Perry Mason for President: The Writing Life among Businessmen and Lawyers

Clint Eastwood’s address at the RNC made a distinction that hit home with me – would I prefer to be ruled by a businessman or a lawyer? As a writer in business, did I prefer working with the business types (executives, salespeople, managers) or the lawyers who reviewed my writing for “legal issues” and set down strict rules about what I could say and how I could say it? Read on for a slightly tongue-in-cheek writer’s point of view of the sharks (lawyers) and piranha (business people) that will nibble on your writer’s sensibility if you dip it into the business world.

Many Business People Can’t Read but Lawyers Can

As someone who read voluminously from the age of five, it took me awhile to realize that one problem I was having with business people was that a lot of them couldn’t read very well. Once I realized this, I learned quickly to write simply and clearly without a trace of style or humor – and the fewer words the better.

Lawyers, on the other hand, have to be able to read. A large part of a lawyer’s job in business is reading texts and deciding exactly what they mean and how they will be interpreted. Sometimes this drove me wild with frustration, and I felt that the lawyers I was working with were paranoid. But this exercise was also fun because I often had to do a lot of “fancy dancing” to get a text through legal review.

Many Business People Can’t Write but Lawyers Have to

Most business people don’t write very well, but they think they do. Why?

Business people talk all the time — during endless meetings and presentations, on the phone, or in hours of small talk about the weather, the weekend, or American Idol. Mostly they get their message across. Actually, if they wrote as much as they talked, they would probably be pretty good writers. But they don’t and they mistake their ability to talk (which they more than 99% of the time) with their ability to write (which they do less than 1% of the time).

On the other hand, lawyers write a lot more than business people – contracts, briefs, patent applications, etc. True, much of this verbiage is standardized, but lawyers still must pay attention to detail and shades of meaning. And this makes them much more likely to appreciate clear and exact writing – and even the intelligence behind it. Lawyers are also more likely to re-read an email before they send it and correct the typos and grammatical errors or rewrite a piece of prose before it lands on your desk, which makes you feel less like the janitor who cleans out the office refrigerator.

Lawyers and Writers Are Natural Allies in Business

Although I hesitate to say this, lawyers are natural allies for writers in business, and are more likely to be farsighted and focused on long-term repercussions than business people who are usually fixated on short-term gains, sales for the quarter, and efficiency at any price.

You can meet great people anywhere in the business world, but if, as a writer, you sometimes feel empathy with a lawyer, I hope you now understand why and you won’t think you have lost your mind.

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About Regina Domeraski

I am a writer and have been for as long as I can remember. I worked as a technical writer and now a marketing writer for high-tech companies, but my interests go far beyond technology and include writing as an art and a craft, creativity, film, classical music, and the mystery genre (after all, Hamlet is a murder mystery).
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