Case study – law firm brochure

This case study demonstrates the process and documentation required for PlainLanguagePro GOLD certification. See the document at the end of the case study.

Amy works as a trainee lawyer for Frank Law, a boutique law firm in Sydney, Australia. It is one of the few law firms in the country committed to communicating with clients in plain language.

Amy is keen to build the criminal law side of the firm. She thinks people charged with drink-driving – Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol (PCA) – would be a good place to start building a client base.

She wrote a fact sheet / brochure describing the PCA court process and how Frank Law could help.

Amy asked Greg, a PlainLanguagePro certifier, to review her document. He suggested some edits to make the document easier to read; things like using simpler words, shorter sentences and more active voice. He suggested reordering some of the content.

The result was a clear, easy to read document that probably would work OK. Greg could happily register this document as meeting the PlainLanguagePro BRONZE standard.

But it would be good to have greater confidence that the document would achieve its purpose.

Greg suggested more in depth reflection on the purpose of the document and the needs of the intended users, or readers. Ideally this would have been done before Amy wrote her draft, but doing some user research even after the first draft can be valuable. Sometimes writing a draft clarifies the mind so the author better knows what questions to ask.

Amy developed a clear purpose statement for her document:

As a result of reading this, I want anyone charged with PCA to contact FL, and other people to remember FL does PCA work.

She and her colleagues reflected on potential users – friends, family and other contacts. This helped her better understand the needs and characteristics of people who would read this brochure – and she documented these reflections. Greg suggested she also ask some targeted questions during document testing:

•What do you know about the PCA charge?
•What worries you or your friends about being charged with PCA?
•What would you or your friends do if charged with PCA?

This knowledge about users and their needs gave Amy further insight and she tweaked the document accordingly. She was now more confident that her document was well targeted and written with her users in mind.

At this stage, Greg could certify the document and the development process as meeting the PlainLanguagePro SILVER standard.

But would the document really work?

Amy realised that publishing at this point was really just relying on her own judgement – and that could be both arrogant and reckless. Professionals in all industries need to take deliberate steps to avoid reckless writing.

So Greg and Amy developed a way to test the document. She enlisted the help of twelve colleagues in the firm and asked them each to talk to two people – following a defined test protocol. The questions she wanted to answer were:

1.Is the content useful and engaging?
2.What will people do with this?
3.What form is best?

The test results helped Amy finalise the document. It also provided Frank Law with a high level of confidence that the resources invested in developing, designing and printing the document would not be wasted. The brochure was likely to deliver a good business benefit.

Greg certified this document and the development process as meeting the PlainLanguagePro GOLD standard.

thumbnail of PCA trifold – x
The nearly finished PCA flyer
thumbnail of FL PCA assessment
Description of user research and testing required for PlainLanguagePro GOLD certification (Authorised PlainLanguagePro certifiers may adapt this description for their own projects.)