Are Your Legal Forms Gender Biased?

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By George Khoury, Esq. on February 11, 2019 10:15 AM

Lawyers reuse letters, pleadings, and legal docs all the time. A quick copy and paste, coupled with a find and replace ... It's part of practicing. Sometimes, we even borrow language we like from other lawyers and cases.

But more often than any practitioner would like to admit, copy and paste errors, usually in the form of omissions, occur. You know exactly the error being described here. When you forget to paste over the last client's name that was used on a form, or forget to change a pronoun.

And on the subject of pronoun confusion, depending on how you set up your forms, your boilerplate could be expressing gender bias without you ever even realizing it.

Ditch Gendered Language on Forms

As the venture capital world is quickly learning, when gendered phrases become common in an industry, businesses risk alienating the unincluded gender. The Boston Globe described the phenomenon behind the changing of the usual industry contract term involving a "key man" to a "key person."

In tech and other industries, VCs often require certain executives or members of a company to be included in deals, and started calling those persons a "key man" in their contracts. However, as more women-led tech companies started to be chased by VCs, the standard term evolved to become "key person" as VCs did not want to risk alienating the very women who were critical to the deals.

Why This Matters?

Simply put, if you want to represent your clients properly in these modern times, gender inclusivity is the way to go. Opting to use the word "person," as in serviceperson, layperson, etc.. over the -man variants, should just be the new standard.  

This might mean actually going through your forms and boilerplate (or making someone else do it), minimally replacing -mans for -persons, and the he's or she's with s/he's, and always remembering to "Save as" before you change a thing on the form. Then, when using the form, running a find and replace to ensure you have proper pronoun agreement. Protip: using the s/he or his/hers phrases on your forms can ensure that pronouns that change based on the facts can be more easily found and replaced.

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