Reimagining Law: Banned Words for Lawyers

In this episode of Reimagining Law, we talk about banned words for lawyers with Bob Glaves, Executive Director of the Chicago Bar Foundation. Bob reflects on how words can be interpreted differently in an access to justice context, why the language lawyers use matters, and his top picks for the words that lawyers should leave in 2021.

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  •  00:24: Earlier this year, you put together a list of “Banned Words for Access to Justice 2.0.” Why is the language lawyers and judges use so important?
  • 01:05: Can you give me three words lawyers should not be using and why?
  • 02:31: Going back to your “nonlawyer” comment, what should lawyers be saying instead?
  • 03:13: With access to justice, what are some ways lawyers can better explain the phrase?
  • 04:35: Kind of going off the same string, you discuss equity and equality. What is the difference between those two words?
  • 06:37: And finally, any other language lawyers should clean up for the end of the year?

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About Bob Glaves

Bob Glaves has been Executive Director of the Chicago Bar Foundation since October 1999, prior to which he had a successful nine-year career as a civil litigator at the Chicago law firm then known as Menges, Mikus & Molzahn.

As Executive Director of the CBF, Glaves is responsible for leading and overseeing the CBF’s work that brings Chicago’s legal community together to improve access to justice for people in need and to make the legal system more fair and efficient for everyone.

Since Glaves became Executive Director, the CBF has increased the amount of its annual grants and fundraising more than tenfold and has played a lead role in launching a number of groundbreaking access to justice initiatives.

Connect with Bob


About Reimagining Law

The Reimagining Law video series explores how legal and judicial professionals are adapting the delivery of services to meet the unique needs of today’s consumers. Reimagining Law is produced by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism.

This interview was recorded on December 6, 2021.


Stephanie Villinski  00:07

Hello, everyone. I’m Stephanie Villinski, Deputy Director at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. Welcome to Reimagining Law. Today I’m joined by Bob Glaves, who’s the Executive Director at the Chicago Bar Foundation. Bob, thanks so much for joining me today.

Bob Glaves  00:23

Oh, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Stephanie Villinski  00:24

Earlier this year, you put together a list of, and I quote, “Banned Words for Access to Justice 2.0.” Why is the language lawyers and judges use so important?

Bob Glaves  00:36

Thanks, Stephanie. The title is a little tongue-in-cheek, but the idea of it is real. I mean, as lawyers and judges, we’re used to precise language when we’re talking about law and legal principles. But when we’re talking to other people, the language we use sometimes is not understood at all by them, or maybe understood in a way that’s very different than what we intended. And so, using language that is inclusive and understandable to people beyond the legal community is really important.

Stephanie Villinski  01:07

Can you give me three words that you think lawyers should not be using and why?

Bob Glaves  01:14

Sure, I could probably use the first one for all three, but I will just stick with the one that I want to start with, which is nonlawyer. We are the only profession that calls everybody who is not us a “non.” So, you don’t hear doctors calling everybody else nondoctors, dentists don’t call everybody nondentists. We are the only ones who do that. And the very idea of inclusion is not to talk to people about what they aren’t, but who they are.

Another one that I talk about is low-bono, which may not be as familiar to people, but is sometimes used as a way of saying, you know, for people who make a little bit too much to qualify for free services, that you’re giving them some sort of reduced rate or more affordable rate. People will just summarize it to say low-bono.

So, first of all, most people don’t even know what you’re talking about if you say that. But secondly, if they do, if they understand what you’re trying to say, it doesn’t sound very good. It doesn’t sound like something you’re going to want. And the idea that we have become unaffordable to most people when they have legal problems is a serious one. If we’re going to talk about being more affordable, we should say that; if we’re talking about having sliding scale options for people by income, as they do in health care, we should say that.

Stephanie Villinski  02:31

And going back to your nonlawyer comment, what should lawyers be saying instead?

Bob Glaves  02:43

Well, most of them have titles, like paralegals and chief marketing officers, and all the other people we work with who are just as important to the delivery of legal services as the lawyers who are delivering the services are; whether that’s in a law firm, an organization, or the courts, there’s just a lot of other advocates and professionals. So, when possible, call them by who they are. So, like we call dental hygienists, dental hygienists, not nondentists.

Stephanie Villinski  03:13

What are some ways you think lawyers can explain access to justice better?

Bob Glaves  03:25

Access to justice, I think, has a meaning to most people that you’re trying to have equal access or trying to level the playing field. I mean, I think most people are using it in that context. But it isn’t always understood that way. And everyone isn’t using it in exactly the same place.

So, what does access mean? Everybody has a lawyer? That’s not a realistic definition of access to justice. What is necessary for somebody to get a fair shake on the merits and to walk away feeling like they got a fair shake? That’s basically the shorthand definition I would suggest and we suggest.

But you know, some people see it a little bit differently and they’re talking about having a lawyer, others see it as everybody has forms that they can understand and are plain language, but if they really needed a lawyer, they really don’t have access. So just trying to get to a more standard definition is a goal I think that we should all share. Whether you like my definition or not, being clear about what we mean when we say it.

Stephanie Villinski  04:35

Kind of going off the same string, you discuss equity and equality. What is the difference between those two words?

Bob Glaves  04:55

The word equity is used by a lot of people in a lot of different ways. And so, we’ll hear people talking about equity or what’s not equitable, but not necessarily meaning it the same way. So, another one where clarity about what you’re saying is really important.

But in the access to justice context, I think equality is what we usually talk about. That is, that everybody’s going to get treated equally in front of the court, in front of the law. And that is a good concept. I mean, it goes to the whole idea of equal justice under law. But the problem is, if you didn’t start equally, and then get treated equally, you’re not on a level playing field. And that’s not going to work out so well.

So, the idea of equity is, what do we need to do to make sure that people have an equal opportunity to get that fair shake, to be heard equally, so that they are treated equally. Examples can help here: if you don’t speak the language, getting an interpreter is one. I think most people understand that you’re not going to, you may be treated equally, but you wouldn’t know what everybody was even talking about without the interpreter. And that one is recognized by law, that you should have access to an interpreter if you need one.

But it can be a lot of things like that. If you look at the circumstances of somebody not having a lawyer when the other side does in a situation like an eviction case, you could make the system as understandable and easy to navigate as possible for somebody but the fact is, they’re going to get steamrolled more often than not by the more powerful party who has a lawyer. So having a lawyer in that situation is really critical.

Stephanie Villinski  06:37

And then finally, any other language lawyers should clean up for the end of the year?

Bob Glaves  06:45

I will give you a universal one that applies to all of us and it’s acronyms. I think we all have a tendency to do that. And those of us who work around access to justice, and I am guilty a lot of times too, we use acronyms among ourselves and everybody knows what we’re talking about. But as soon as you get outside of the choir and you start throwing around acronyms, it’s another way to confuse people and not be inclusive. They think they should know what you’re talking about when you use acronyms, but they have no idea what you’re talking about.

Stephanie Villinski  07:17

I like it; it’s a good one. All right, well, thank you so much for joining me, Bob, I really appreciate it. And for all those watching, please like and share this video and subscribe to stay up-to-date on new episodes. Information on how to stay connected with the Commission, Bob, and the work of the Chicago Bar Foundation is in the notes, so please check that out. Thank you for watching. Happy holidays and stay well everyone.

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