Roger writing the LAWmag

The Secret Language of Lawyers

Unless you are a lawyer, if you have any dealings whatsoever with lawyers, you simply must read, if not memorize this article.

In fact, if we can give you legal advice, print this off, frame it and put it somewhere in your office where you can see it, but the lawyer cannot. And with your free hand, click on all the ads you can on this website.

Lawyers are a fantastic lot, usually very attractive, very smart and with a truly blessed opportunity to help the vulnerable and to resolve disputes at the front line, without litigation. But they live on the fringes of a fire pit of human feelings and emotions. The angry flames of some of their client's hate and revenge spur some of them to be downright nasty. These clients are gleeful of it and actually think that the best lawyer is the most cantankerous.

Those "some" (as in rare) lawyers' souls are the victims of their own success, profiles raised if not praised, and making money off personal nastiness which comes with its own language.

In any eventLawyers, every single one of them, from the day they write their first demand letter, to the day, at age 75 when they should retire, become one with a set of secret, seemingly common English words but which have lawyer written all over them. These words are by design intended to have double-meanings and are amenable to another interpretation(s). Or the word(s) hide something unseen to the untrained eye.

This lack of transparency in the legalese is one of the many flames that can fuel the fires of litigation on which, historically and even today, lawyers make their livings. There will be a softer kinder evolution eventually, as soon as the past of mean-spirited lawyering catches up to them and justice is truly available outside the jungle of legal words and forms. But for now, circa 2013, here's our mea culpa.

Transparency of language, it seems to us, would contribute towards the calming of the turbulent litigation seas, which is quarrelsome, expensive and protracted. And so for the first time in 2,000 years, in the known memory of the awkward relationship between lawyer and non-lawyers (and only partly tongue-in-cheek), some of the profound secrets of the profession are about to be revealed. This will be controversial as was the exposure to the entire world of Free Mason secrets or the how behind Houdini getting out of a straight jacket 20 feet under water. Wearing handcuffs.

Some may feel that they'd rather not read this article because they'd rather not know. Not knowing, for many, is a certain place of comfort whereas knowing jettisons one into that unknown realm of lawyers without all those other tools such as a three-inch thick well-marked-up rules of court book, a secretary, a deep telephone voice and an ability to talk to a judge without becoming extremely nervous.

Another essential fact is that many lawyers hang up their black Court gown and white collar tabs and join the government. And there, they advise the Tom, Dicks and Harrys that sign government letters, usually as ghost-writers. So even though it may just be a tax assessment letter or a letter regarding your dog from Mrs Feebody Finkleston, By-Law officer, City Hall, beware the government lawyer and her or his language that lurks in the punctuation.

Deep breath, here we go. A sampling of the secret language of lawyers.



Nobody uses the word however except the lawyer.

If you ever get a letter with the word however in it, it has been ghost-written by a lawyer. The only exception to this might be the accidental use of the word in a letter written by an angry sibling who is really just trying to say "don't mess with me because I'm smarter than you".

Which is exactly what lawyers mean when they say however. To lawyers, it means, "you might be (i.e. are) stupid enough to believe something else, but the reality here is (insert reality here)".

The beauty of however is that it fits almost anywhere and the recipient doesn't even know it's a lawyer word, but reacts to the full effect of it.

However, we digress and must move on.

With Respect

A.k.a., "with all due respect" means, and we say this with all due respect to asses,  "you dumb ass" or a reference to some such other cousin to the horse, a small pack animal, the donkey being the most polite version.

With respect is the judge's favourite especially in reasons for judgement. It's a good sign to not read that paragraph but so many unknowing people fall right into the trap and smack, like a spider's web, they find they can't shake that feeling that they're being told they're wrong, in unequivocal passive-aggressive form.

That's because they are. However....

In Any Event

With a yearning for the confessional even as these words are being written, nobody but a lawyer would ever use the phrase "in any event".

Any event? Any? Including the arrival on Earth of giant burgundy extraterrestrials with super powers? Even in that event?

What about the tsunami or earthquake?

Well, Virginia, lawyers can and do take English words, put them together, shake them up, use them for hundreds of years and abracadabra, a new meaning, in any event. And this process makes a very small amount of money for other lawyers who then publish legal dictionaries (such as, with all due respect and in any event, Duhaime's Law Dictionary).

If and when you see these words in a lawyer's letter, it means you can forget the polite preamble to it. All that really matters is what comes after "in any event" which, of course, is the lawyer's interpretation of the facts or law and, really, let's be honest, isn't that all that ever mattered, in any event?

Postscript: Words Lawyers Never Use But Should

To many of the great thinkers of the justice system, and they are but a handful at this time, the most welcome words a lawyer could ever use would be:

"I apologize if I seem quarrelsome, but that is not the intent here."

But there are others as well that would not necessarily be recommended by the senior partner if not the local law society but, still, could signal the second coming of William Blackstone, such as:

"We seek not by this letter to elevate the dispute between our clients but, rather, resolve it in a way both just and fair to each, and which would keep the loss of money towards our legal fees at a minimum."

And while we're at the water-cooler discussing legal miracles, how about:

"I am writing today to apologize for the condescending, disputatious way I wrote to you to this point in our file. While just under the threshold of reportable sharp practice, and that was no accident, I recognize now that I did all that I could to make our client's dispute personal, to shake you up directly, and for that I truly apologize."

Or, on the subject of litigation miracles, this one:

"Have you got time for a coffee tomorrow - my treat - so we can have an off-the-record, friendly but frank discussion to see if we can resolve our client's dispute?"


None of this is fiction.

Each and every lawyerese, or even the miraculous statements, have been gleaned from 25 years of intense litigation practice. To the great credit of the justice system, there is a real, honest and authentic (but very tentative and slow) movement towards the de-litigationization© (our word) of legal language specifically and of the resolution of disputes generally by friendly and understandable means and language.

This will be a very long hill to climb but a necessary one and one in which the demilitarization of legal language would contribute immensely.

Posted in Law Fun, Legal Profession and Lawyers

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