Is legalese a good or bad way to communicate?

The Leveson Inquiry has provided a number of examples of how lawyers and judges communicate. The report, written by Lord Justice Leveson, was praised by The Guardian yesterday for its clarity:

Longer than Harry Potter, shorter than Proust, denser than Tolstoy. Brian Leveson’s report thumped into the world at just under 2,000 pages and just over a million words. What the Leveson report lacked in literary elegance, it made up for in detail and clarity.

However, the newspaper also found time to highlight chief inquiry lawyer Robert Jay QC’s formidable vocabulary. From ‘condign’ to ‘propinquity’, they created video of some of the “zingers” he unleashed:

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Communicating the right information in business

By guest blogger Malcolm Tullett

Health and safety is built around good practice. There are systems for getting things done and processes for carrying out the tasks required to make the organisation successful. The problems occur when the paperwork outweighs the operator’s willingness to read and digest it!

Standard practice in most organisations is that every time something new occurs policies must be developed and manuals need to be written in order to drive the process.

The senior management team have access to this weight of knowledge, but the front end workers either don’t want to (and don’t) read all that information or they’re forced to read it and don’t fully understand it. Worse still, they do their job in spite of, rather than because of, the bureaucracy that sits above them.

So the issue is how do you get people to do things right without expecting them to read manuals (which they probably won’t – and won’t remember) and still create a safe working environment? A folder of information may exist, but it doesn’t really help the operatives to know the specific gravity or flammability level of any substance they have to handle.

Rewriting the legislation as a ‘policy’ is unnecessary – regulations are about systems, not strategies.

First a strategy needs to be developed to form the base from which the systems and processes will be developed.

Then a system needs to be created and not by finding one that exists elsewhere and copying it. If you want a system to work you need to look at the current practices within the organisation in relation to specific regulations and identifying whether they are already compliant, need a bit of tweaking to meet the regulations or need to start from scratch.

For example: those people who handle hazardous substances need to know how to handle them safely and the consequences of not doing so. A card with the substance instructions for use is enough. It may be a list or a flow chart and may have specific warnings e.g. flammable, carcinogenic, irritant, but first and foremost should be simple, straightforward and practical.

Operatives don’t need the strategic documents, a simple basic process with critical information is all that is needed at the operational level.

The system should accommodate how your organisation operates – not be ‘one-size-fits-all’. Every process needs examination and existing processes may need tweaking to meet the regulations. However, there may be opportunities to ask ’do we need this material or could we use something better and safer?’

The operative needs both the simplicity of process and also to understand the impact of getting it wrong. This enables them to make intelligent decisions when things don’t go according to plan.

And the point of all this is that:

  • Senior management need to develop clear policies;
  • Supervisory levels need the practical information the underpins the systems and processes,
  • But the operatives simply need to know what exactly needs to be done, how and why.