WE SHOULD NOT DEFINE THE ROLES OF HALF OUR PEOPLE IN THE NEGATIVE
We really need to stop using the term “non-lawyer” to refer to everyone who works in legal services who has not passed the bar exam.
This issue is much more than a word choice. At best it is careless. At worst it reflects a lack of respect for the contributions that half the people in legal services make. Either way, we should put an end to the use of the term.
No One Wants to Be Defined in the Negative
I first realized this problem more than 25 years ago when Norm Rubenstein, one of the most revered marketing professionals in law, joined Orrick as our Chief Marketing Officer. It was a big moment for the firm. We were embracing bold new ideas in the way we presented ourselves to the market; Norm was joining us, along with a celebrated “dream team” he had recruited from other firms, to lead the effort. At the first partner meeting at which Norm unveiled our marketing mission he took me aside to share his disappointment that we referred to his team as “non-lawyers.” No one, he observed, wants to be defined in the negative. We had assembled some of the best people in their field only to define them in that way.
It was a true aha moment for me. One that has been with me ever since and affects my sense of how we should think about the talented people who work in our firms. And how we should refer to them.