Sunday, July 6, 2008
I once cited to an edition of Webster's dictionary in a brief to a state supreme court, to bolster a plain-meaning-of-the-language argument. But I have never thought to cite to a thesaurus. And I counsel my first-year law students who are former English majors to leave the thesaurus on the bookshelf. Lawyers prefer to use the same term over and over again, avoiding elegant variation so as to avoid confusion. The meaning of a specific term may be developed through layers of statutes, regulations, and cases, so it's risky to use a synonym that lacks the same pedigree.
Now along comes attorney and adjunct legal writing professor Brian Craig, unveiling the many ways a thesaurus can strengthen legal research and written legal analysis. In Beyond Black's and Webster's: The Persuasive Value of Thesauri in Legal Research and Writing, he explains how a thesaurus has aided the construction of statutes, regulations, contracts, and even constitutional provisions. He also reminds us how handy a thesaurus can be for finding synonyms for on-line searches. English majors can take heart.