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Author Topic: Speaking Legalese  (Read 7947 times)

RickLax.com

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Speaking Legalese
« on: October 07, 2007, 10:34:19 PM »
I’m taking a class called “Complex Litigation: Advanced Civil Procedure."

Complex Litigation is every bit as confusing as it sounds; the class deals with large multi-party and multi-forum civil cases, and how courts and litigants deal with them.

On top of this confusion, my prof has a penchant for using what some would consider unnecessarily ornate vernacular—a virtual cornucopia of polysyllabic confabulation.

I know he’s aware of this because he just told us that one of his Anonymous Student Evaluation forms from last year read, “Could you talk more normal? I don’t know what ‘ensue’ means. Why do you have to use that word so much?”

I laughed along with the rest of the class, but I’m still not 100% sure what “ensue” means either.

On the other hand, I’d never consider faulting a professor for using a word I didn’t know; if I really wanted to know what a word meant, I’d look it up.

For the rest of lecture, the prof used ‘ensue’ once per minute.

Does he have to use words like “ensue” and “convalesce” “acquiescence” in every other sentence? Probably not; I’ve gotten by twenty-four years without using them at all. Still, the prof is a smart guy, and he’s not using big words for the sake of using big words; he’s using them to say exactly what he wants to say.

That said, many of my classmates use big words for the sake of using big words. This usually happens when they volunteer answers in class. I assume their verbage will only get worse once they get their diplomas and pass the bar; they’ll probably see their graduation and bar passage as a validation of their verbage.

But in my classmates’ defense, is there any advantage to speaking legalese for the sake of speaking legalese? For example, do clients feel they’re getting their money’s worth when their lawyer peppers her casual conversation with Latin legal phrases? Does legalese scare opposing parties into settling cases? Any advantage at all?

bookechulack

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Re: Speaking Legalese
« Reply #1 on: October 07, 2007, 11:06:00 PM »
No advantage.

I'm sure you have taken Con. Law, the Supreme Court opinions are awful, this type of writing keeps the law from the people and makes them distrust lawyers even more.

If you want your clients to trust you, become an expert at boiling these overdone opinions down into something that is digestable.

jacy85

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Re: Speaking Legalese
« Reply #2 on: October 08, 2007, 12:02:32 AM »
How is "ensue" a big/difficult word?

While I agree that there is far too much terrible legal writing out there (from the Supreme Court on down), the fact that people would consider "ensue" a difficult word says more to me about that particular student's poor vocabulary than about the professor's verbosity.

Jhuen_the_bird

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Re: Speaking Legalese
« Reply #3 on: October 08, 2007, 12:42:30 AM »
How is "ensue" a big/difficult word?

While I agree that there is far too much terrible legal writing out there (from the Supreme Court on down), the fact that people would consider "ensue" a difficult word says more to me about that particular student's poor vocabulary than about the professor's verbosity.

Exactly.

RickLax.com

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Re: Speaking Legalese
« Reply #4 on: October 14, 2007, 11:02:53 PM »
Well it's not big.
We can all agree to that.

LVP

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Re: Speaking Legalese
« Reply #5 on: October 15, 2007, 09:21:46 PM »
I think it has its place, but there are big disadvantages other places.  Among lawyers, it can be a form of jargon - it's easier to use "estop" or "contra proferentum" or "mens rea" than to use several times as many small words that end up meaning the same thing.  But I would never use those words when talking to a client - I would take the time to speak in plain English.

We've read a couple of cases in Decedents' Estates and Trusts this semester that illustrate the problems with legalese.  In one, the testator wanted to leave his house to one person, and the rest of his real property to another.  But the lawyer couldn't bring himself to use the word "house," so the will read "homestead."  It turned out the court interpreted "homestead" to mean all of the real property, so the testator's intent was defeated.

In another case, the testator wanted to leave all her property to all of her (~25) first cousins, equally distributed.  Again, it didn't occur to the lawyer who drafted the will to simply write "my first cousins."  I guess he figured he wasn't earning his fee unless he used a phrase like "heirs at law."  Unfortunately, her only heir at law was her aunt, who took all the property - no cousin got any.

I'm sure stories like this abound - legalese has its place, but it should be used with caution.

"Ensue" is an easy word.  It's what hilarity does.
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John Galt

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Re: Speaking Legalese
« Reply #6 on: October 16, 2007, 08:50:41 AM »
How is "ensue" a big/difficult word?

If you want some big words, read an opinion by Selya on the 1st Circuit. Seriously. I have never heard of some of the words he uses.

StevePirates

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Re: Speaking Legalese
« Reply #7 on: October 16, 2007, 12:58:57 PM »
I'm a fan of the precision school of thought.  If the "fancy" word means something different than the "common" word, then the "fancy" word is preferable.  If the common word and fancy word mean the same thing, then I think it's better to use the common word.

RickLax.com

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Re: Speaking Legalese
« Reply #8 on: October 16, 2007, 01:00:32 PM »
I'm a fan of the precision school of thought.  If the "fancy" word means something different than the "common" word, then the "fancy" word is preferable.  If the common word and fancy word mean the same thing, then I think it's better to use the common word.

Well put, as always, Mr. Pirates.

LVP

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Re: Speaking Legalese
« Reply #9 on: October 17, 2007, 09:15:05 AM »
I'm a fan of the precision school of thought.  If the "fancy" word means something different than the "common" word, then the "fancy" word is preferable.

I would say if the "fancy" word means something different than the "common" word, then the word that is closer in meaning to what you're trying to say is preferable.
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