Trainee solicitors have been told that they are likely to come across people with literacy issues in their work, and to watch out for signs that clients or witnesses are struggling with reading or writing.
Fergus Dolan (small picture) of the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) told a lecture (7 September) on equality, diversity and inclusion that 18% of Irish adults were at or below level one – the lowest level of literacy.
In addition, 25% were at or below the lowest level of numeracy.
Signs to watch for
Speaking a day before International Literacy Day, Dolan told the PPC students at Blackhall Place that there were a number of signs to look out for to indicate that a person was struggling with literacy.
These included asking the solicitor to read things out, uneasy body language, a reluctance to fill out forms, and an unwillingness to approach the front desk of an office.
He also cited other common phrases used by those with reading problems, such as “my partner looks after that”, or “I forgot my glasses”.
Dolan said that solicitors needed to ask themselves if others – including their own family members and friends – could understand their letters, emails, and websites.
He urged solicitors who encountered people with literacy issues to “walk them through” documents.
‘Plain English’ tips
NALA promotes the use of ‘plain English’ by companies and organisations.
This is defined as presenting information in a way that helps someone to understand it the first time they read or hear it.
Dolan said that ‘plain English’ covered the structure and design of websites and documents, as well as use of language.
He told trainees that its use could lead to benefits for solicitors – including fewer mistakes, fewer questions, time saved, and better access to their services.
Dolan gave the trainee solicitors a number of tips for complying with ‘plain English’ requirements:
- Avoid acronyms or jargon,
- Use short sentences,
- Use bold type, rather than underlining or italics, for emphasis,
- Use simple fonts, preferably with a size of 12,
- Define acronyms where necessary,
- Use the active, not the passive, voice.
He also informed the solicitors about the free service provided by NALA and the 16 Educational Training Boards (ETB) across the country to those with literacy issues.
This lecture, organised by Colette Reid, formed part of skills training on the new-style Professional Practice Course for trainee solicitors that started this week.