by Gerard Castles and Davina Stanley*

Lawyers are communicators.  All too often a lawyer’s advice needs to deal with ambiguity and yet provide absolute clarity to clients who might be under pressure to act quickly.

The challenge is to communicate with clarity every time.

As ex-McKinsey communication specialists, and having worked with 14 out of the top 20 ASX companies, we believe there are three key areas to get your communications right first time:  

  • Understand why clarity matters
  • Think before you communicate
  • Nail the “So What”.

Let’s dig into each of these in more detail.

Understand that clarity matters 

It sounds obvious, but not everyone understands, that clarity is not a nice to have – it’s essential. 

First, it’s about productivity.  Too much time is wasted in endless edits. One legal team told us an internal risk management paper went through over 90 versions with constant rounds of edits and complete rewrites.

Second, it’s about clients.  Clients know the law is complex but they want you to tell them what they need to know – fast – no matter if the answer is good, bad or “grey”.

Finally, it’s about risk.  If your clients don’t understand what you’re saying that’s a problem for you and the client.

Think before you communicate

We believe you have to think before you communicate. You must:

Clarify your communication purpose before you begin: What do you want your audience to know, think or do?

Identify specifically who will decide and who will influence any action you want your audience to take. It is worth getting granular here: who exactly is the audience, what do you know about them. How well do they know the topic and what keeps them up at night?

Think through the best way to deliver your message: not just who but how. Should there be just one ‘deliverable’ or many (eg do you want to make a phone call before sending an email or a paper or do you need to present?).

Once you are clear about your direction, it is then time to think about your structure. Our seven classic patterns help with that.

Nail the “So What”

Every communication must have context so the audience knows what it’s about, a clear statement of the main idea – this is the “So what” and then the ideas laid out logically to support the “So what”.

The big difference to a lot of traditional legal communication is to state the “So what” up front – not bury it at the end of a document.  Clients want to know what you are saying to them – early.

We have identified seven common storyline patterns that appear in legal and business communication – in every one of these the So What is crystal clear.

Here’s an example pattern.  We call it To B or Not to B, which is a great way to explain options to a client

In this storyline the “So what” is that we’re advising the client to pursue compulsory acquisition.  Here’s how it works as an outline:

  • You need to acquire the Black property to provide access to your proposed new development. We’ve undertaken a review to help you decide how to manage acquisition.
  • We recommend taking steps to pursue compulsory acquisition. Here’s our rationale:
    • The necessary land could be acquired through negotiation or compulsory acquisition (describe each option)
    • Acquisition through negotiation is unlikely to be successful as (describe reasons)
    • Therefore, take steps to pursue compulsory acquisition (describe steps)

This of course is just the outline.  Get this right though and it can help you save your valuable time and money.


Written by Gerard Castles and Davina Stanley of Clarity Thought Partners

Clarity Thought Partners helps organisations make the complex clear and the clear compelling in problem solving and communication.

The team has worked with 14 out of the top 20 ASX companies including Australia Post, Commonwealth Bank and BHP.

To find out more about their new book go to

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