The Language of The Law

I’m in the business of explaining the law to my clients. There are times when I do a poor job of it. Sometimes, I make the mistake of thinking my client knows something I consider very basic – when they don’t. When that happens, I feel terrible. It makes me feel as if I’ve been talking down to that person, when I don’t mean to do so. Yesterday was a good example.

I was speaking to someone about the Grand Jury. I assumed she knew what the Grand Jury was. She let me rattle on a bit and then she asked me: “What’s a Grand Jury?” I then explained what the Grand Jury was. I should have done that in the first place. I should have said “in order to bring a serious charge against someone – called a felony, we often convene a panel of people consisting of about 23-27 people – an odd number of people. We then ask that panel to listen to what the police say happened in a particular case.

Following that, we ask if the panel wants to bring a charge against a particular person. We call that panel a Grand Jury.” I guess it’s just the way it is. A plumber speaking plumbing. A carpenter speaks construction and so forth. But, in some ways, I think a lawyer has a special duty when explaining the law. I think it is imperative that a lawyer be clear when they talk about the law. It is imperative because people who come within the law must understand what they are facing. Knowledge is power according to Francis Bacon.

Sometimes, it isn’t easy to be clear. For example, I was recently asked how a person gets charged with a felony in the State of New Hampshire. The answer is a bit complicated. There are two ways for it to happen. As I hear myself answer the question, I find myself asking: “Why the hell are there two ways? Why isn’t there just one way?” I begin to feel like the commercial on television. A man and his young son are walking down the street. The father is telling his son about his investment portfolio. The son keeps saying “why.” After saying why about five or so times, even the father is confused why he is doing the things that he is doing. I suppose true understanding of the legal system comes when you can explain it in its simplest form.

Until then, you don’t have a true understanding. How hard can this be? How hard is it to be clear when speaking? With respect to the Grand Jury question, I keep challenging myself to be clearer in explaining what it is. I’m now on my 3 iteration. Here is what I’ve come up with – “So you go rd get a bunch of people and you put them in a room. Then a person comes in and tells the people about what a particular person did. The woman handling the meeting then tells the people about a particular crime. She asks the people in the room if they think that what the person did fits the definition of the crime.

If they think it does, they should vote “yes.” If they think it doesn’t, they should vote “no.” Majority wins.” A guess the Grand Jury is like a committee.

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