Why Your Firm Needs a Style Guide for Inclusive Language

July 13, 2020

Law firms who want to speak to their audience of peers and clients in intentional, thoughtful ways use a few tools to make sure their “voice” is consistent, and one of the most important is a style guide. A style guide collects all the decisions firm leaders have made over the years about language and punctuation conventions in a single place so that anyone writing on behalf of the firm can refer to them and ensure their communication is consistent with firm “style.” Your guide may be based on the Associated Press Stylebook (standard in the world of print and online media) or the Chicago Manual of Style (standard in the world of book publishing) or some combination of both, and include your firm’s stance on issues as urgent as the serial comma. (Don’t laugh — people go to war over this sort of thing.)

All jokes aside, stylistic choices do matter, especially when it comes to the language your firm uses to describe people’s identities. Descriptors of gender, race, ethnicity, religion and ability are sources of both pride and pain, depending on how they are used and who uses them, and firms can be responsible partners in the work of creating a more inclusive industry by taking this language seriously.

Over the past couple months we’ve led some clients through audits of their existing style guides and helped others create guides from scratch. Inspired by the decision of several major newspapers to capitalize the “B” in Black, we are recommending that firms implement this change along with a few others. Have you thought much about that hyphen some people still use in terms like Asian American? What about the language you use around illness and disability? And where is your firm on pronouns?

Inclusion is about creating a space where everyone belongs, and addressing inclusive language in your firm’s style guide is one way to move closer to that goal. The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone. Call us. We can help!