Legal English: Three simple rules to start off!
We are producing a series of Legal English blogs in collaboration with our Legal English specialist, the rather appropriately named Victoria Laws.
At the start of a Legal English course, the first thing I always tell clients to do is to choose which form of English they want to use – British or American. This is essential because terminology is not always the same, for example lawyer versus attorney or competition law versus anti-trust law. The most important thing is to not mix & match and experience has taught me that most people are unaware of the differences, therefore do just that!
The second thing I stress is the need for accuracy. This is essential in the field of law and legal linguistics can initially be rather hard to grasp. Whether you work in civil or criminal law, the fundamental issue is the same: how to aptly describe your own legal system in a language that comes from a system that is vastly different, the Common Law. In short, it often results in having to explain something if a single word doesn’t already exist to do the job.
Thirdly, punctuation – both in writing & in speech. The wrong use of a word or a comma (a pause if speaking) in the incorrect part of a sentence can alter meaning and in the field of law, this can have potentially disastrous effects. Consider the difference between these two sentences: ‘The claimants, who had requested damages above €5000, all lost’ & ‘The claimants who had requested damages above €5000 all lost.’ The second sentence suggests that there were some claimants who were lucky enough to receive damages therefore the addition or omission of a comma has the effect of changing the meaning of the sentence entirely.
After dealing with the three essentials, we can really get cracking on the main body of the course. Linguistic accuracy is essential in the field of law and remains one of the foundations of any course that I teach.