Do you sound like a lawyer?

Attention trial lawyers and law students… Have you ever caught yourself sounding like a lawyer?

Not too long ago, I attended the deposition of a security guard from a major retailer. Like most depositions, it began when the court reporter swore in the witness. Next, she asked everyone in the room to state their names for the record. The other attorney introduced himself and stated who he represented. Next, I introduced myself and said who I represented. Lastly, the witness told us his name, spelled it, and told us where he worked.

That’s when I caught the other lawyer sounding like a lawyer. Here are the first two questions he asked at the very beginning of the deposition:

Q: “How are you employed?”
Q: “In what capacity?”

Granted, it’s definitely not the worst example of a lawyer sounding like a lawyer. The reason I use it as an example is because I’ve heard those exact same questions repeated by dozens of other lawyers.

Normal people don’t talk like that.

But we do. Why? Why do we sound like lawyers? Is it because we invested such a tremendous amount of time and money developing a law school vocabulary? Is it because that’s what we think we’re supposed to sound like? Do we do it because we want to sound smart? Here’s the trouble with sounding like a lawyer: language like that erects a barrier between you and the person you’re talking to.

The lawyer knew why he was asking those questions. So did I. He wanted to learn which store the witness worked at, and what he did for a living. But he didn’t ask “Where do you work?” or “What do you do for living?” He asked the same questions he’d heard other lawyers ask.

The purpose of language is to be understood. When you talk over someone’s head, you can’t communicate your ideas. Ideas that are ill-presented are as worthless as ideas that are not presented. The next time you’re talking with someone who’s not a lawyer, make an effort to sound like a normal person again. In fact, try talking like a normal person when you talk to other lawyers, too. When you do that, everyone should understand what you’re saying.

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2 thoughts on “Do you sound like a lawyer?

  1. Hi, I would like to know, if you can recommend any books that may educate me on understanding lawyer talk.