Getting the English on the firm’s website right

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There is one place where quality does indeed matter: the marketing material and other information placed on a firm’s website or on any online location, including LinkedIn.

It surprises me how many mistakes are found online. It is difficult to understand. You would think that Dutch lawyers would recognise that language mistakes made online, at the very least, diminish a potential client’s confidence in the firm’s ability to work in English. What does it generally say about a firm marketing itself in English that it would allow itself to be associated with mistake-ridden English text?

Here are a few quick examples, found quite randomly online. This information was found on the website of one Dutch law firm:

The organisation of the civil and the criminal courts in Holland is based on the administration of justice in three steps. A case is heard first by a lower court. If a party does not agree with the judgment, he may refer the matter to a higher court. This is called entering an appeal. Thereafter it is possible in certain circumstances to refer a dispute to the highest court, the Supreme Court. This is known as appealing in cassation.

“Holland”? “He”? “Entering an appeal”? Here is the home-page description of another Dutch law firm:

ABC is a Netherlands law firm in Amsterdam, Holland, specialized in Dutch corporate law, business law in The Netherlands and matters of international trade under Dutch law. ABC’s Dutch attorneys provide a wide range of legal services in Holland regarding real estate, employment law, corporate law, and business law in The Netherlands.

“Netherlands law firm”? “Specialized in corporate law”? “Dutch attorneys”? “…in The Netherlands”? And once again: “Holland”? Here is another one:

Our lawyers are in permanent contact with legislative changes, interpretation modes of legal norms and regulations in the Netherlands, as well as specialized updated information from the international legal environment. The complexity of the Dutch legislation in accordance to our projects and cases challenge our lawyers’ ongoing effort along with coherent and consistent actions in order to satisfy our client’s interests.

Something went off the rails here, especially with the last sentence. It’s almost incoherent.

Most of the errors are generally minor. But every English speaker is going to notice the quality problems with such a text and form an opinion about that firm’s ability to work in English. Whatever marketing value is gained from being online is harmed by a firm’s evident lack of ability to produce proper English text when it seems prudent to do so.

I’ve singled out texts from three law firms (chosen randomly), but many Dutch law firms have texts like this online. I’m not completely sure why Dutch law firms would allow this to happen. They are generally highly professional organisations, from what I’ve seen. What forces are at play? Financial and time constraints? Quality control failures? Overconfidence? There may be more to it.

Some Dutch firms are indeed able to produce good text, probably with the assistance of editors. It is possible. All Dutch law firms should have a system in place to have their marketing text and other information properly reviewed before it goes online. It only makes sense that if you’re going to showcase your firm to the world, you should do your best to get it right.

Greg Korbee (Originally published January 2015. Republished in May 2019.)

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