LINGUISTICS AND THE PRACTICE OF LAW
Linguistics is the study of language. It is reflected in everything we say and what we do. Essentially, it impacts how we communicate with others. In this regard, every word can have significance; many of which are like a double-edged sword, in which there can be two completely different meanings.
To be effective in the practice of law, one must truly understand the impact EACH word has, which includes knowing how and when to be concise instead of wordy; and, to know whether we are in fact, as well as how to be, convincing instead of unpersuasive.
There is a distinction between “effective” counsel and “competent” legal representation in that the latter is legal advice and counsel without errors, such as whether the advice and representation would result in the denial of a fair trial. This is often classified as malpractice or negligence. On the other hand, one may not have departed from the elementary standards applicable to the practice of law and, therefore, not be negligent. However, one can still be “ineffective” by failing to obtain a winning result. In the practice of law and to be effective, a lawyer should strive for superior advocacy; this should apply to how one drafts legal documents; presents oral and written arguments; drafts and finalizes written communications; as well as the basic dialogues we have with those with whom we know and/or those with whom we want to influence by producing a positive response, feeling, or opinion.
It is the “art of communications” to know what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and, where is it acceptable or beneficial to do so. Additionally, one needs to know when to say no more, if only to allow the other individual an opportunity to digest what has been said and to reply, if desired.
Here are some considerations to help illustrate the above:
- Is the same writing style and techniques in sending or responding to texts satisfactory in writing a letter, greeting card, etc.?
- Do you communicate the same when conferring with a loved one, family member and/or friend? Are there differences when applying for a job; writing an essay or term paper for school or college; or submitting written arguments to the adversary in a case; to an organization; an arbitrator; judge; and to an administrative agency?
- The tone of our communications can have a different impact, perhaps one that is not intended at all. The way words are expressed can lead to different meanings. For example, stating “I love you” in an angry or sarcastic voice vs. gently and softly saying the words “I love you.” Can you “hear” the difference? Try saying the same words in a different tone and you will see the reaction [the former angry tone likely will cause a baby to cry, out of fear].
- What about language in politics, in newspapers and television broadcasts? Are they fair and balanced?
- In addition, should one consider the source of the communication; the activity and context in which the communication is made; as well as the credibility of the speaker or writer?
- When is it appropriate to make a complimentary remark in contrast to ignoring what others may say or do that truly is, or seems improper?
Whether through linguistics and/or superior advocacy, the goal of a lawyer is to evoke an acceptance of an argument or obtain support for his/her argument. It is fair to say, effective legal counsel utilizes a combination of compelling and cogent language with logic and reasoning. Essentially, this involves both the “art of communication (linguistics)” and the “art of negotiation.”