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Does your lawyer use inclusive language?

Cornwall lawyer Michele Allinotte discusses using gender neutral and inclusive language in legal documents and correspondence.

Legal documents are not always the most pleasant things to read. Even if the documents are for a good thing (buying a home or adoption), it is easy to get bogged down in the legal language.

These documents can be even harder to read when you are not represented in the language. It isn't hard to find lawyers that only use the term "he" in their documents, whether the person being referred to is a man or not.

At Your Cornwall Lawyer - Allinotte Law Office PC, we are working to make the language in all our documents gender neutral and inclusive. Sometimes this requires writing and re-writing and restructuring sentences and paragraphs. Here are some examples:

  • eliminating honorifics and addressing letters as Dear Firstname, instead of Dear Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Lastname;
  • addressing letters to other lawyers as Dear Colleague or Dear Firstname;
  • addressing envelopes as Firstname Lastname and omitting Mr./Mrs./Ms.;
  • using gender neutral terms in drafting - spouse, child, Estate Trustee, sibling, etc.;
  • including non-binary gender when he or she has to be used, so he/she/they instead of just he or she; and
  • using gender neutral terms even when the gender of the person referred to is known.

While some of these changes mean our correspondence or drafting is less "formal", the formalities are not needed. A document using he/she/they is no less legal than one that refers to "he" throughout.

One thing that is tricky to handle is when we send a letter to an institution and we don't know who will be reading it. Traditionally, "Dear Sir or Madam" is used. One alternative is "To whom it may concern", but that feels wordy and a bit last century. We have read some suggestions to simply use "Hello" as a salutation, which seems too casual in a professional letter. One option that may work is "Dear Bank".  We are open to thoughts and comments on this one.

We are open to using your preferred pronouns at our office, and the preferred pronouns of loved ones who are referred to in your legal documents. If you have done a will or power of attorney with us and you want to re-do it with inclusive language, we will do that at no charge to you. If there are changes other than names and/or pronouns, there would be a fee for that. If you want to make an appointment, you can do so online here.

We are also working to ensure that image descriptions are included with all the images we post on our blog and social media. Additionally, when selecting images for blog posts and social media, we attempt to find photos that are inclusive and representative of the population, where possible.

While our office is not currently accessible to anyone who cannot navigate stairs, if you let us know when booking your appointment, we can make arrangements to meet in the back room of the restaurant downstairs.

If you have any other suggestions, or if we get it wrong and use the wrong pronoun or a term that you prefer not to see, please send me a message and we will correct it.

-Michele [she/her]

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