Is legalese a good or bad way to communicate?

The Leveson Inquiry has provided a number of examples of how lawyers and judges communicate. The report, written by Lord Justice Leveson, was praised by The Guardian yesterday for its clarity:

Longer than Harry Potter, shorter than Proust, denser than Tolstoy. Brian Leveson’s report thumped into the world at just under 2,000 pages and just over a million words. What the Leveson report lacked in literary elegance, it made up for in detail and clarity.

However, the newspaper also found time to highlight chief inquiry lawyer Robert Jay QC’s formidable vocabulary. From ‘condign’ to ‘propinquity’, they created video of some of the “zingers” he unleashed:

So is legalese, as demonstrated by Robert Jay QC, a good or bad way to communicate? Can clear and simple English be used to communicate even the complexities of the law?

4 thoughts on “Is legalese a good or bad way to communicate?

  1. LOL! Remind me to look at this video before playing Scrabble next time. I also note he couldn’t even say “propinquity”. Maybe he was playing to the crowd?

    Seriously though, the answer to your question is it depends on the audience. As a QC, Mr jay will be well used to communicating in this way. Therefore in a court style environment he could be forgiven for communicating in this way if his audience is likely to have the same command of vocabulary. However in this instance I suspect that most didn’t and were sent running for the dictionary.

  2. “Legalese” is managers chancing on the supposed authority of legal-sounding language. Very tedious.

    That video was more like a Will Self novel. I read one called Great Apes. It was chocofull of long words but hilarious and easy to read.

    Speaking as someone who loves (but is rubbish at) BSD Hangman,

  3. > So is legalese, as demonstrated by Robert Jay QC, a good or bad way to communicate?

    The ‘zingers’ in the video are not ‘legalese’. The words are uncommon, but they are standard English.

    > Can clear and simple English be used to communicate even the complexities of the law?

    Yes. See http://www.clarity-international.net.

    Sometimes, technical legal terms are necessary. However, complex sentence structures and uncommon words are not necessary.

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