Sunday, June 27, 2021

Law education, present, past and future – a personal tale


[Raspberries in different stages*]

I just successfully completed a semester course on contract drafting from the Concord Law School, an accredited online law institution. It had been more than 30 years since I completed my year of law studies at the University of Oregon and some 17 years since I began working as a legal translator. As a result of this course, I reinforced my opinions about learning and age, my previous career opinions and I best manner of legal writing.

In the spirit the well-known expression, education is somewhat wasted on the youth. I discovered that not only was I able to follow and keep up with complicated material at the “old” age of 60, I actually understood and absorbed it better than I did then. To clarify, my discovery was that my many years of experience translating contracts as well as the immediate need to apply my learning allowed me to achieve more learning. Far from age being a disadvantage, I not only still “have it” but am much a better law student today than I was then. For the record, my average on the course was 86 but the main satisfaction was proving to myself that I was still capable of formal learning.

The course also calmed any doubts I had had about my choice then to not continue law school. I completed the year not on probation. Those that went to law school will understand the significance of that. However, after 3 days, I already understood that I lacked any of the main motivations to become an attorney, specifically, the drive for money, fame or justice. The knowledge I gained from that year helped me greatly in my second career but I do not claim that I knew that at the time. Nothing in life is wasted, including seemingly irrelevant knowledge, but we do not know when we will need it. This course resurrected the mixed feeling of the love of legal theory and language and a lack of interest in actually working as an attorney. As I wrote in a previous post, intuition is generally correct.

Finally, the course material, both that previously known and that new to me, reinforced my belief that legal language in English, like all text in English, can and should be clear and accessible. Steven Erikson wrote that tradition was the last bastion of fools. Clearly, fools did not write legalese but there is no justification today for writing texts that only judges and attorneys can understand. Part of the course involved understanding and rewriting contracts and regulations in such a manner that not only simplified the language while retaining the content but also brought out inconsistencies and omissions in the original text, which had been long lost in the circuitous phasing. With this knowledge, I will confidently apply plain but correct language in my translations and strive to educate other translators that “garbage in, garbage out” is not an effective strategy either for the legal customer or translator. I now am fully certain that legalese can be understandable to lay people without losing precision.

Thus, with no homework this Saturday and feeling “free” just like any student after the end of the semester, I look back on my course on writing contracts with great satisfaction in regards to my understanding then and now. Furthermore, I intend to share my knowledge of the relevant techniques with others at any opportunity. Education is growth at any time of one’s life.

For those interested in more information on plain English in legal writing, I will be giving a 2-hour workshop at the Translation and Localization Conference at the end of September.

* Picture subtles help the blind access the Internet.

Picture credit: Image by <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5298416">Elstef</a> from <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5298416">Pixabay</a>

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