Saturday, May 15, 2021
While avoiding grading recently, I found an interesting analysis of inclusive language as a lawyer’s professional responsibility, and as a form of allyship. Jayne Reardon, a former Illinois State Bar disciplinary counsel, posted a thoughtful piece on inclusion and allies on the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Professionalism’s 2Civility website. See Jayne Reardon, Inclusive Language Is Allyship (Apr. 22, 2021).
Reardon aptly concludes: “Given that ‘effective communicator’ is part of a lawyer’s job description, we should be sensitive to how listeners may interpret our language.” Id. As lawyers, “our stock in trade is language. We can choose language that makes our points persuasively or language that is distracting and possibly offensive. Distracting or offensive language, of course, doesn’t serve our clients, our profession, or our image in the eyes of the public.” Id.
As appellate lawyers, we are in an especially good position to combine our duty to communicate clearly with the goal of using language non-offensively. In so doing, we can also use our privilege to serve as allies for underrepresented groups.
How do we combine communication with allyship? Hopefully, in many ways, including using our writing skills and engaging in conversations on bias and inclusion.
Reardon suggests we start by avoiding metaphors and by thinking carefully about the way phrases like “Chinese wall” and “the blind leading the blind” can be offensive and painful. Id. Ellie Krug, founder and president of Human Inspiration Works, LLC, finds “the language of ‘us vs. them’ particularly pernicious to our democratic values and “exhorts lawyers to embrace the diversity, equity, and inclusion practices that the business community adopted long ago.” Reardon, Inclusive Language Is Allyship.
We can also connect our language to allyship with a full understanding of what being an ally can entail. As Nicole Asong Nfonoyim-Hara, the Director of the Diversity Programs at Mayo Clinic, defines, “allyship” is "when a person of privilege works in solidarity and partnership with a marginalized group of people to help take down the systems that challenge that group's basic rights, equal access, and ability to thrive in our society." Samantha-Rae Dickenson, What Is Allyship? (Nat’l Inst. of Health Jan. 28, 2021). “Allyship” can also focus on “help[ing] humans who often lack a voice to speak on their own behalf or who aren’t always in the room when demeaning or marginalizing comments/behaviors occur, or marginalizing policies or plans are made.” Ellie Krug, Allyship for Lawyers in an Awakened America (Apr. 21, 2021).
As Reardon notes, “[w]hen we disregard how others may interpret our language or are unthoughtful with our words, we risk offending members of our professional community, like the judge, judge’s staff, opposing counsel, or others who may hear the oral argument or read the brief. In choosing more inclusive language, we choose allyship.”
I am working to choose allyship in my writing and teaching, and I appreciate the resources and conversations about being an ally from 2Civility and others. If you are interested in seeing more of the 2Civility website and programs, you can subscribe here for the Commission’s weekly newsletter.