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In English, native speakers often change the tone of their language depending on who they are speaking or writing to. Clearly, you would use more informal language with a friend than you would with your boss. A lawyer writing to a client would also adopt a different style compared with writing to a fellow lawyer.
Students of legal English need to understand this and it is one of the main aims of our tutors to get our students to think from a more legal English perspective. If you look at the writing paper of any major English language writing exam, you will see that the need to know your audience is essential.
Targeting your language for different audiences does not mean that you have to 'dumb down' your words or attempt to impress a well-educated reader. We have met many people who will use archaic vocabulary and Latin terminology simply to show off.
One of your jobs as a lawyer is to explain matters fluidly and with brevity. Judges and fellow attorneys will expect you to 'get to the point' rather than belabouring it.
As an exercise, write two letters (or e-mails) which tell the same story. They can state a legal opinion if you wish, but there is no requirement for this to be the case.
One should be written to your boss or a professor or somebody in a higher position The idea is that this person is in a higher position than you and you should be seeking to impress them in some way.
For the second letter, you should be writing to a peer, i.e. a friend, family member or colleague who is on the same level as you.
Discuss the two letters with your Legal English language tutor. Which one sounds the most straightforward? Why is that? Do you think that both letters are understandable?
The main point of this exercise is to understand that using long words, forcing legal terminology into a document and attempting to impress the receiver of the letter is not the way to truly engage with Legal English. Be aware of what you are saying and attempt to engage the reader. Try and 'get straight to the point' rather than 'beating around the bush.'
Legal English UK runs courses in Intensive English Language for Lawyers, Legal English writing skills and TOLES preparation. For further information, please telephone (44) 0 20 3566 0145, e-mail us or fill in the form on this page.