Friday, August 18, 2017
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was one of the most renowned U.S. Supreme Court Justices in American legal history. He wrote a letter home to his father after his first day as a law student at Harvard stating, "I did not make sense of one single word spoken today."
For all of you beginning law school, there is hope! Don't be discouraged if you feel that your professors and the judges who wrote the cases you are reading all speak a foreign language.
Legal language includes many terms taken from Latin and French. Terms that have a common meaning in everyday English will often have specialized meanings in the law. You will hear lawyers refer to "terms of art." There will be procedural terms, policy terms, doctrinal conceptual terms, and many more. A term in one legal specialty may have a more nuanced meaning in another legal specialty.
Be patient with yourself. And become best friends with your legal dictionary.
You will need to look up multiple terms in every paragraph in a case. After you read the definition, write a short version in the margin of your casebook and highlight the term. Law professors will call on students to define those terms. So do not blithely read over them. They are important.
You will be amazed at the end of the first year how many terms you have mastered. Your family and friends will comment throughout the first year that you speak a foreign language. (Amy Jarmon)