Learn legalese and then forget it

In his book, Legal Writing in Plain English, Bryan A. Garner says law students should learn legalese and then learn not use it:

When first studying law, you labor to acquire legalese (it’s something you must understand). But if you ultimately hope to write well, you must labor to give it up in your own speech and writing — that is, if you want to speak and write effectively. Legalisms should become part of your reading vocabulary, not part of your writing vocabulary. p. 45

The circle seems to go: 1) you learn legalese and how to use it; 2) you use it; 3) you eventually tone it down (at least in Garner’s ideal world).

Obviously, not all lawyers and legal writers get to step three and see “just how unnecessary legal claptrap is”. Otherwise Garner wouldn’t have a point to make.

I think translators follow a similar path, except that even less of us come full circle and end up turning down our style. Partly because the source language often lends itself to a more traditional legal style, but mainly because we’re usually a few steps removed from the action or industry at least.

This is of course pure speculation, but it’s the impression I get.

Written by Rob

Rob Lunn is a freelance legal translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English.

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