“Use Plain English, Avoid Legal Jargon”— Ssemakadde Counsels MUK Law Students

“Use Plain English, Avoid Legal Jargon”— Ssemakadde Counsels MUK Law Students

By Our Reporter

Award-winning human rights lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde has urged law students at Makerere University to avoid jargon, and instead develop a culture of using simple homegrown words and phrases when practicing law.

In an oversubscribed guest lecture on the topic “The Art of Lawyering: Legal Writing & Court Submissions” delivered to the Clinical Legal Education class on Friday, November 19, 2021, Ssemakadde assured tomorrow’s lawyers that the capacity to develop their careers lies solely in their hands.

While citing the importance of standard-setting templates of legal documents which are now available online for copy and paste, the ace lawyer warned law students against being spoonfed, and urged them to read widely and critically in order to improve the style and substance of their legal writing.

He told the learners to develop homegrown similies and rhetoric, such that they can run away from 19th century British colonial style of lawyering.

He cited the example of reforms in the UK which abolished the old-fashioned “House of Lords” in favour of a modern “Supreme Court” that now uses plain English to endear itself to the ordinary people.

Asserting that it is mediocre lawyers that enjoy using jargon, the top constitutional lawyer said it is the task of elite lawyers to kill the jargon during editing or while in submission.

Kwashiorkor Lawyer

Ssemakadde said: “Poor lawyers like to threaten people with very thick documents and people think they came from their heads. No, they came from Forms and Precedents. Good lawyers know and stock these things. And if you’ve never seen these things you’re going to remain poor and mediocre. You’re going to be a Kwashiorkor lawyer simply because you’re not exposed to the sunlight of Forms and Precedents. No one is reinventing the law. The law is very old and therefore Forms and Precedents have been gathered by those good lawyers who want to share.”

The brilliant trial lawyer, whose name is synonymous with winning David v Goliath cases for the most vulnerable victims of abuse of power, added: “Judgments are the distilled product of a very fierce battle where the art of lawyering was displayed at various stages of the litigation process; so if you just read as many judgments as possible without scrutinizing the record of proceedings, you’re like a person eating popcorn and expecting to grow some muscle.”

The Pitfalls of Using English

The eloquent and burningly patriotic pleader also cautioned students to beware of the pitfalls that may limit their legal writing prowess.

“Legal writing is predominantly in English yet English is neither our mother tongue nor first language. Most of us have learnt English as a foreign language and we haven’t learnt English in a decolonized setting. We’ve learnt English through the most colonial mechanisms. So we associate with English blindly, forgetting that it was imposed on our people as a scheme of plunder, subjugation, tyranny and oppression. It was not introduced because English was advanced. No. It was introduced to inspire and promote the goals of the empire, to kill traditional systems of knowledge, and to that end, it has succeeded. I mean, you have highly prized lawyers who think that continuing to transact in English, even for indigenous business or indigenous dispute resolution is something to celebrate.”

Ssemakadde, who urged students to always stick to simple words when writing, added: “I submit that English, or the very fact that English is the medium of legal writing, has created the Orthodoxy of Mediocrity in legal practice on the post-colony (Uganda).”

The young revolutionary noted that a speaker of English as a first language definitely has a greater facility than the person who speaks it as a foreign language.

He urged the learners to read widely so as to avoid making common mistakes in both oral and written English if they are to perfect the art of legal writing by mastering the rules of grammar, composition, comprehension, literature and rhetoric, because that is not taught at law school.

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