Five things to lose this year

We’re nearly a month into the new year, and I’m sure you have been hard at work on your resolutions. I have already lost 10 pounds, quit procrastinating and cleaned out all of my closets. (Okay, so maybe I’ve only cleaned out the closets.)

This year I thought I would not only make my own New Year’s resolutions, but also add some to your list as well. What can I say? I’m a giver.

I thought the start of a new year would be a good time to introduce you to more changes we’ve made to our Firm’s standards for spelling, capitalization, punctuation and grammar. Those standards are encapsulated in the A-Z Style Guide that we in global marketing developed as part of our rebranding launch last month, way back in 2016 when I still had messy closets.

Since the Firm was already already updating its logo, we thought it would be a good time to revisit our stylebook to see if it needed refreshing. So, I actually read all 50 pages and put together a committee of expert writers from around the Firm to weigh in on what to keep, delete and change.

As a result, I am happy to announce that 2017 is the year you can drop a lot more than just 10 pounds (or kilos) and the ampersand in “Baker & McKenzie.” Here’s a list of other things to lose:

1. Courtesy titles. No longer will our lawyer bios and press releases read like scripts from “Downton Abbey.” Unless this level of formality is customary in your market, follow this guidance in the A-Z Style Guide on how to refer to members of our Firm:

courtesy titles  
Avoid courtesy titles such as “Mr.,” “Ms.” or “Mrs.” in lawyer CVs, press releases and other Firm communications because they are overly formal and gender-specific. Instead, use full names on first reference and first names in later references.

Example: Julie Alexander is a partner in the Global Banking & Finance Practice. For more than 20 years, Julie has helped clients secure financing for major projects.

2. The periods in “am” and “pm.” When I sent around an email to our Firm’s marketing, business development, knowledge management and communications professionals a few months ago asking for feedback on the changes they’d like to see made to our stylebook, many advocated omitting any punctuation that wasn’t necessary for clarity or comprehension. That included the periods in “a.m.” and “p.m.” When I researched this issue, I found that most US style guides require the periods. However, in the UK the Economist Style Guide omits them. Since style is often a matter of choice rather than right and wrong, our committee opted to go with the Brits on this one for simplicity sake. Here is our new Firm standard:

am/pm 
Use lowercase and no periods. Add a space between the number and “am” or “pm” and use a colon in the time instead of a period. Omit zeros unless the time requires specific minutes.

Examples: 8 am, 1 pm, 3:15 pm, 9:30 pm

3. The periods in “eg” and “ie.” To be consistent, we also decided to omit the periods in “eg” and “ie” in accordance with the Economist Style Guide. My preference is to avoid using these abbreviations altogether because they are often misused and mistaken for each other. Plus, why use Latin when you can just use the English translations like I’ve done in the alternative examples below? But I’ll leave that choice to you.

eg/ie
Use lowercase and no periods, followed by a comma. The term “eg” means “for example” and is followed by one or more examples. The term “ie” means “that is” and signals you are providing more precise information. Whenever possible, avoid confusion by simply using “for example” or “such as” instead of “eg” and “that is” or “in other words” in place of “ie.” Those phrases are easier to read and comprehend.

Correct: Contribution requests include direct grants to nonprofit organizations and donations to support charity events, eg, fund-raising dinners and golf outings.
or
Contribution requests include direct grants to nonprofit organizations and donations to support charity events, such as fund-raising dinners and golf outings.

Correct: We will establish a separate program to nurture aspirational clients, ie, clients with the potential to generate deep and lasting relationships.
or
We will establish a separate program to nurture aspirational clients, that is, clients with the potential to generate deep and lasting relationships.

4. The “man” in “chairman.” As part of our Global Diversity & Inclusion Committee’s efforts to encourage the Firm to use gender-neutral language, Paul Rawlinson decided to take the title of “global chair” instead of “global chairman.” We are also avoiding the use of gender-specific salutations like “Dear Sirs” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” In fact, the A-Z Style Guide has a whole new entry on how to make your writing more inclusive:

diversity and inclusion
In all communications we run the risk of inadvertently using language or making references that could offend, alienate or exclude people on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, religion or family status. To avoid these pitfalls, apply the following standards:

  • Gender-neutral pronouns: Since English does not have a singular pronoun that includes both sexes, it can be difficult to avoid using wordy, gender-specific phrases like “he or she,” “him or her” and “his or hers” to comply with grammar rules. Whenever possible, we recommend using these workarounds. But when rewriting the sentence to avoid gendered pronouns would be too awkward, we permit the use of “they,” “them” and “their” as singular pronouns.
  • Names: Avoid making assumptions about people’s gender on the basis of their names. Many names, such as “Alex” or “Laurence,” are used by both men and women. Use internet searches or other means to determine someone’s sex to avoid using the wrong gender pronoun or making other references that could be offensive.
  • Occupations and titles: Use gender-neutral language for occupational and professional titles, such as “flight attendant” instead of “stewardess” and “representative” instead of “congressman.” See this list for other alternatives.
  • Salutations: Avoid using gender-specific salutations such as “Dear Sirs” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” Instead, use neutral terms like “Dear Colleagues” or address the company, as in “To: Acme Construction Company.” Also consider using the person’s name if you know it, as in “Dear Alex.”
  • Sports: Avoid using sports analogies in writing and presentations because many are culture- and gender-specific.

5. Spelling out common acronyms. Some acronyms are so well known that there’s no need to spell them out on first reference. The A-Z Style Guide includes a list of those acronyms, which include: CEO, CV, HR, M&A, IP, IPO, US and UK.

On a related note, we also adopted the AP style of simply spelling out the full names of laws, government agencies, organizations, committees, etc., on first reference and using the acronyms on second and subsequent references. This means you do not, I repeat, do not need to put that acronym in parentheses or parentheses and quotation marks next to the first reference. Here’s an example from the A-Z Style Guide:

acronyms
Avoid putting acronyms in parentheses next to first references. Instead, spell out the name on first reference, then use the acronym in subsequent references. It’s typically obvious to readers what an acronym refers to if you’ve spelled it out on first reference.

Correct: The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits companies from making illegal payments to government officials. When doing business with state-owned entities, companies have a higher risk of violating the FCPA.

Incorrect: The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) prohibits companies from making illegal payments to government officials. When doing business with state-owned entities, companies have a higher risk of violating the FCPA.

This is a style change I would love to see our lawyers and business professionals embrace in all writing except for legal documents that require these types of citations. I like this rule because it helps streamline copy, making it much easier to read. It’s why newspapers and magazines around the world follow this convention. Our Firm’s writing tends to be wordy and overly punctuated, so if there’s anything we can cut out to make our sentences clearer, I’m all for it.

Not convinced? Just read this opening paragraph from one of our client alerts:

This client alert summarizes the final rule published in the Federal Register on May 16, 2011,  by the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (“DDTC”) to amend the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, 22 C.F.R. Part 120 et seq. (“ITAR”) with regard to transfers of unclassified ITAR-controlled technology to dual national and third-country national employees (“DTCNs”) of foreign end-users.

Here’s how I rewrote it without the acronyms and other details that can be included in subsequent paragraphs:

This client alert summarizes the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls’ final rule amending the International Traffic in Arms Regulations on transfers of unclassified technology to dual national and third-country national employees of foreign end-users.

Okay, still not terribly sexy but surely you lost five pounds (or kilos) just reading it. I guarantee you will lose at least another five pounds if you start following these new rules from the A-Z Style Guide. It will also make life easier for your readers.

Welcome to 2017. I hope you feel lighter already.

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