Becoming the “compleat lawyer” the Aldisert way

From time to time I will get a call or e-mail from a proud parent whose son or daughter has been admitted to Stanford Law School.  The parent wants my advice on a book for their accomplished child to read upon the beginning of their new-found career.  A wonderful book has just come along which fits the bill perfectly:  Judge Ruggero Aldisert’s A Judge’s Advice: 50 Years on the Bench.

This slender volume packs a lot of punch.  In less than 250 pages the judge offers answers to questions that have occupied his thoughts for decades:  : “What is the bedrock of our common law system? What are trial and appellate judges really looking for? What is the logical configuration that is absolutely necessary in any legal argument? What practical challenges do judges face when deciding a case? What is the difference between the philosophy of law and a philosophy of law? What is the difference between a judge making a decision and a judge justifying it, and why does that difference matter to me?  Precedent in the law: When do you kiss it and when do you kill it?”

The judge organizes his thoughts among the following five themes:

  • Our Common Law Tradition: Still Alive and Kicking
  • Logic and Law
  • Avoiding Assembly Line Justice?
  • The “Write Stuff”
  • How Judges Decide Cases

And within these themes are found the following chapters:

The house of the law — The role of the courts in contemporary society — Precedent : what it is and what it isn’t, when do we kiss it and when do we kill it? — Elements of legal thinking — Logic for law students : how to think like a lawyer — Formal and informal fallacies — State courts and federalism — Life in the raw in appellate courts — “The seniors” suggest a solution — Brief writing — Opinion writers and law review writers: a community and continuity of approach — Reading and evaluating an appellate opinion — Philosophy, jurisprudence and jurisprudential temperament of federal judges — Making the decision — Justifying the decision.

While I know that all law students would benefit greatly from reading this book, when I first saw it our international students immediately came to mind as no other single volume that I am aware of so neatly and clearly explains the American legal system.  This book explains stare decisis better than anything else available.

Judge Aldisert writes about his particular passion — the law — with an enthusiasm that is almost exhausting.  Through this book the law student can get a glimpse of just how enormously satisfying the next 60 or 70 years of his or her life can be.

As the judge states in his Introduction:  “. . . These pages flesh out the instruments and implements of lawyers with a far-ranging ‘view from above’ with one objective in mind: to enrich the skills of these men and women so that each may bear — to borrow from Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler — the noble title of ‘compleat lawyer.’

This book really should be required reading for all law students, lawyers and others too.  Judge Aldisert is one of my heroes, along with others who inspire me such as Roger Ebert, Vin Scully, Tony Bennett and Keiko Fukuda (Google her)  — people who, while they may have stopped buying green bananas, they have not stopped working and never will.  These are people who make no distinction between work and play and who will be carried off the job feet-first.  They know the secret.   People who I want to be like when I grow up.

Full disclosure:  I was first charmed by Judge Aldisert when I met him during my daughter’s clerkship for him.

How to Use Legislative History to Teach Grammar

Anyone teaching the importance of legislative history in legal research need only point to a single punctuation mark: the mighty comma.  As a disclaimer, I strive to put my years of Latin classes to good use, but do not profess to be punctuationally-perfect.  (Interestingly, the Romans did not use modern punctuation, but I digress…)   One thing I do know, however, is that other people’s grammatical shortcomings sure can wreak a lot of havoc… making them a great teaching tool.

This past week, I was researching a state statute that, among many other things, imposed conditions on persons who had committed a “felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”  At first blush, one would read this to mean that the conditions apply to persons involved in domestic violence felonies and misdemeanors.  Get this:  That provision actually governs anyone who commits either a “felony” or a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”  In other words, we should really be reading a comma into the statute between “felony” and “misdemeanor” where the legislators neglected to put one!

Uncovering the latent comma was not easy.  News articles referred to the imposition of the conditions on felons, but without citing the supporting statutory clause.  Secondary sources referred to conditions emanating from the “domestic violence clause” of the statute, failing to illuminate that the clause also covers all felonies.  Case law cited the statute as creating certain conditions, but decided matters on other grounds.

The best recourse was to trace the historical progression of the clause, which I was able to do through older versions of the statute and the legislators’ own analysis.  Earlier iterations made no reference to domestic violence whatsoever, as the clause originally pertained to persons who had committed any felony.  Years later, the legislature added “or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” but failed to demarcate this clause with a comma that would have resolved ambiguity.  If the legislators had simply written “any felony, or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” I would have spent fifteen minutes on a project that instead took five hours!  (Note:  I do not require legislators to bold, italicize, or underscore the comma; any font or stylization will do!)

Do you have any grammar-related teachable moments you’d like to share?  We’d love to hear them and pass them along to our classes.  To that end, I particularly enjoyed Prof. Susan J. Hankin’s “Statutory Interpretation in the Age of Grammatical Permissiveness:  An Object Lesson for Teaching Why Grammar Matters,” which references recent literature on the subject and also offers some great case law examples to use in class.

New to the legal lexicon: dissental and concurral

A story in today’s Daily Journal reports on the usage by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals of two newly coined (by him) words: dissental and concurral.

According to the story, “Chief Judge coins new words for failed en banc calls – Alex Kozinski coined his own words to describe a common practice,” by John Roemer,

Dissental conflates the words “dissent” and “denial” while concurral combines “concurrence” with “denial.” They are intended to replace the clunkier phrases “dissent from denial of rehearing en banc” or “concurrence in denial of rehearing en banc” used by the court.

The words are used “as shorthand descriptions of judges’ widening practice of delivering often-passionate commentary on failed en banc calls.’

So, have some fun and and search for those terms in CALR databases.

My White Horse Case Book Now in Its 3rd Edition! Happy Day!!

How many times have we seen students spinning their wheels online seeking that illusive ”white horse case?”

Don’t know what a white horse case is (I’m showing my age here)?  Then look it up in Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage, one of my most favorite reference books.  I love this book and I read it for fun and find many definitions — besides “white horse case” (and this is the only book I’ve found which offers a good definition of the phrase) —  to share with my students, so I was delighted to see that this book is now out in its third edition; from the Oxford University Press Law Newsletter:

Bryan A. Garner reaffirms his position as the foremost expert of legal usage and style with the Third Edition of his Dictionary of Legal Usage. This month, be among the first to own this revamped and expanded new edition with more than 800 new entries.
Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage
Third Edition
Bryan A. Garner

This new edition discusses and analyzes modern legal vocabulary and style more thoroughly than any other contemporary reference work.

I can’t wait to start pouring over those 800 new entries.  Talk about poolside summer reading!

New Book – Researching Language and the Law: Textual Features and Translation Issues

Davide Simone Giannoni and Celina Frade’s new book “Researching Language and the Law: contains the following chapters that will be of interest to people studying legal translation and interpretation.

Researching Language and the Law: Textual Features and Translation Issues

Davide Simone Giannoni and Celina Frade

Bern: Perter Lang, 2010

Selected Book Chapters:

English Legal Discourse and the French Continuum

Susan Kermas

“What I argue in this chapter is that the unique language contact situation within the EU has triggered another phase of French influence. My examination of English and French legal documents in the Eur-Lex archive … will demonstate not only that many words have been influenced by French, but, more importantly, that efforts to harmonise legal language within the EU may also be creating a further rift between British and American legal discourse and subsequently, ordinary language.”

Axiological Analysis of Entries in a Spanish Law Dictionary and their English Equivalents

Angel M.  Felices Lago

 

Legal Translation and Interpreting in the UK Today

Francisco Vigier

The UK has two main translator and interpeter organizations, the Institute of Translation and Interpreting  and the Charted Institute of Linguists, which are recognised by the government and committed to promote quality in translation and interpreting services. Nonetheless, a translator or interpreter willing to practise in Britain is not bound to belong to any of them. . .”

 

Legal Interpreting and Translating: A Research Guide

Legal Interpreting and Translating: A Research Guide

Don Ford

FCIL Librarian, University of Iowa

Although the guide is specific to the Iowa Library System, the guide offers a nice bibliography of legal translation titles and a list of glossaries and dictionaries in 20 languages from Europe, Asia ,and Africa. Particularly useful are the links to online legal glosssaries from state courts covering the following languages: Arabic, Armenian, Cantonese, Chinese, German, Hindi, Hmong, Korean, Laotian, Punjabi,Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Urdu and Vietnamese.

http://www.law.uiowa.edu/documents/pathfinders/court_interpreter.pdf

Japanese Law Translation

Hap tip to Ben Jones for pointing out that these are unofficial translations.

Japan’s Ministry of Justice has a new Website that offers unofficial English translations of thousands of Japanese statutes and regulations. The site provides bilingual versions of the laws and regulations. It also includes lexicographic notes explaining the translation of difficult terms. Here is an example of Article 1 of the Copyright Act of 1970:

目的)

(Purpose)

第一条この法律は、著作物並びに実演、レコード、放送及び有線放送に関し著作者の権利及びこれに隣接する権利を定め、これらの文化的所産の公正な利用に留意しつつ、著作者等の権利の保護を図り、もつて文化の発展に寄与することを目的とする。

Article 1 The purpose of this Act is to provide for, and to secure protection of, the rights of authors, etc. and the rights neighboring thereto with respect [copyrightable] works as well as performances, phonograms, broadcasts and wire-broadcasts, while giving due regard to the fair exploitation of these cultural products, and by doing so, to contribute to the development of culture

The site’s bilingual dictionary is a wonderful resource that not only provides translations, but also links to statutes and regulations that use a specific term or phrase.

Japanese Law Translation

http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/

The Quality of Legal Dictionaries: An Assessment

 

Earlier Sergio wrote about an “article on evaluating English-Spanish legal dictionaries.”  Now, from the Legal Scholarship Network, comes notice of this new article:

The Quality of Legal Dictionaries: An Assessment

R. DE GROOT, University of Maastricht

CONRAD VAN LAER, University of Maastricht

In this article, the quality of the different bilingual legal dictionaries between the languages of the Member States of the European Union will be assessed. In order to do so, some general remarks will be made first about problems with translating legal terminology. Based on those remarks, criteria for reliable bilingual dictionaries will be formulated in the next section. Finally, these criteria will be applied on the available bilingual dictionaries containing the legal language used by one or more EU Member States. To illustrate this, we have attached an updated bibliography encompassing about 200 recently published bilingual and multilingual legal dictionaries in the European Union.

The bibliography in the Annex will be the evidence for our final conclusion that most legal dictionaries must be classified as a word list, which implies here that they are of dubious quality. To date, few legal dictionaries have attempted to meet our criteria. Dictionaries that are based on comparative legal research, on the other hand, offer advantages that render them useful to professional translators.

 

Source: LSN Comparative Law Vol. 8 No. 127,  11/11/2008