I’m going to keep this really generic for (hopefully) obvious reasons. Recently, I read a really great piece on a website that focuses on entertainers. It was written by a lawyer, and it was an excellent look at an important legal issue that all entertainers should think about. The writer, a lawyer, had decades of experience in the business, and he wrote a great analysis about the topic.
There was just one problem: it was written in Lawyerese. I’m not aware of a single non-lawyer who could have fully understood the excellent information the lawyer was attempting to impart to his audience.
The only serious thing you should take away from this little rant is the following: if you’re talking to a lawyer and you don’t understand everything you’ve just heard, ask them to explain it again – and if necessary, again and again – until you do. It’s that important.
And now, excuse me while I mock the gobbledegook that we officers of the court say without blinking, organized into three simple “lessons” that will not in any way help you understand a single word of Lawyerese.
Lesson #1: Plain English. There’s a big movement afoot in the legal profession, attempting to get lawyers to write in “plain English.” There are even books that teach the esteemed members of the learned profession that is the law how to communicate in plain English because, apparently, third grade didn’t get the job done.
The rest of the English-speaking world has a word for “plain English.” They call it “English.” The English language does not actually include expressions such as “hereinwherewith” and “thereuntofor appertaining.”
It only seems like it does when we draft things. “Draft,” by the way, is Lawyerese for “write.” We do NOT write contracts or other legal documents! Writing simply does not convey how important our work is. Sure, you can write a Pulitzer Prize-winning tome, but you cannot write a contract for the sale of twenty (20) tons of eggplant. You absolutely must draft it.
Oh, and when you draft a contract, it is important that two parties not simply “agree” to anything. Agreeing is for wimps. It is absolutely critical that the parties mutually convenant herewith based on the exchange of consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which is hereby acknowledged.
Lesson #2: What’s The Deal With Numbers? Numbers, clearly, are too (not 2) important to simply mention once using commonly understood Plain English, er, English. I recently drafted – sorry, wrote – a contract and sent it to the other party’s counsel who
redlined marked the thing up with numbers in parentheses.
It was my bad. I had forgotten that “one year” is a very ambiguous statement; “one (1) year” clears that sucker right up.
Many people consider lawyers to be the embodiment of evil. We are not. You know who the embodiment of evil is, don’t you? He’s that horrible being represented by the number six hundred and sixty-six (666).
Lesson #3: Do You Know How To Tell We’re Smart? We Speak Latin! The law is a learned profession; you can tell this because we like to show off our learning in that language of many uses, Latin. On a regular basis, a friend will write to ask me about a phrase in a legal document their lawyer prepared. Usually, the phrase is “inter alia,” a phrase that clearly conveys something far too complicated to be expressed in English. It means “among other things,” an expression that obviously cannot be conveyed in English.
You may occasionally hear the phrase “de minimis,” which is Latin for “Who freaking cares?” The whole phrase – one law students have pounded into their craniums is: “De minimis not curat lex.” It means, “The law does not concern itself with trifles.” See that? Trifles! Even when you translate from Latin to English, Lawyerese just sounds more important than normal English!
Here’s what the phrase really means: “Dude – have you seen the huge size of this court’s docket – docket is Lawyerese for schedule – and the tiny size of our budget (and staffing)? Sorry, but we really don’t have time to waste on this.” Alternatively, if you see the expression “de minimis” used in an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she’s saying, “You bring this weak tea into Notorious RBG’s courtroom again, and I’ll get my strap out!”
Should you ever have the honor of meeting the Notorious RBG, you may even find yourself in camera, which, I would note, does not require your remaining within the confines of a Nikon. “In camera” refers to a private meeting in any judge’s (or justice’s, of course) chambers. Chambers, of course, is non-Latin Lawyerese for another term which cannot be adequately explained in plain English, “office.”
That leads to an interesting question: should a Skype session with the judge, while in her or his chambers, be referred to as “in cameraphone?”
On the other hand, if lawyers truly ran the world, there would be no more poor people. It’s not that economic struggle would end; it’s just that the former poor would be “in forma pauperus,” which sounds so much more sophisticated, doesn’t it?
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go. I’ve just realized that I’ve got a book to write – er, draft. It’s about speaking in Plain Latin.
Salus populi suprema lex esto.