Language, law and science

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Language, law and science

I’ll be honest: I am not really a lawyer. Not the sort that’s ever wanted a practising certificate, anyway. Because, practising certificates are not exciting.

What is really exciting is the idea of taking a so-called complex legal concept and writing it in a way that everyone can understand—not just lawyers and their friends. Imagine what we all could do!

Anyway, at law school, I heard a lecturer proclaim that The Law Is A Science.

One of the meanings of science in the Oxford Dictionary is:

A systematically organised body of knowledge on a particular subject.

Let’s think about this. There are criminal lawyers. Corporate lawyers. Family lawyers. Construction lawyers. Administrative lawyers. I agree that—for a practising lawyer in each of these fields—it definitely is a science.

Spanning all these aspects, judges use a scientific approach to decide cases: defined criteria, decisions based on precedent, detailed analyses and a recommendation at the end.

But in everyday life, law is not a science. Not to me. Because I do not specialise in any of those fields.

To me, law is a language.

And what is that now? According to the Oxford Dictionary, some of the definitions are (among other things):

  1. a system of communication used by a country or community
  2. phraseology belonging to a particular group (such as lawyers)
  3. other agreed or mutual forms of communication—including non-verbal and symbolic.

In the work that I do, I look at legislation—find common words, key processes that underpin different laws. And then look at how people might react to particular news (generally on a scale of ‘rather badly’ to ‘don’t bother with the phone—you’ll hear them anyway’) and whether the reported studies or examples that have come before are relevant or not.

Language.

Lawyering is no different. It’s a secret language—that shouldn’t be secret.

This is where I want to fit in.

Incidentally, I was trying to get edumacated and read The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker (just so I could be like Rory and wave my arms about sentence structure too). Basically, part of what Steven Pinker does in that book is explore the neural passages that make up language and govern how we learn languages. Mathematically? Statistically?

Scientifically.

So, there you go. Law (and science) is a language. And language is a science.

Maybe my lecturer was right, after all.

By | 2017-05-19T08:20:54+00:00 March 18th, 2015|Legal writing|0 Comments

About the Author:

Minnie has a Master of Public and International Law degree, and specialises in writing for vulnerable audiences—making complex policy meaningful to those who need it most.

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