Weasels on the march 
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Justinian in Barely Legal, Law school, Law students

Law faculty study guides are infested with weasel words and incomprehensible babble ... Law lecturers should fight back ... According to blogger Barely Legal the law is being attacked by rotten language 

Australian author Don Watson has observed that "weasel words" and "management speak" are rife at our tertiary institutions. To this I can testify. 

Official university promotional material could be written with four words only, used interchangeably: "global ... dynamic ... framework ... learnings." Insert a verb at your peril. 

Mix weasel words and a dash of legal language and you will have brewed a rancid cocktail - the law school course study guide

My lecturer in constitutional law instructed us that it is vital to read the course study guide

He had received a lot of emails from students asking questions about content that was addressed in the guide. Yet, few students seemed to understand what the documents meant. 

That's because university course study guides are so dense with indecipherable babble they make your eyes rust. 

The following is lifted from my Commonwealth Constitutional Law Course Study Guide. Each heading introduces banal, grey slabs of text, which read like a whitegoods instruction manual. I have included translations. 

CSG: Expected learning outcomes.
Translation: What you will learn.

CSG: Teaching and Learning Approach and Activities.
Translation: How we will teach you. 

CSG: Mode of delivery.
Translation: When/Where we teach. 

Eric Arthur Blair: would have despaired about law school language

I am no Owen Dixon or Eric Arthur Blair, but I do know bad language when I see it and I think it is fair to say these examples are bad language. They are unclear, dead and contrived. 

It is farcical that law students are assessed on their prose and ability to communicate clearly, when those who mark the fruits of our labours are themselves peddling opaque jabber. 

A course study guide to legal language

Someone once said (maybe it was Dicey) that to be ruled by unintelligible laws amounts to tyranny. To teach future lawyers the law in a way that is unnecessarily unintelligible, would suggest tyranny is not far off.  

What to do? To be fair many of these guides are written by university Vogons, not the professors themselves. This just means the profs are equally hamstrung by an inability to clearly communicate what it is they want from law students. 

The Vogon (in wig and gown) who prepared the Constitutional course study guide

It hard enough to decipher the law, let alone having to decipher what your lecturers are trying to say.

Perhaps we have reached the point where law faculties should be given plain English courses.

This suggestion is unlikely to be well received by the professortariat.  However, a solution to academic double speak must begin with a conscious effort to eliminate it - if for no other reason than to eradicate the term "key learnings" from the lexicon. 

Great legal writing can be beautiful in its brevity. It demands precision and succinctness. It may also be soaring and inspired. 

Ironically, some of the writing that soars can be found in Constitutional cases. However, we should be constantly vigilant to guard against weasel words, which are invading law courses at an alarming rate. 

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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