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Kaplan College Paralegal Studies

Successful Career Strategies, Inc.

April 2005


Lawyerese has a few things in common with some other languages. When I took Spanish in school, for instance, some of the slower children thought all you had to do to create Spanish words was add the letter "o" to the end of English words. Similarly, many words of Legalese are simply English words with a short suffix. Just add a few letters at the end of the word and you'll be speaking like a lawyer in no time. For examples of this, just look at the Lawyerese words for "here" and "there" -- hereto, thereto, hereas, thereas, hereby, thereby, heretofore, theretofore, hereunder, thereunder, herein, therein.

After one becomes conversant in Legalese, there is an additional attorney dialect that must be learned. This is the language spoken by lawyers in and around The Firm to communicate with other lawyers, clients and, when necessary, members of the State Bar Ethics Committee.

1. "Don't spend more than four hours on this."
These words are typically uttered at the same time a work assignment is being handed from a partner to an associate. What they mean is that you're getting an incredibly complex project that you'll spend the best part of a week trying to figure out. You might have to spend ten times the allotted time on this assignment but you'll only log 3.8 hours on your timesheet. These words also mean that the client's retainer has already been spent and the partner doesn't want The Firm to go in the hole over this assignment.

2. "He's now with the Bush administration."
This is a response you are likely to hear when inquiring as to the whereabouts of one of The Firm's lawyers who suddenly and mysteriously disappears. I first heard it on my first day at The Firm when I asked what happened to one of the lawyers I met during my job interview but whose name was no longer on The Firm's roster.

3. "I'll have to run it by our Tax Department."
This is a wonderful catchall expression helpful in any situation when you need to stall for time. Many areas of the law require some tax analysis and clients usually understand this (or can be sold on the concept). These words are most helpful when a client poses a difficult question. The well-prepared attorney will never say "I don't know" because this would endanger lawyers' reputation for being know-it-alls. Instead, respond by saying you need to send it to the gang in the tax department. (Warning to sole practitioners: being the other lawyer at your firm makes you the Tax Department and this expression is therefore less likely to get you out of a jam.)

4. "You're not doing anything tonight, are you."
Notice the absence of a question mark at the end of this sentence. This is intentional. Upon hearing these words from a partner for the first time, you may think you are being asked a question. You're not. This is an instruction, not an inquiry as to how you will be spending the evening. Whether you were planning doing something or not, what you will be doing is working late.

5. Finally, there are also other words and phrases for which you don't really need to know the correct meaning but that are nonetheless useful. Use some of the following around The Firm just to show you know the score: CEM (career ending move), that dog won't run, force majeure, full court press, hired gun, hush money, kickback, rigged jury and happy hour. In the presence of clients, winning one liners include: "Relax, the judge is an old fraternity brother of mine."

Any lawyer, no matter how inexperienced or unqualified, can speak like a pro simply by sprinkling the conversation with the above words and phrases.

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