Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes

Don’t use Latin in the employment tribunal.

Legal Latin combines most of the problems with legal writing in one convenient example. It’s almost always superfluous verbiage intended to make the writer look clever. The first problem with this is that it doesn’t work (just trust me on this). The second is that it detracts from the real purpose of legal writing, which is to write as clearly and simply as possible, in order to persuade the tribunal.

There’s also the sad fact that most people trying to use legal latin aren’t latin scholars and therefore get it wrong. Obviously, this destroys any hope that you’ll appear clever. And it also means that you’ve made your writing extremely unclear. If you’re in front of the wrong judge, you also open yourself to judicial humour.

Even if you are a Latin scholar and can parse Cicero with the best of them, Latin is still a mistake. Not least because, there’s an extremely good chance that your readers won’t share your ability. Unless you’re absolutely certain the judge and any lay members are all fellow scholars who will enjoy reliving the Roman Senate, you’re just likely to confuse or annoy them. This is bad advocacy. Trying to score points off your opponent if they don’t know Latin is also bad advocacy. You’ll just look like the bully you are.

Like most rules, this one does have exceptions. A few Latin phrases have become so commonly used that they’re now just bits of legal jargon . In the right circumstances, phrases like ‘bona fide’ or ‘de minimis’ are acceptable. But if in doubt, stick to English (and George Orwell’s advice to stick to English of Anglo-Saxon origin is normally wise).

Finally, it occurs to me that this might be read as a dig by a lawyer at litigants in person. Some litigants in person do misuse Latin. But the real problem tends to be with novice lawyers who are over-acting the part.

5 Replies to “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes”

  1. Eployment Lawyer Latin Bingo
    Res judica
    Ad nauseaum
    Prima facia
    Excuse the spelling
    yep.. I’ve have record of them all and many others I care to forget

  2. I sympathise with the general sentiment but some Latin has firmly entered the English language. Eg would you outlaw “et cetera”? Or “cf” meaning “compare/confer”? Language is a dynamic thing and changes all the time. But your general point is well made. “Understamding is all.”
    D Richards

    1. Absolutely agree. One of English’s virtues is its willingness to pursue other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary (per James Nicoll).

    1. Latin nonsence, I hope you take no offence, but of all the pubs I’ve ever been into, I think you’d be very much on your own with your game. You’d stand a better chance of a game in Gaelic or Polish.

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