard and also to learn and improve in the future.
Listening is crucial when meeting with clients. If you didn’t really listen to clients and assumed that you knew what they wanted, this could lead to mistakes and unhappy clients – it’s one of the reasons why we make sure our services are all really bespoke and all about listening carefully to our clients and providing the very best tailored service. Clients have often been through a difficult time and appreciate having someone to talk to and being listened to. We all want to know we are really being listened to.
When we attend meetings with clients we must prepare detailed notes to record everything that was discussed so, if necessary, it can be referred back to. Again, these notes need to be detailed but also comprehensible so others who may need to rely on your notes can understand exactly what happened.
We always thought that with the technology we now have, a lot of the English skills we learn in school would not be applicable to day to day life. We were wrong! Every day we write letters, emails, and other forms of correspondence which we would not know how to do correctly without being taught the correct English skills. Even day to day general conversations with clients and colleagues require a high level of English language skills to ensure communication is effective.
Why did we choose a legal career?
For me, my decision to do law was, to be honest, a process of elimination rather than thinking for a long time that I definitely wanted to do law. Up until about year 11, I thought I wanted to do medicine or veterinary medicine, but I realised I actually really didn’t like chemistry. This made me completely re-think what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do a degree that had a specific vocation attached to it, so I started thinking about law. I did it as an A Level and I really enjoyed it. I felt I was studying something that was actually so relevant to everyday life and I found it exciting that law is an ever changing subject. So I decided to study it at university. I know that law was definitely the right subject for me.
Law was something that was always of interest but I never really considered going into it as a career, mainly because there is a perception that it takes years and years. It does, that is true, but the few years you spend qualifying fly by and should not be off-putting. I also studied law at A level, purely because I always found the typical TV shows really interesting. I then took two years out of education and worked various jobs to really get a feel for what I did and did not like, and eventually came back to law.
I think what appealed to me in the long term was that there are so many paths you can take in law: it is not just the criminal side you see on TV, but there are many different areas of law you can work and specialise in. Most people will need a lawyer at some point in their life for a number of reasons and that keeps the job interesting, because it is applicable to everyone at various stages in life. In short, no two days are the same and there is always something interesting (sometimes dramatic) happening.