I recently complained about lawyers' use of clumsy or archaic phrases in their drafting. Soon after my post, I found myself providing a training session on drafting and negotiating IT contracts. One of our co-presenters was covering basic drafting issues, including the need for clarity in contracts. She stressed the need for us to avoid unnecessary uses of Latin - but confessed that she could not immediately think of an alternative for "mutatis mutandis". This got me thinking.
Wikipedia lists over 200 Latin legal phrases and it seems that despite the Plain English Campaign’s best efforts and the principles of the Woolf reforms many of these are still prominent in legal documentation and amongst our learned friends. I'm sure that there are always clearer ways of drafting or framing arguments that don’t involve legalease or sound unduly lawyerly.
Here are some of the those Latin phrases that are still sticking around, with possible alternatives in English:
- Caveat emptor - the buyer must rely on his own inspection of the goods
- Eiusdem generis - and other similar items
- Inter alia - among other things
- Mutatis mutandis - making the necessary changes (as a consequence of this act)
- Pro bono - for free (does our modesty prevent us being so straightforward?!)
- Prima facie - at first sight
- Ultra vires - outside his/her authority
And here is a link to a great compendium of many I hope I never hear.
It has always struck me as particularly cumbersome and incongruous given the cutting edge subject matter of some of the contracts we work on to hark back to Latin words as if they contained some sort of magic. Is there ever an excuse?