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Lawyers may have grown accustomed to ignoring Bryan Garner and all his nitpicky wisdom about language and the law. But in his recent ABA Journal piece on modern language usage, Garner dropped a bombshell nugget of wisdom that's just too true to ignore: Using language correctly improves your credibility.
And while Garner has a point about tying language use (or misuse) to credibility, he also provides a test and some context to understand just what this all means.
Considering what we attorneys do, clearly language is the most important tool of the trade.
Writing and speaking clearly and effectively will always be positive attributes for attorneys that interact with courts, witnesses, clients, or consumers. Given this obvious fact, it makes sense that when an attorney uses language accurately rather than as Humpty-Dumpty would in Through the Looking Glass that the people being spoken to will be less confused and more willing to trust what is being said.
Bringing it back to Garner's point, when you use language correctly and clearly, the reason your credibility improves could very well be related to meeting a potential client, juror, or even an adversary's, expectations. And while commonly misused phrases aren't the end of the world, you should be averse to using them.
As you're probably well aware, language and meaning change over time. And while linguists generally agree that so long as the correct meaning is conveyed, then so what? As attorneys, being able to use precise language (or precisely ambiguous language) is part of the job, and can sometimes make a world of difference, as courts do rely on the "proper" usages and meanings, and have definitely made decisions that turned on punctuation.
If you want to see how you fare, you can take the Garner test linked at the end of his recent ABA Journal article.
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