Published: 30th June 2021
Get with the legalese: Why law students must master the language of the law
The technicality of the legal language used in legal written documents is so unvaried and expansive, a legal expert or practitioner’s advice is a must to comprehend
Caveat, ab initio, prima facie, Magna Carta, droit, mens rea, res judicata, estoppel and many more — one must be wondering what’s the meaning of these words. Indeed, this is all about the legal terminology or legal language used in legal education and profession. Legal language is very different from the language we use to communicate with others or from everyday language. Legal language is based on logic, rules, argument, morphology, pragmatics, syntax and semantics and is basically used by people associated with the legal profession. For instance, the language used in contracts, licenses, testaments, judgments, by-laws, orders and notices is abound with legal language. Additionally, there are also many instances where few terminologies have different or a new meaning in the legal language such as consideration, award, malice, stay, determine, prejudiced and so on.
Similarly, doctrine used in legal education or profession is also very complex to understand for an ordinary person because of its interpretation. Therefore, common people encounter problems with such language as these are drafted by lawyers, jurists and legislative drafters in their professional capacities. To understand legal language or legal terminology one must go through the dictionary or legal dictionary to understand technical and specific words. Legal language also refers to the vocabulary borrowed from Latin and French such as actus reus, ab initio, mens rea, pro bono and many more which are very intricate. Moreover, legal language involves lengthy and complex sentences, ritualistic language, dense and compact, unusual sentence structures with the use of negation and technical terms and these factors differentiate legal language from other common languages.
As Law is considered a technical subject, it is extremely important for legal practitioners and students to have a general understanding of legal language. With the changing pace of internationalisation, the legal profession has become very appealing and opens up career opportunities for prospective candidates. Nonetheless, the technicality of the legal language used in legal written documents is so unvaried and expansive, a legal expert or practitioner’s advice is a must to comprehend. Therefore, proficiency in legal language is the utmost in the legal profession and legal education for a better career panorama.
Dr Biranchi Narayan P Panda | (Pic: XIM University)
Many times, a lack of grip over legal language prevents students and professionals from understanding these legal documents or statutes, which leads to unsuccessful professions. In order to ensure career perspective and add value to the legal profession and education law schools in India should prioritise the culture of teaching legal language to students thoroughly. One may argue that English is a subject taught in every law school to enhance students’ language. Absolutely, you may be correct but one must not forget that English taught in law schools is to strengthen the English language, not the legal language.
There is a larger need that the law schools in India should emphasis on legal language and encourage practical knowledge over theoretical methods. Still many law schools in India are found far from giving importance to the teaching of legal language in their curriculum. These are a few important steps that law schools in India must adopt and endorse. First, include teaching and practice of subjects like legal language to students. Secondly, adopt innovative teaching pedagogy to inspire students to learn legal language in their programme. Third is clinical legal education above the theoretical and traditional pattern of teaching law and fourth, adoption of interactive, hands-on classrooms and real-life experience will surely boost the knowledge and proficiency over the legal language.
Apart from the above strategies, few other initiatives that law schools can enhance the legal language and are encouraging research and skill-based approaches; integration of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary courses; practical, clinical and internship-based courses; more comprehensive syllabus; focus on contemporary social issues and so on. Additionally, learning about legal drafting courses and practice, the exercise of legal documentation such as case laws, judgments, statutes, contracts, by-laws and participation in moot court and other competitions certainly helps the students to acquaint themselves with legal language.
Law is becoming a universally acceptable technical subject with wider scope and opportunities. The required skill set and a better understanding of legal language can help one grab better opportunities in this field. Thus, a robust mechanism needs to be developed within law schools to timely and effectively monitor all such initiatives. Separately, as a legal professional and law student, you need to push yourself to master the legal language through your own continuous efforts and involvement.
Dr Biranchi Narayan P Panda is the Assistant Professor (Law) at Xavier Law School, XIM University. Views expressed are his own