Language, like law, is a living thing. It grows and changes. It both reflects and shapes the communities that use it. The language of the community of legal writing professors demonstrates this process. Legal writing professors, who stand at the heart of an emerging discipline in the legal academy, are creating new terms, or neologisms, as they struggle to articulate principles of legal analysis, organizational paradigms conventional to legal writing, and other legal writing concepts. This new vocabulary can be both beneficial and detrimental. It can be beneficial because it expands the substance of an emerging discipline. It also can be harmful, however, because not everyone understands the new terms, and that lack of understanding can hinder communication about legal writing. Although non-legal writing law faculty may experience this same difficulty in communicating about legal analysis, they all have some other area of substance with a developed, understood vocabulary. For example, in contracts, “consideration” has a well-accepted meaning generally understood and shared by all contracts professors and all contracts students. For legal writing professors, however, legal analysis and legal writing is our area of substance; without a developed, commonly shared and understood vocabulary, the discipline struggles and communication failure is common. The challenge for legal writing professors becomes how to improve understanding and thereby enhance communication without limiting the expansion of the new discipline. One of the first steps in meeting that challenge is to study the state of the language of legal writing today. We need to know more about whether legal writing professors are creating a new professional vocabulary, and whether the language they use in teaching legal writing fosters the kind of sophisticated discourse about writing that will be helpful to other users of that language-- students, lawyers, judges, and law professors. To that end, we created a survey to gather information about the language legal writing professors across the country use in their legal writing classes. At the outset, we sought to document the new vocabulary being created by legal writing professors and to test, based on our combined experience, several theories about the development and use of the language. We decided to use primarily descriptive statistics to report the survey findings. With that data, we can begin the conversation about how legal writing professors use legal writing terms, share definitions, and perceive their own confidence in their understanding of a long list of those terms. Four important insights emerge from the study. First, terms that appear in multiple sources are most likely to be recognized. Second, very experienced legal writing professors are more likely than very inexperienced legal writing professors to recognize specialized terminology. Third, legal writing professors are teaching a narrow range of the existing vocabulary by consistently using only one term for a concept. This means professors are not teaching students the broad vocabulary students need to talk about legal writing with those trained by other teachers. Finally, many legal writing professors have developed terms that are variations on the organizational acronym IRAC, and those variations are not broadly recognized.
Terrill Pollman & Judith M. Stinson,
IRLAFARC! Surveying the Language of Legal Writing,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol56/iss2/4