RELEVANCE OF LEGAL LANGUAGE IN INDIAN LAW SCHOOLS
Author: Tanya Sinha, III year of B.A., LL.B. from National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam.
Co-author: Yash Gupta, IV year of B.A., LL.B. from National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam.
Language is the fundamental mechanism and a splendid gift for human beings to convey and unfold their thoughts, ideas, views, opinions, feelings and emotions. Like other spheres of study, the law also is greatly reliant on language. Words are the essence of law likewise legal profession demands proficiency in legal terms and terminologies. Knowingly or unknowingly; directly or indirectly; willingly or unwillingly, we are connected and swaddled by the legal language. Right from our birth in the Birth Certificate to our death in the Death Certificate, we are counting on the legal language and legal documents. It is quite intriguing to note the origins of the words ‘law’ and ‘language’ and find some synonymities between the two.
The word ‘language’ is derived from the Latin word ‘lingua’ that means tongue, whereas the word ‘law’ is taken as a derivative of the verb ‘leggja’ which means laydown. From the Anglo-Saxon to the classical languages like Latin and Greek; from the old English and French to simple English of today, language, as well as law, has gone through significant changes. Acceptability and adaptability are key elements of both law and language which are noticeable in the significant evolution of law and language. There is a very profound and subtle relationship between law and language. They are closely associated and interdependent. Law is governed through language while language is also governed by laws (grammatical, syntactic etc.). Laws are coded in language and both occupy every sphere and walk of our life. The legal fraternity uses language to articulate, deliberate and implement laws.
Legal language is the language used by persons related to the law field or legal profession. Legalese is defined as “the specialised language” of the legal profession. Legal language is “a varietal system of technical terms, situations meanings, complicated procedural arrangements etc. which communicate at least among the lawmen in a unique style imperceptibly interwoven with certain juristic traits and judicial qualities.” (1). The language of the law is in all its intricacy the consequence of conservatism in the legal profession and its respect for history and tradition. (2) The language of the law has developed through waning and augmenting of different languages and influences – Celtic, Norman, Latin, and French. Latin was an essential language of court proceedings a long time back as was French for a period. During that time, statutes were also laid down in Latin and French. English was still flourishing, evolving and absorbing words from many languages. Latin and later French were more explicit and were considered as the languages of the elites whereas lawyers were part of the elites. The legal profession ensured that despite attempts to enforce the use of English, in practice Latin and French remained as languages of the law to maintain that exclusivity. “English” as the language of the law was renowned from the 18th century. But Latin and French words existed then and continue to exist now in the language of the law though equivalent words of daily usage English are available. (3)In the study of law, language has great relevance, it influences the way we act, the way we think and the way we perceive ourselves.
Law as a profession offers a plethora of career pathways for students to explore. Thus, it is no surprise that more and more youngsters these days are inclined towards law as their favoured career choice. People with proficiency in communication, logical reasoning, analytical skills and capability to read and imbibe are competent to enter into the legal sphere. Law schools adorn these skills and make students legal professionals. As Felix Frankfurter has claimed that "the law and lawyers are what the law schools make them.” (4) One could say that Law school is the appropriate forum to impart professional norms and a vision of law as a dignified profession. The fundamental role of any education is not only to encourage intellectual activities like the pursuit of truth, research and scholarship, and the transmission of knowledge but also to socialize students into the culture and norms of the community (5). The standard of the legal language taught in law schools greatly affects a student’s insight into the legal profession. Many law schools in India include a subject on legal Language in the very first year of study. This subject is of paramount importance to the students of law in helping them understand the intricacies of the law, however, it has been realised that legal language is not very well-acknowledged by students in most law schools. Legal issues rely on principles of law, universal propositions which are legalistic in language. These principles are to be found in the expressions of courts or legal writers who have achieved the stature of "authority”.Most of the time, analysis of legal issues based on legal language is left to the students to study on their own which leads to difficulty in understanding.
They also face a problem in understanding various law subjects. The situation needs urgent attention because the students need to develop a heightened respect for linguistic precision as the meaning of words is so imperative to the craft of lawyering, and they will be expected to use words carefully and precisely.6 Understanding legal language is of utmost importance for law students as cases turn on the meaning that judges ascribe to words, and lawyers must use the right words to fulfil the wishes of their clients. The type of English used by lawyers contrasts the ordinary plain English. Lawyers have managed to retain an exclusive language of their own. For the most part, legal language follows the rules that govern English in general. At the same time, it disconnects in many ways from everyday speech, far more than the technical languages of most other professions. It is exclusive and distinctive as its linguistic structure is mystifying and not amenable to common modes of definition. Therefore, the legal language requires proper training and understanding. Law students need proficiency in legal terms and terminologies in legal profession irrespective of the country, state or region they belong to as there is the rise in globalization. For successful careers, people are moving from one country to another and they are applying their academic knowledge acquired in their native country to the respective country of their employment. In this scenario, not giving proper training in legal language is one of the malfunctions in the legal system of the country that can only be eliminated by making legal language an important part of the law school curriculum. In the legal profession, it becomes important to be very well versed with legal terminologies which are universally relevant when one enters the market as a qualified lawyer and interacts with prospective clients and colleagues of different regions. Effective interaction involves both written and verbal communication skills, it emphasizes the need for proper training in Legal language. The law schools in India have a responsibility to help students understand the intricacies of law which would help them widen their exposure and be a feather to their cap, and in this way, future lawyers, judges and public officials would surely have a broad array of perspectives.