The Interesting and Unexpected Legislative History of Legal English

Legislative research

Over half a million federal court tort cases occur in the United States every year. Figures from Statistic Brain, a numbers-reporting website, lists the estimates average number of these cases in the U.S. as 512,000 annually. Additionally, there are a significantly large amount of civil lawsuits as well, and 20 percent of those are typically associated in some way with automobile accidents.

No matter what the legal situation is, a unique form of communication that has come to be called Legal English will almost certainly be used in documents relating to the case. Legal English is highly specialized form of the English language specifically engineered to reflect federal statutes and regulations as well as any other legal terms that have come about in legislative history. Here are some more quick facts on the history of Legal English.

1. Grammar is everything.

When dealing with legal situations, the phrasing and exact wording of a sentence can be paramount because of what alternate version could explicitly mean or suggest. This often causes documents written in Legal English to have a word order that would be unusual when speaking in regular, conversational English. These particular grammar rules extend to licenses, contracts, courts pleadings, acts of Congress and other legislation, too.

2. Legal research has a different legislative history.

Just as the American government system (and the very word “government” itself) borrows much from the French, so, too, does the American legal system. The wording in plenty of legal statutes often employs French grammatical structure because of the particular and precise nature of the word organization. It is for this reason that Legal English has earned the often critical nicknames of “lawspeak” and “Legalese.”

3. Doubles and triples avoid ambiguity.

You may be familiar with “breaking and entering,” “will and testament, “terms and conditions” and other paired-up phrases. Though these may seem redundant, these were implemented in the legislative history of Legal English as a avoiding ambiguity by using a second word with the same or a similar meaning for the purpose of clarity. Today, law researchers just beginning their careers must make a solid effort to get accustomed to these unique style.

You might not have learned it from watching Judge Judy, but the legal world is essentially its own microcosm, complete with its own language. Throughout legislative history, that language has molded into other forms to better suit its users, though at its core, it is still a heavily French-inspired system of communication. For more information on the legislative history of Legal English, visit your local law library or ask a lawyer friend!

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