Legalese: Make sure your lawyer talks to you in plain English!

Published on Feb 28, 2017 at 5:55 pm in Client Relations.

Legalese.  Sounds like a bad disease, doesn’t it?  In a way, it is.  It is a disease, to paraphrase the warden in Cool Hand Luke, that all too often results in a “failure to communicate,” the ultimate disease that can doom an attorney-client relationship.  A lawyer’s ability to communicate clearly and concisely is the linchpin to a successful attorney-client relationship, success in the courtroom, and success with opposing counsel.  A “failure to communicate” is the death knell to success.  In order to best represent you, your lawyer has to be able to communicate.

Too often lawyers will speak “legalese” without thinking twice.  There are many reasons why a lawyer may talk like a lawyer instead of like a real person, none of which are particularly good.  Let’s look at some of  them.

Attorneys will sometimes use it as a shortcut to express a more complex legal concept.  While that may be fine when your lawyer talks that way to opposing counsel, the opposing insurance claims adjuster, or the Court, it is not acceptable for him to speak that way to you, the client.  Most people without legal training will not understand the “legalese.”  I know how frustrated I get when my doctor speaks “medicalese” to me.  What is wrong with me?  What is he telling me?  Am I dying?  Just what the heck is going on?  I want to know what my medical condition is, not the label for it.  You, as a client, have a right to understand what is going on with your legal case, not just the label.

Another reason that an attorney will speak “legalese” to a client is, quite frankly, to intimidate his client into accepting his advice without question.   Just as we should ask questions of our doctors, you should ask questions of your attorney.  While I understand that you might feel that you should just rely on whatever your attorney tells you, you do have a right to understand what is going on with your case so you can make informed decisions.  If your lawyer truly wants you to understand the legal concept being discussed, he will take the time to explain it to you in ordinary, plain English. If he doesn’t want to take the time, you must force him to.  One of the best lessons I learned in law school came from a truly remarkable, down-to-earth law professor.  He said that I should always talk like a real person, not a lawyer.  I should explain concepts to my client like I was talking to my mom (a non-lawyer normal person and, by the way, the best mom ever…just in case she is reading this!).  Only when I was able to do this could I be assured that my clients will understand the concept.

Sometimes, lawyers will throw legalese around because they don’t really understand the legal concept well enough to explain it in plain English.  As my law professor told me many years ago, if you can’t explain it in simple, non-legal terms, then you don’t understand what you are talking about.  To distill a complex concept into simple terms requires much thought and effort.  You, as a client, have the right to expect your lawyer to put the thought and effort in explaining the legal concepts in a straight-forward, easy-to-understand way.

In short, expect your lawyer to talk to you like a real person.  Insist he not use “legalese.”  It is your case and your lawyer should be able to effectively communicate with you.  If your lawyer can’t effectively communicate with you, he can’t properly represent you and you can’t make informed decisions about your case.

At Prince Law Firm, one of the most important rules that I have implemented for our lawyers is “don’t talk like a lawyer!”

Feel free to call us at 618-997-2111 if you have been injured at work or as a result of someone else’s actions.



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