writing conventions
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This article is written by Gitika Jain pursuing BBA.LLB(Hons) from Amity University, Kolkata. This article deals with the importance of convention in legal communication.

Introduction

The key to successful, rewarding practice is good communication skills. In the legal world, one needs to communicate well with the lawyers, the staff, the partners, the associates, the clients and the vendors. A good communication skill not only boosts confidence in oneself but also helps the clients and other people to understand the language of law in a better manner. The more one master’s good communication skills the more the practice becomes enjoyable because if the communication is understandable the client or other people are likely to trust more and as a result of which the practice becomes easier and enjoyable. 

Meaning of convention

The term convention is something which people use nowadays to refer to punctuations, spelling and grammar. Sometimes conventions can also be referred to as a handwriting and computer formatting. Earlier “conventions” were also called “mechanics” but this is not the case anymore because communicating correctly involves a lot of human thought and it is hardly a “mechanical” process. There are actually no rules of writing, instead, there are agreements between different people in society regarding how to interpret the written communication when it is read. These so -called rules were officially accepted in the 18th and 19th -century era and they are still evolving today. There can be an endless debate on the topic if a piece of article is correctly written or not. Even if a person thinks that a piece of something, he or she has written, is correct, there could be possible chances of mistakes that another may find in the same. So the question, if something is correct or incorrect, depends on who is doing the considering and the correcting. 

Different aspects of convention

In order to enhance and clarify the meaning of what is written, writers often used conventions. Conventions allow writers to put the exact manner in which the word or the phrase should be interpreted by the reader. In simpler words, conventions help the readers to understand exactly what the writer has to say. In lack of physical presence, convention helps to do the reading for you. Whenever we write something we hear it in our head first and we know how exactly it should sound but the reader doesn’t. This is exactly where convention comes in place. It helps the readers guide through the writing by telling the reader where to stop, where to go, where to slow up the speed, where to speed up and so on.

Conventions make the writing sound exactly in the way it should be sounded when it was written. Writing would be a mess without conventions. For example in the absence of a space between each word everything would just run together. If there were no conventions of correct spelling, writers would have been unsure if their writings were being read the way they had written. Even without proper punctuations, the translation of messages would have been difficult. Conventions help us to make what we write to match the way we want to sound. For a beginner, conventions may sound a big hassle but the more one works with it the more he or she will be able to get a catch of it. Hence they are a powerful part of writing. Everyone’s ideas are important and it is deserved to be understood and read exactly the way they were intended to. 

  • One should think about tools, not rules – Conventions are often misinterpreted as rules. But it is not the case instead they are tools and not rules. They help to nail down the topic, hammer out a precise idea and chisel away at ambiguity. 
  • How many sentences must be in a paragraph – In our school life everyone must have heard of this that a paragraph is supposed to have a certain number of sentences. Some say 6, others say 4, etc. Well, everything was just a myth. A paragraph can have one sentence or a hundred and one sentence. As already discussed there are no rules. Different writings have different lengths of paragraphs. Generally, long paragraphs are hard to understand and they often tend to slow down the pace. On the other hand, short paragraphs are easier to understand and the pace of the piece quickens. 
  • Correctness – A reader must find the writing to be correct in all aspects. When readers identify anything incorrect in the dictionary they find it difficult to read the particular writing and it is highly probable for them to misinterpret something because of the confusion created due to incorrectness. Even after understanding the writing, a lot of time and effort has to be put into behind the interpretation of the writing. If any errors are recognized by the reader, they tend to form a negative judgment on the ideas they read which is not fair but common. There is a perception that prevails in our society that people who write incorrectly are not smart enough and are not worth listening to. Such prejudices are wrong but they still exist and everyone must be aware of them.
  • Conventional wisdom – Since there are no definite answers to the question of whether a particular piece of writing is correct or not, we can adopt a few ways in order to mitigate the incorrectness as far as possible. We can learn about a few ‘rules’ and try to apply them consistently in our writings, we can also try hard to understand and live up to the expectations that the readers have for the correctness and we can make sure the meaning of writing is as clear as it can be to the greatest number of potential readers.

Skills required for great communication

  • Verbal communication – Every sort of communication cannot be done via email. Some communications are best handled by picking up the phone. Bad news can be given by phone or in person, negotiations can be best handled by phone, etc. Discussing a problem with the client verbally seeks to maintain their trust. If there is a delay in solving a problem by the promised date that must be informed to the client via a phone call. This shows a sign of a competent and confident lawyer who handles problems in an honest and prompt way. However, there can be drawbacks of verbal communication like not letting the other person speak.
  • Good listening – While communicating verbally good listening skills are equally important. While handling clients it is important to allow them to speak. This will make them feel understood and they’ll begin to trust more. Since in the profession of law, everyone is smart, so they often anticipate what is going to be said and they don’t feel the need to listen to anything carefully. But when they’re actually hearing a client that can deepen their understanding of the client’s problem. 
  • Sound counsel – Once any client places trust on the lawyer he or she should not hold back on giving advice. They should help their clients make situations easier for them. 
  • Openness – A man should not be overconfident and always welcome the possibility that the problem which has been stated before them is not known by them. It is important for the lawyer or any person giving the advice to know the problem before they start helping others. Being open means being able to look at the problem in different ways and creatively consider different ideas, strategy and courses of action.
  • Curiosity – Whenever a question is being put it is always supported with an interest. The more one is curious about something, the more it helps them to engage and validate that person. Being curious about someone or something helps us to understand them in a much better way. 
  • Value – Since lawyers charge for every minute of advice they give, it is important that the communication involved is valuable. So whatever advice is provided by the lawyer to the client must be clear and understandable. An outcome of communication must be thought beforehand and then the planning should be done accordingly as to what to communicate. 
  • Persuasion – A lawyer must possess good persuading skills while negotiating, arguing before judges and juries, hiring outside outstanding staff, and responding to client requests. 

Importance of convention in legal writing

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What is a good legal writing 

Writing is said to be good if the piece of writing accomplishes the writer’s purpose behind writing the document. For example, if the purpose behind writing a brief was to persuade the court then that brief is well written only when it actually persuades the intended audience i.e. the court. Similarly, if the purpose behind writing of the memorandum is to inform a client then the memorandum is said to be well written if it effectively conveys the information to the intended client. However, a document can be set to be well written when it is actually not well written but it fulfils the purpose of the writers. 

  • Good writing must be clear
  • It must be concise
  • It must be engaging

Apart from the above basic principles that apply even to the known legal right things, there are some important guidelines for legal writing specifically:

  • The importance of grammar – Failure to use proper grammar makes the person attempting to communicate in an unprofessional and sloppy manner. Slight grammatical mistakes may even change the meaning of what is being tried to be communicated. Use of proper grammar also includes accurate spellings. Apart from proper grammar one needs to know a certain legal language in the field of law. The term legal language includes the use of proper terms such as the correct name of courts and correct use of words like foreseeability, action, negligence, etc. 
  • Acknowledging sources – It is important to know while writing important aspects of the law that the person acknowledges the sources of reference. He/she must also be aware of the rules about plagiarism. Another reason to always give acknowledgement to the sources is that a legal argument requires reliance on legal authority through the doctrine of precedent. That must be cited properly with the help of footnotes and bibliography in legal writing.
  • Basic rules – In addition to the legal conventions of writing there are certain basic issues that need to be taken care of. Latin phrases should always be written in italics such as ratio decidendi or Orbita dictum. 
  • Abbreviations – As we all know that a full stop concludes the sentence so it must not be used for any other purpose. Titles such as Mr, Mrs, doctor, do not need full stops. Legal writing conventions also include the use of abbreviations in some circumstances For example while referring to legislation or while referring to judicial officers.
  • Legal terminologies – Proper use of legal terms to describe the judges and parties properly, for example, defendants, plaintiffs, respondents, and plaintiffs are important. A piece of writing that contains a judge’s reason is known as a ‘judgment’ and it must not be written as a ‘judgment’. 
  • Power of language – There are some other conventions for presenting the written work in different aspects of the law. They are times roman new, 12 font, double or 1.5 spacing, proper margins, a footnote at the bottom of the page and not endnotes, breaks between paragraphs, etc.

Conclusion

In some of the importance of conventions in legal communication, we must also include and conclude this particular topic by discussing the core communication standards i.e. the Cs. Clear, cogent, coherent, cohesive, complete, concise, confident, consistent, contemporary, correct, courteous, and commercial. All the Cs are nothing but a valuable addition to the communication process in the legal field.

References


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