Lawyers Should Speak the Common Language

In law school, we learn how to read legal terminology.  Learning to "read the law" may be the most important skill lawyers develop.  But, learning to read it does not mean we should actually use that mumbo-jumbo.  Personally, I diligently avoid words like "therein" and "herein," but am not offended if other lawyers prefer "legalese."  But, in prosecuting civil lawsuits, some of us shoot ourselves in the foot simply by how we talk. 

At a recent deposition, for example, the Opposing Counsel asked questions of my client for many hours.  The OC persisted for several hours in using legal mumbo jumbo in questioning a layperson.  She asked the witness if the document "contained an accurate account of the information contained therein?"  "Did the supervisor tender you the document on the date denoted?"  "Does the email accurately depict the conversation in connection with your termination?"   

Really?  Do you really want an answer to a question only a lawyer would understand?  Communication requires that both participants share the same language.  There are times when we, as lawyers, may prefer to intimidate or obfuscate.  But, at a deposition, the purpose is generally to acquire information, not bury it.  So, why do we talk in a language no one else understands? 

My client struggled to answer compound questions that were riddled with legalese.  The witness asked the Opposing Counsel to re-phrase.  But, instead of translating her legalese, she would simply ask the court reporter to read the question back to the witness.  Still not understanding the same question, the witness would re-state the question to make sure she understood it.  Then, sometimes the OC would over-react and assume the witness was trying to evade the question.  She would fuss and lose her temper.  And, on the deposition would go.  Neither party really understanding the other.  And both parties increasingly suspicious of the other. 

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