Legal writing and active voice

Here is some more information on what these different constructions are and when you should use each of them. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for links to more online resources covering this topic.

Legal writing and active voice

Writing well for the web

The major theme running through the book is how well legal language functions as a means of communication. Many of the other uses or goals of legal language, including the goal of winning cases, the law's desire to appear objective and authoritative, and lawyers' use of language as a marker of prestige and badge of membership in the profession, may limit or conflict with that central aim.

Is it the result of a conspiracy by lawyers to retain their monopoly? Or did it just develop naturally over the centuries? To answer such questions we need to look at the history of the language of lawyers. Some Anglo-Saxon words or legal terms have survived to today, including writ, ordeal, witness, deem, oath and moot.

Words had an almost magical quality in Anglo-Saxon legal culture. The increasing linguistic complexity of Anglo-Saxon laws led to more complicated legal language, suggesting that the complexity of legal language may to some extent simply reflect an increasingly complicated society.

Latin and the Advent of Christianity Christian missionaries landed in and re introduced Latin. Latin terms that entered legal language in this period include words like clerk.

One impact of Christianity was to encourage the use of writing, which was later to have a tremendous impact on the law. Although Latin was incomprehensible to most of the population, it enhanced communication at a time when there was no standard for written English.

The Scandinavians Vikings raided the English coast, and eventually settled down. Legal terms from Norse include the word law itself, but otherwise the legal writing and active voice did not have a large impact on legal English.

Virtually all English words relating to government are originally French. The Normans initially used Latin rather than French as a written language of the law. Only around years after the conquest did French statutes appear.

They remain French until the s. Strong evidence that the courts operated in French did not appear until the end of the 13th century.

The use of French in courts seems tied to the expansion of jurisdiction of royal courts during this period; royal courts were logically conducted in French, which was still the language of the aristocracy and royal household at this time.

In a sense, therefore, adoption of French for legal purposes could initially have promoted communication with those most affected by royal law.

Ironically, at the same time that French was in ascendancy as the language of the law, use of Anglo-French as a living language was beginning to decline. It is probably no accident that this was also the period when a professional class of lawyers arose.

Soon afterAnglo-French was virtually extinct as a living language, but it had become firmly entrenched as the professional language of lawyers. It came to be known as "Law Latin," and included various legal terms of French origin, as well as English words when clerks did not know the Latin.

legal writing and active voice

Legal maxims, even today, are often in Latin, which gives them a sense of heightened dignity and authority. Names of writs mandamus, certiorari and terminology for case names versus, ex rel.

Law French French eventually became a language used only by lawyers, and became known as "Law French. Possible reasons for the retention of Law French after its demise as a living language include claims that it allowed for more precise communication, especially with its extensive technical vocabulary; the dangers of having ordinary people read legal texts without expert guidance; the conservatism of the profession; and a possible desire by lawyers to justify their fees and to monopolize provision of legal services.

If nothing else, it reflects the conservatism of the profession at the time. Some of the characteristics of Law French that have left traces in today's legal language include addition of initial e to words like squire, creating esquire; adjectives that follow nouns attorney general ; simplification of the French verb system, so that all verbs eventually ended in -er, as in demurrer or waiver; and a large amount of technical vocabulary, including many of the most basic words in our legal system.

Law French eventually was reduced to around words, forcing lawyers to add English words to their French texts with abandon. A notorious example is the "brickbat" case from Trilingualism and Code-switching During this period, lawyers had to be trilingual in French, Latin and English.

Each language was traditionally used in specified domains. Even more than today, perhaps, law was in those days a profession of words. If there was a writing of a legal event, it was merely a report of the oral ceremony. Eventually, the writing became a type of autoritative text, the dispositive or operative event itself.

What now mattered was what was written, and what was said became largely or entirely irrelevant.

Plain English ground rules

This progression can be seen in written reports of court proceedings, which first merely documented an oral event, but which later became the event itself, so that what is said in an appellate court in the United States today is legally immaterial; what matters is the written opinion. Legislation also went through this progression.

Printing contributed to these trends by allowing for a standardized and widely-available version of the written text.1. The nature of things is determined by their position within a larger structure - whether social, psychological, literary, linguistic or political.

2. The individual should be comprehended through the structure and not vice versa. The particular is incidental. Language served as a primary model.

Active voice is distinguished from passive voice by the identity of the actor. As a general rule, active voice is preferred because it meets two of the most important requirements of legal .

FROM THE LEGAL WRITING CLINIC WRITING TIP OF THE WEEK PASSIVE VOICE IN PERSUASIVE WRITING When you write in active voice, the subject of your sentence does the.

Aug 15,  · Drafting Legal Documents, Principles of Clear Writing. Home | Previous | Next.

legal writing and active voice

Principles of Clear Writing. 1. Write in the active active voice eliminates confusion by forcing you to name the actor in a sentence. At school, I loved maths/science and hated English. My writing was bad. I felt stupid because all the other kids used long words.

Then a few years ago, a good friend of mine, who is a confidence coach, simply told me I was much better understood by others because I used plain and simple words. none of these pompous long words. The Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm, provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors in their fight against animal cruelty, supports animal protection legislation, and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the field of animal law.

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