Including a pronoun preference in an email signature is now widely accepted in big business. These are references such as she/her, he/him or they/them/their after the sender’s name or as an additional line to indicate how the person would like to be addressed.
The procedure started in the LGBTQ+ community as a way for people to ask to be referred to in a way that aligned with their gender identity. The practice grew as a way to indicate support for diversity and inclusion.
Big firms like Jenner & Block and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton have adopted policies allowing this usage. Cozen & O’Connor actively encourages it.
Good Reasons to Add Your Pronoun Preference
You and your staff will do your best work when others address you by your preferred pronoun. Including these prompts in your email signature helps others do this. Aside from gender identification, the prompts help those of us with gender-neutral first names such as Payton, Madison or Teddy. Respectful personal references can enhance any relationship.
Encouraging the communication of pronoun preferences demonstrates your firm’s openness to everyone, no matter their gender identity. Your Gen Z employees may particularly want to use and see others in the firm using the practice to show solidarity with LGBTQ+ individuals. Adopting this usage as routine brings you into the widening mainstream — or perhaps marks you as a leader.
But Is It Good Marketing?
You might want to test the waters before using or allowing the use of pronoun preference in firm emails. Talk to some representative clients to see if they find pronoun preference references laudable or objectionable. Is the practice likely to mark your firm as inclusive — or is it going to repel some clients and prospects? The reactions you see may depend on the nature of your practice and geographic location, but reactions may differ, perhaps surprisingly, independently of those factors.
Some clients may not understand the reference. The conversation could lead to further, perhaps uncomfortable, questions. The attention of a client who had never thought about a lawyer’s sexuality might now be focused on that issue. The client who does not understand why someone who identifies with their birth identity would designate pronouns may not accept some of your answers.
Others may see the practice as a political choice of which they disapprove.
The pronoun preference email reference could confuse some non-English speakers. This usage may be foreign in every sense of the word to some clients and prospects.
Some clients may feel uncomfortable with this information. Just as they have no need for other information about a lawyer’s or staffer’s personal life, they see pronoun preference as superfluous to their need for legal services. They could see it as an opening for an inquiry into their own lives, which would not be welcome.
Adopting a Pronoun Preferences Policy
Ideally, your firm will adopt a policy that affirms each member’s choice and encourages everyone to come into the fold. However, you also need to reconcile the comfort level of the firm’s management and clients. Also, absent any possibility of prohibited discrimination, management has the right to insist on uniformity of design for the firm’s communications.
The firm’s policy should be uniformly applied. Management can choose to bar but should not require the inclusion of pronoun preferences in email signatures. Those who adopt it should not be treated any differently from those who do not. If clients ask questions about a firm member’s pronoun preference listing, be upfront about why someone would want to include this identifying information and why the firm stands behind it.
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