Mastery of language affords remarkable power.
Frantz Fanon, psychiatrist.
…Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up even for a sentence. He is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective, against the encroachment of Latin and Greek, and, above all, against the worn-out phrases and dead metaphors with which the language is cluttered up.
George Orwell, novelist.
Mastery of language is a fundamental skill for an advocate.
Counsel’s command of language is critical for instilling confidence in clients. Insufficient attention to formality may undermine a client’s assessment of your capabilities.
Poor choice of language may also serve as a barrier to meaningful communication. Empathetic communication requires the selection of words that convey respect and understanding, rather than judgment. Furthermore, counsel must be wary of technical jargon that may confuse and alienate our clients.
Judges also have high expectations with respect to the formality and precision of counsel’s language. A judge should be focused on counsel’s arguments, not distracted by counsel’s sloppy language or inappropriate use of slang.
When playing the role of advocate, counsel must strive to communicate clearly and effectively. A powerful expression of an idea or a concept that resonates with a judge or a jury may turn a case in your client’s favour.
- Read broadly to expand your vocabulary and to enhance your ability to express your ideas.
- Debrief your verbal and written interactions with others and refine your approaches. If you put your foot in your mouth, use it as a learning experience and remember that you are the only one who is keeping a running tally of your greatest verbal blunders.