I was an English major before law school, but law school definitely did its damnedest to instill terrible, lawyerly habits in me that would have seriously pissed off my English professors. And, yes, I’m going to limit this to just five.
jar·gon (ˈjärgən/)noun: jargon; plural noun: jargons1.special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.
Yeah, I’m not sure I even need to elaborate on that. Thanks, Google, for that most-perfect definition.
4. The Damn Latin.
I belong to the only profession that didn’t get the memo that Latin was a dead language. And we use it, too. Granted, I myself don’t really know enough to be obnoxious with it, but you would be amazed by the number of briefs I read where other attorneys have expertly woven it into their prose which, ipso facto, is annoying. (More annoying when I have to return to said Google to look up a word. Except quid pro quo, which, thanks to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, I know by heart.)
I challenge anyone to come up with one other profession as skilled at using 30 words when five would do. What is funny is that law school actually does attempt to teach you not to do this. Yet, when you combine overly cautious construction and a healthy dose of CYA? Voila. Legal prose.
However, in defense of lawyers (that may possibly be the first time in history that phrase has been written), every five words superfluously added to a contract were only added after someone sued and won because they weren’t there.
2. Awkwardly Proper Grammar.
When I’m home at the end of the day, there is definitely a release when I turn back to my novel (or my blog) because I can do what I want. I can use all the sentence fragments and dangling participles I want and no one can tell me I’m wrong because it’s style, and “in which” can go straight to hell. (i.e. this is the blog in which I rant about stupid crap.)
1. Double Negatives.
I saved this for last because it’s my favorite. As an English major, double negatives are a no-no. In legal writing? They’re freaking everywhere. Because, God forbid, you tell someone they’re right…only that they’re not wrong. Do you know how many times I have read a court opinion where the court says that “Plaintiff is not incorrect” in his argument? (Really, Judge? He’s not correct? No, no no. He’s just not incorrect.) Yes, I understand that it is driven by rhetoric and not flawed grammar, but still. You’re not fooling anyone. If you’re not wrong, by definition, you are right. Right? I’ll agree with its usage in situations such as, “he’s not unattractive” or “she’s not an idiot”…because those are sliding scales. Not being unattractive does not make you Chris Hemsworth and not being an idiot does not make you Stephen Hawking.
I’d like to give an honorable mention to Passive Aggressive Writing. I didn’t put it on the list because I’m a fan. Genuinely. Telling someone that “I’m curious as to the source of your conclusions” when I’m actually suggesting they’re an idiot who didn’t do their homework is occasionally the highlight of my day.