Legal research is intrinsically bound up with language since the law is predominantly an argumentative discipline. In every branch of knowledge, some specialized technical language is used to facilitate communication among the experts. Law is no exception.
Legal language has its own style, terminology, and form. Legal language has some unique characteristics as it reflects the complexity of legal concepts and the nuances of the legal process.
It is often said that law is a profession of language and writing. Legal language has been developed over centuries of practice and tradition. Legal researchers and lawyers frequently use various laws, rules, and maxims to help them to interpret legal issues.
In this way, legal language differs from standard English as the former involves frequent Latin terms and phrases, technical words, and terminologies.
However, like the rest of the English language, legal language has various functions- to explain, elicit information, and persuade, among other things. Moreover, many of the legal terminologies are highly technical, having specific meanings.
For example, technical terms like plaintiff, defendant, judge, trial, complaint, cognizable offense, jury, others or principles like beyond a reasonable doubt, negligence, or wrongful imprisonment, estoppel, lis pendens are exclusively used in legal English. Thus, legal language is often hard to understand, especially from the perspective of the layman. The legal researcher must be familiar with this specialized language.
Use of Latin
Latin as a legal language introduced terms like client, conviction, admit, mediate, and legitimate is most frequent in the English lexicon. Latin is also extensively used for legal canons or maxims, which are saying about the law.
Some maxims concern the law in general, whereas others deal with the interpretation of legal language in particular, such as “Ubi jus,” “ibi remedium” (where there is a right, there is a remedy), and “expressio unius exclusio alterius” (the expression of one thing implies the exclusion of the other).
Latin is also used to denote many fundamental legal doctrines like such as “res ipsa loquitur.” Latin has also persisted in expressions relating to the names of cases and parties.
Examples are versus, “et al“, “in personam“, “in rem“, “in forma pauperis“, “in re“, “ex parte“. Other Latin words or phrases still in common usage include “amicus curiae“, “corpus delicti“, “mens rea“, and “ex post facto“.
Legal writing is the application of specialized language. Thus, effective legal research requires understanding the highly technical nature of legal writing and language manifested in contract, statute, pleadings, or judicial opinions. These are the formal expression )f legal order which is itself premised on the formal structure.
Legal writing is different because it often requires the lawyers or legal researchers to weigh arguments- to set out the pros and cons, the argument for and against- so that a person who is not a lawyer can choose the course of action preferred.
In the context of legal research, legal language tends to be either formal or academic. Moreover, legal language tends to be formalistic as legislation, courts decision, and other primary sources of formal expression of authority and institution.
For example, hereinafter, hereto, whereas, therefore, has special meaning for formal legal language. Legal documents are phrased technically and formally. For example, drafting of contract and statute requires the use of formal legal language and expressions.
However, while recognizing that a legal document must be technically correct and accurate, the principle is that it should be intelligible to its primary audience. It means that the average individual can read and understand a contract or legislation.
But the language of academic legal research requires to be creative, logic, coherence, and analytical. Academic legal research entails applying the law, drawing analogy, distinguishing facts, and developing legal arguments. The language of academic writing should also be dispassionate, consistent, and marked by the interconnection of ideas.