This article is written by Aayushi Gupta of Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab. This is an exhaustive article on what is legal language, what are its characteristics and why is there a dire need to enhance the teaching of legal language in Indian Law Schools.
In contemporary times, when legal education is gaining importance as a productive and progressive field of education, the language to be used as a medium of instruction poses a great challenge in its accessibility to every student or scholar who wishes to study this discipline. The curriculum in Indian Law Schools mainly focuses on theoretical knowledge rather than discussing clinical legal education. So there is a lack of inculcation of legal language in these law schools.
What is Legal Language
Legal Language is a standardized language which is based on logic rules and is distinct from our ordinary natural language in vocabulary, morphology(formation), semantics, syntax and other features. It aims to achieve consistency and validity while retaining the features of a common language such as intuitive execution, completeness and lucidity. Basically, legal language is the language used by the people associated with the legal profession. It is the language used by lawyers, jurists, and legislative drafters in their professional capacities. It has variations such as local legal language and legal English.
Legal language cuts across different segments of society. Some may have knowledge of the law and some may not. The communication between men of law and lawgiver is also, per se, communication. It can be found in the shape of statutes or permeability of statutes. The legislators may not have appropriate knowledge but the drafter takes care that the statutes resonate with the legislator’s intention. The formal communication between the judge and the jury, judge and advocate, and the client and the counsel also involves the use of legal language. The interaction of common people through contracts, testaments, by-laws, notice is also replete with the usage of legal language. So, not only the people associated with the law profession but also the common people encounter the use of legal language.
In India, legal language involves usage of legal English, Hindi as well as other regional languages, wherever necessary. But legal language is quite distinctive from our common natural language on the following grounds:
- Lengthy and complex sentences: It is reflective in our laws or other documents that legal language involves the usage of lengthier sentences than other styles, with more embeddings making it complex. There are also attempts to state an entire linguistic principle or statute in a single sentence, which renders it incomprehensible.
- Formal and ritualistic language: This language tends to be archaic. It derives its words from languages like French and Latin, which makes it harder for common people to understand. The use of ritualistic language signifies it is a special occasion distinct from the ordinary discourse. The overall pompous tone of legal language is reflective of the fact that it overuses unusual words, derived from other languages.
- Wordiness and redundancy: Lawyers are prone to what is called as boilerplate. They are very susceptible to redundant and wordy phraseology and sometimes it is compact and dense.
- Use of conjoined phrases: These phrases consist of words like I bequeath and devise the rest, residue and remainder, which is extremely common in legal language. Usually, they add significance but sometimes it may lead to vagueness because of the rules of interpretation.
- Unusual sentence structure, use of negation, conservatism, use of technical terms and jargons, use of doublets and triplets like null and void, use of unfamiliar proforms and pronominal adverbs like hereof, and impersonal constructions are also some of the factors that mark legal language different from other common languages. Some of the factors that mark legal language different from other common languages are the usage of unusual sentence structure, conservatism- as in using obsolete words or words from archaic French or Latin languages, use of technical terms and jargons, use of doublets and triplets like null and void, use of unfamiliar proforms (they are those expressions whose meaning is deduced from the context) and pronominal adverbs like hereof, and impersonal constructions. Also, the use of negation marks it distinct. For example, fixed phrases like whether or not, including but limited to are used in the contracts which are different from general English.
Review of legal education in law schools
Legal education is certainly growing as a progressive field in the country but the Indian Law Schools lack in some respects. The first reason behind it is the curriculum of law schools. Indian Law Schools offer 3 year and 5-year Integrated Law courses. The Bar Council of India decides the syllabus for the same. The whole law curriculum is divided into compulsory subjects and optional subjects. Compulsory subjects have a further variation of theoretical papers and clinical legal education. The BCI regulates the standard of legal education in the country but it is dealt with a myopic consideration emanating from legal education producing court practitioners only.
There have been certain reforms like the inclusion of certain optional subjects like international law, labour law, etc, and also providing professional training to the students but the curriculum still has 20 compulsory subjects focusing on different branches of law. The interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity have succumbed under the weight of compulsory subjects. The focus of these law schools is just to inculcate the overview of these subjects rather than generating research and jurisprudential skills among students. The subjects of practical importance are just done away with exams and no practical knowledge. The BCI syllabus on practical papers is rigid and sectionalized, most of which are taught in the classroom just like other substantive law subjects. The syllabus of these law schools doesn’t focus on practical knowledge, but only on theoretical knowledge. The legal language is also not popular among these law schools. The lack of grip over legal language prevents the students from clearly understanding these legal documents or statutes.
The next flaw in Indian Law schools is its teaching pedagogy. The classrooms in these law schools are just like other classrooms, with no element of discussion, analysis, and understanding of other variables of the subject. Most of the exams are just based on the basic provisions of law, rather than focusing on the legal analysis or jurisprudential debates. Also, committed and competent faculty is one of the weak links of the legal education of our nation. Despite having passed the national level eligibility test, the teaching pedagogy of teachers is so mundane as it doesn’t involve any element of practical application or discussion.
In most of the cases, these law schools are generally parts of a university. On the other hand, National Law Universities are the most dedicated universities of law. They have a hierarchized decision-making process and these significant decisions are taken by learned judges, advocates and legal professionals of the country. These law schools hardly have any institutional autonomy and do what they are told to by the university. The curriculum, the budget financing, etc. are decided by the executive officials of the university. The students and faculties hardly have a say in the decisions. However, this is not just the case of these law schools. Even in the National Law Schools, the Vice-Chancellor is the single most powerful person despite having several committees.
Also, the government’s lack of emphasis on law and legal education is one of the contributing factors for inhibition of law students. While the government considers engineering and medicine as the leading fields, it tends to ignore the law as a vast and progressive field. There are not adequate funds with the Universities to even improve their infrastructure. This is also one of the reasons which act as an obstruction to the development of legal education in the country.
The curriculum must be rested in a multidisciplinary body of social science and practical aspects of the law. The reforms should include the expansion of the realm of optional subjects, providing an in-depth understanding of professional ethics, more clinical legal education, the teaching of legal language, more innovative teaching pedagogy, more comprehensive syllabi, sensitization to social issues, practical aspects should be taught more and autonomy to these law schools.
Importance of legal language
Legal Language is quite different from common languages. So it holds its own importance.
Words are one of the most significant tools of the law. Language has great vitality in the study of law. Cases turn on the meaning that judges ascribe to words and lawyers must use the right words to represent their clients in the court of law fairly.
The legal language is used to draft law related documents like contracts, licenses, indictments or subpoenas, briefs, judgments, laws of Parliament, case reports and legal correspondence, etc. It holds high importance in the country as its main provisions are written in such languages. So, it holds significance when applied to legal writing and drafting of written material. It’s not that only the legal professionals or lawmakers use this language. Even in our daily lives, we encounter this distinctive language. When one interacts with another through some legal documents like contracts, will, by-laws, etc., the language used in them is the legal language. So it is quite important to have a general understanding of legal language. It also holds importance because it is that formalized language which is used in courts of law. In courts, one can’t simply advocate in his or her mother tongue or other common languages.
Legal Language also holds importance due to the fact that it has become a global phenomenon, especially for legal professionals. Proficiency in legal terms and terminologies is very essential in the profession of law notwithstanding the fact that you are a native-English speaking citizen or not, or whether you belong to a particular region or country, due to the multi-fold increase in internationalization and globalization. On the lookout for successful careers, people are moving from one country to another and applying their academic knowledge from the acquired country to prospect seeking country. In terms of successful employment, it is highly necessary for legal professionals to be acquainted with legal terminologies which are universally applicable while interacting with prospective clients.
But it’s importance is not yet understood by Indian Law Schools as there is still no respectable culture of teaching legal language to students.
Need for the teaching of legal language in law schools
The curriculum of Indian Law Schools is rigid and compartmentalized and doesn’t encourage practical knowledge. The law schools are still not familiar with the teaching of legal language. It’s high time that Legal Language is taught in Indian Law Schools. It holds its own importance but it is more important for a law student to be acquainted with legal language. The first thing that needs to be done in Indian Law schools is to teach the subject of legal language to students.
The culture of the teaching of legal language can be encouraged through innovation in teaching pedagogy. Instead of focusing on theoretical and basic provisions of law, the students should be given opportunities to analyze and have jurisprudential opinions about the law. This can be done through clinical legal education. It is a more progressive and practical educational pedagogy and ideology that can be implemented through university programs. They are usually conducted under the supervision of legal practitioners and law clinicians. This pedagogy helps the students understand the provisions of law and how to access legal rights and services. These clinics are just interactive, hands-on classrooms that will introduce the students to lessons based on real-life experiences and they will also become acquainted with the legal terminologies used in the profession.
The teaching of legal language in Indian Law Schools needs urgent attention. If it’s not introduced at the right time, then it can prevent the students from a fuller understanding of their field. The teaching of legal language is as important as the teaching of other subjects.
Understanding legal documents
Firstly, students are to deal with legal documents in the form of case laws, judgments, statutes, contracts, by-laws, and textbooks containing the legal discourse. These documents use the formalized legal language. So if the students are taught the legal language by its inclusion in the Law School curriculum, it will help them to better comprehend them. As the legal profession focuses intensely on words that constitute a language in the form of judgments and statutes. The teaching of legal language in law schools will make it easier for the students to comprehend these law-related documents better. It is also necessary for a student who participates in moot court and other competitions. It helps them to comprehend the work at hand and bring accuracy in their work.
Grasping the essence of the words
There are some words which we may haven’t encountered before like res judicata, sub judice, which are only used in the field of law. These words are sometimes derived from foreign languages like French and Latin and are hard to understand. Even the basic terms we use in daily life have a different context and interpretation in the field of law. Words like consideration differ in meaning between our daily lives and the world of law. Even the words change meaning when we refer to different laws. Malice has a different meaning in criminal law while it has a different meaning when we deal with defamation. It is as if these ordinary words gain special meanings. So to get a clearer understanding of these terms, the culture of legal language must be developed within Indian Law Schools.
Legal language is different from ordinary languages
The English taught in Law schools is very different from Legal English. Although it follows the same rule yet it diverges from the language. It is considered peculiar and distinctive because of its linguistic structure and its usage. Legal Language that we use is full of relics from the past. It contains obsolete English words and grammatical constructions as well as outdated French and Latin terms. Although they are intended to bring lucidity, yet they bring ambiguity and incomprehension. Incomprehension of legal language also obstructs the foundational principles of law. So, if we have a better grip on legal language, it will not be difficult for us when we are facing such problems.
Proficiency in legal language is a quintessential element for careers in law
It is also said that command over language is the key to the legal profession. The proficient use of legal language is important for lawyering. Lawyers use this legal language on various occasions like while discussing what the law means, advise their clients, argue before the court, or question the witnesses. The legal rights and obligations are created, modified, and terminated through law-related documents like contracts or wills. The usage of legal terms comprises the language of judges and lawyers, who rely on this language to communicate effectively and efficiently. Spoken legal language is used to persuade the judges and win the cases. So, if the students are taught legal language in law schools itself, it will prove to be beneficial for them in the future when they pursue their careers in this field.
Essential for legal drafting skills
It is also important for legal drafting skills. A well-drafted document is equivalent to a strong argument and can make or break a case. A legal document, whether it’s a contract, affidavit or a written statement serves the purpose of both informing and engaging the client and the court about the legal issue. The language used in these documents is legal language, which is more syntactically complex and lexically dense than speech. So it becomes essential for legal professionals to draft all legal documents with precision, to clearly depict all the essential facts and engage even a layman to its content, which can only be done if one is well versed with legal language.
There is also a difference between spoken and written legal language. Written discourse is high on non-narrative concerns and information while spoken legal language helps win judges’ appreciation. Although written documents are more emphasized, both the forms hold their own significance. A better understanding of written legal discourse will help bring fluidity in our speech as well.
These legal jargons and technical terms have an important function in this profession. Sometimes these technical terms have a fairly precise definition. Its usage can also change over time. The usage of legal language is not limited to legal professionals. Even the common citizens encounter the legal language in the form of legal documents like contracts, wills, etc. So one must be acquainted with the dynamism of legal language.
Law as a field is increasing with globalization. So the understanding of legal language which is universally acceptable can help us to gain better opportunities. Communicating with accuracy and precision is also essential. Understanding these concepts and how they are described correctly in English will better enable us to make comparisons to their own system, as well as to that of the party and to whom they are in contact with- a client, a judge, a governmental administrator, etc.
It is high time that the law school curriculum is revised which focuses more on practical multidisciplinary aspects of the field rather than succumbing to the traditional approach. And also the teaching of legal language must be enhanced in Indian Law Schools so that it can benefit the students in the long run.
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