Nov 7, 2013

The best failing grade I ever got, or "Who Talks Like That?"

I'm dedicating this post to Dr. William Vesterman, my Freshman English instructor at Rutgers University in the 1960s. Luckily for Rutgers students, Dr. Vesterman is still at the university, celebrating his fiftieth year of teaching. This post may seem like a diversion from elder law and estate planning issues, but bear with me. A frequent complaint about lawyers is that they talk in "legalese." For many lawyers, lapsing into that second language is, well, second nature. So I am thrilled when clients compliment my ability to explain the intricacies of the law to them in plain English, both in speech and writing. To be frank, part of each compliment really belongs to Dr. Vesterman. He gave me a grade of 50 on the first paper I ever submitted in college. He taught me - pointedly but kindly - that simpler is always better. To this day I call it the "Who talks like that?" lesson. My recent email exchange with Dr. Vesterman explains:

-----Original Message-----
To: William Vesterman
From: Joseph Karp
Subject: Who Talks Like That?

Sept. 1964. I was a freshman at Rutgers .My first paper was an analysis of Frost's "Road Not Taken." I thought it was brilliant and written with my superior collegiate vocabulary. My instructor graded it 50, a real failure.  The only comment was, "Who talks like that? " It was a lesson well learned. To this very day I repeat the story and review documents, briefs, letters etc. with that mantra in mind. This morning while reviewing an attorney's letter, I looked up at my assistant and said, "Who talks like that?" I then retold the story of the 50, the comment, and the name of the instructor,  William Vesterman.  So 49 years later,  I want to thank you for that 50; it was a lesson well learned . I am forever in your debt. 

And Dr. Vesterman, with the same clarity and conciseness he always advocated, responded simply:

From: William Vesterman 
Sent: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 9:49 AM
To: Joseph S. Karp
Subject: Re: Who talks like that?

Dear JSK,
Thanks for the good news in this my 50th year of teaching on the banks!

We all know how frustrating it is to not understand the person who answers the phone at tech support. How much more frustrating, even frightening, to not understand your attorney when you are discussing the most critical legal plans you'll ever make for yourself and your family! Estate planning is about giving clients peace of mind. Simple communication is key. That's why I always keep in mind  Dr. Vesterman's words: "Who talks like that?"

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...