Understanding Pronoun Usage in the Legal Field and Beyond

Photo provided courtesy of Unsplash.com.

By Anabelle Nietupski, Staff Writer


“Hi, I’m Anabelle. I use she/her/hers pronouns. What are your pronouns?”


This simple introductory anecdote appears to carry political, social, and moral weight. Let’s explore why this type of vocal acknowledgement of personal pronouns is not only respectful, but an apolitical representation of inclusivity.


The majority of all people, regardless of political stance, religion, or culture, use pronouns. Personal pronouns are not simply a tool for transgender or gender-nonconforming individuals. Think about it: Is there a way you would like someone to refer to you without using your name? The most common personal pronouns are she/her/hers, he/him/his, and they/them/theirs. Neo-pronouns, like ze/zim/zirs, and other methods of personal identification, like being referred to solely by a first name, are also rising in popularity. Simply choosing to vocally identify your personal pronouns can make a world of difference to those who are transgender or gender-nonconforming individuals, making it appropriate and affirming workplace etiquette.


The legal field is being called to adapt at a rapid pace to the social norms of personal pronoun acknowledgment. Denise Visconti, a shareholder of Big Law firm Holland & Knight, explained the basis for this in a January 2020 article, explaining:  “I think that anyone who is an employer should be thinking about this issue…there are quite a number of people who do not identify as either male or female, they identify in a nonbinary way and as an employer of those individuals, we need to be making sure that people feel respected, welcomed and included.” [1]


A simple change to make in an effort to move toward a more respectful and affirming workplace would be to add personal pronouns to your email signature. [2] In a world where the majority of workplace interactions are currently occurring virtually, creating connections and displaying solidarity is more important than ever.


The next step to a more inclusive legal field is conscious drafting. When creating documents for clients, ask about what personal pronouns they use and how they would like to be addressed. When in doubt, the singular use of “they” is often a great choice, with “The Associated Press, along with several other news organizations such as the Washington Post… [adopting] the plural pronoun “they” to fulfill the role of a gender-neutral singular pronoun.” [3] (And yes – this is grammatically correct. Consider: “They won’t stop tailgating me!”)


When drafting corporate or legislative documents, consider using gender neutral language or avoid exclusive language altogether. An easy way to incorporate this would be to “respect gender inclusiveness when writing about occupations or societal roles: flight attendant, businessperson, chairperson, server, police officer, jury foreperson, member of Congress, layperson.“ [4]


If this sounds unappealing or uncomfortable to incorporate into your life and legal practice, the most important thing to consider and absorb is that, at the very least, it is mandatory to respect your client’s pronouns. If they specifically vocalize one set of pronouns that they use, it is incredibly disrespectful to refer to them in any other way. While it may be challenging at first, failing to adapt to this will undoubtedly negatively impact your law practice by pushing away clients. Respect, as in all things, is essential to the practice of law. [5] How will clients trust an attorney to represent them if they do not feel respected by them?



[1] https://www.law360.com/articles/1232546/how-biglaw-is-starting-to-embrace-the-full-gender-spectrum

[2] https://abovethelaw.com/2020/02/more-biglaw-firms-encourage-associates-and-staff-to-use-gender-pronouns-in-email-signatures/

[3] https://blogs.findlaw.com/strategist/2019/08/the-fun-and-easy-way-to-use-gender-pronouns-in-legal-writing.html

[4] https://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/inclusive_legal_writing

[5] https://blogs.findlaw.com/strategist/2019/08/the-fun-and-easy-way-to-use-gender-pronouns-in-legal-writing.html

Comments are closed.