Making House Style Stick

Day one of your new job… addition to locating the nearest toilets, coffee machine and where your various fee earners are situated (quite possibly in that order!) comes the incontrovertibly toughest task of your induction period….acquainting yourself with house style.  The style of your previous firm will be indelibly etched in your memory and you will be signing letters in your old partner’s name for the next month, so how do you get to grips with a completely different style before you hit the ground running?

Much is crammed into those initial IT training sessions; all of which make perfect sense in its place, but, back at your desk, the house style is suddenly baffling and your notes read like rambling nonsense.  Thankfully, regular exposure to house style will provide more answers than questions but follow-up training a few months after induction is an ideal opportunity to address those things you are unsure of.  There are many intricacies within house style and it is genuinely a learning curve (with seemingly no end!) so follow-up/refresher training could prove invaluable.

It may well be the case, however, that you are not alone in grappling with the firm’s house style…..

Trainees and NQs are required to undertake extensive document work, often during more unsociable hours when no specialist assistance is available.  It is during these twee hours that the art of ‘fudging it’ is adopted – back spacing over indented styles to reach the margin, manually typing clause numbers – the makings of a formatting nightmare for the next secretary to work on the document.

Let us not forget the serial offenders who find house style uninspiring and quite simply want to make it pretty – cue fancy font, alarming use of bold, italics and underline – basically a complete departure from what is essentially the firm’s signature style.

So how exactly do we get everyone back on the same page?  Here are some ideas that may be worth trying on for size.

Document Training for Legal Staff – in-depth document training should not be limited to secretaries.  When you consider the hours dedicated to restoring working documents to house style (not to mention those wasted trying to work round it, in the dead of night), the concept of document training for all legal staff appears to make perfect business sense.

Target Training Document Production has the inside track on what form recurring formatting bloopers take and this provides a basis for target training, either in the form of structured training sessions or a ‘how-to’ style handout to be used alongside the firm’s house style guide.

House Style Specialist – it is not uncommon to find IT Secretaries at firms who have an expert knowledge in Office as well as document specialists on Helpdesk.  It is unusual to find someone with a solid understanding of the firm’s house style and all its complexities, who can offer advice.

Incentivised Learning – I once worked for a PSL who sent out an e-quiz every month, the prize being a bottle of champagne.  It proved a very successful and engaging method of testing/reinforcing knowledge (not least because of the bubbly!) and was often the forum for lively debates.

Policing House Style – probably the most challenging aspect!  Management need to consistently assert the importance of house style; it is after all the hallmark of the firm.  Equally, secretaries need to be supported in pointing out house style discrepancies to their fee earners (which can be daunting when dealing with strong characters, shall we say?!)

House style is something we are taught during induction but will continue to learn during our lifetime at work so please share your experiences; the good, the bad and the ugly!