Legal copywriting and a focus on disability
12th March 2020
The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) has turned its focus onto the need for law firms to improve access for clients and to ensure that information about accessibility is communicated in a helpful way on law firm websites. In the SRA’s report Reasonable Adjustments in the Provision of Legal Services, which is based on a survey by YouGov, they highlight the barriers which clients can face and how accessibility can be improved within law firms.
YouGov make several recommendations regarding the provision of information, including:
- Display images of your office interior and exterior.
- Offer written or verbal information at first contact.
- Communicate timeframes clearly.
- Include contact details for a dedicated person who can talk to and help a client with a disability.
- Highlight if staff have been trained.
- Highlight if the firm has any accreditations from a charity.
Copywriting for law firm marketing
Writing marketing copy for any client communications and a website (including internet search engines) is a different skill to drafting a contract. Understandably, many lawyers find it difficult to swap to a different style of writing and struggle to embrace the requirements of search engine optimisation.
The SRA recommend the following, which are all standard skills of a good copywriter:
- Keep sentences short and use bullet points
- Use colour and ensure it is accessible
- Use spacing to break up dense text
- Use a clear font (min 14-point)
- Use images
- Avoid jargon
- Provide information in a range of accessible formats.
Mind your language
Given these recommendations, I was surprised to see that there was no mention of language to use or avoid when speaking or writing about disability. A Mark Twain wrote:
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
This is a huge area, with many thousands of words of discussion about this on the internet, and a seemingly ever-changing list of unacceptable phrases.
Some language is considered insulting, offensive, a slur, or ableist – there is a helpful (and often updated) article by Lynda X.Z. Brown on her blog AutisticHoya.com ‘Ableist words and terms to avoid’.
Resources for legal authors, copywriters and editors
Some resources which legal authors may find useful include:
- The Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP) produced Dementia words matter: Guidelines on language about dementia;
- Guidelines: How to write and Report about People with Disabilities is a neat (12 page) style guide produced by the Research and Training Centre on Independent Living at the University of Kansas – they also have one-page poster of what to say and what not to say.
- Disability Writing and Journalism Guidelines is produced by the US Centre for Disability Rights, Inc. and highlights some common pitfalls, such as not involving people with disabilities, adopting common stereotypes, failing to reflect that people with a disability may also be part of another minority group; and the dangers of ‘inspiration porn’ which slants stories to ‘allow a nondisabled audience to feel warm and fuzzy’.
Avoid portraying disability as a burden
Sadly, many writers take a tone which portrays someone with a disability as a burden. The Centre for Disability Rights guide highlights how ‘it is often assumed, both explicitly and implicitly, that it is better to be dead than disabled. Having a disability is regarded as an ultimate tragedy that destroys a life, rather than a natural part of life and a legitimate way to live’.
For example, avoid the insensitive use of phrases such as describing someone as a ‘dementia sufferer’ rather than someone who ‘has’ or who ‘lives with’ dementia, or saying someone is ‘wheelchair-bound’ when they are a ‘wheelchair user’.
Little things make a difference, but that has always been the case when it comes to etiquette and superlative client care – we all appreciate thoughtfulness and consideration.Back to Blog
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