Creative Corner: Adjective Abuse

by Andy Edelstein on September 18, 2014

Andy Edelstein Andy Edelstein

Among the many crimes against English routinely perpetrated in the name of legal marketing, there are few, to my mind, more egregious than the wanton overuse of adjectives.

Let me clarify. When I say adjectives, I refer not to the old Anglo-Saxon workhorses we learn in elementary school — good, bad, hard, easy, fast, slow, etc. — though even these must be used sparingly and with great care.

Nor do I refer to the deft coloring of a sentence by experienced writers who instinctively understand the limits, and act within them — I am, I admit, fond of my own use of “egregious” and “wanton” in the first sentence of this piece.

No, my quarrel is with those vague generalities that seem to squeeze the air out of most legal marketing communications. The same offenders appear over and over: preeminent, collaborative, responsive, client-focused, business-oriented, collegial, innovative, entrepreneurial, strategic, authoritative. The list goes on. You could probably add a few yourself.

While the qualities described by these words are, perhaps, desirable traits in a law firm, the words themselves are empty, bordering on meaningless. They beg to be replaced with specific explanations.

If your firm is truly innovative, why not tell us something new? If you want to be seen as collaborative, wouldn’t an exploration of client teams — at minimum — be in order? If you pride yourself on being client-focused, how are you different from the gazillion other firms saying exactly the same thing? And if you claim to be the preeminent firm at anything, why on earth should we take your word for it?

My point is that the adjectives alone won’t do. At best, they make the firm sound dull. Whenever you see one — especially from the list above, especially from your own firm — proceed with caution.

Adjective abuse may only be a misdemeanor, but it’s a serious one. Your creative license could be suspended.

Andy Edelstein is a copywriter specializing in law firm advertising and marketing communications. Reach him at andrew.edelstein@verizon.net.

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