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American legal jargon to banish from vocabulary


BobButtons
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BobButtons
  • Law School Admit

I'm 38 years old and starting law school in the fall semester. I have always been a fan of legal media, from reading John Grisham novels when I really was too young, to watching Better Call Saul, Judge Judy, and Legal Eagle on YouTube. My favorite film is A Few Good Men. 

I am conscious of the fact that I've picked up a lot of legal jargon over the years, not overly technical stuff of course but all of the usual suspects when it comes to American legal media. This makes me wonder how much garbage I have accumulated in my brain that I need to unlearn in order not to sound like that idiot talking about his first amendment rights in a Canadian court after being arrested during the freedom convoy. 

What are some terms or modes of speaking that come to mind that I need to ditch? A few specific questions come to mind, but I'm sure there a lot that I don't even know I don't know... 

- how do we address the judge in Canadian Court? I don't think we use "your honour" but I'm honestly not sure.  

- do we use "preponderance of evidence", "clear and convincing evidence", and "beyond a reasonable doubt", or do we have different standards of proof? 

- I don't think the term "attorney" has the same usage in Canada, right? 

Please help me (and others) to not sound idiotic by using the American legal jargon that permeates our culture! 

Edited by BobButtons
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Damages
  • Articling Student

Ditch all legal jargons. Lawyers are encouraged to use plain language. Start fresh: you will learn what you need to know in law school.

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TheDevilIKnow
  • Law Student

As much as it would be fun to do a term-by-term breakdown, I think @Damages' answer is essentially the correct one. Push all those terms away for now, and just work with whatever language is actually present in the readings you will be assigned in 1L. You might actually worsen the confusion if you try to displace "wrong" American terms with "correct" Canadian terms, only to find that your new Canadian terms have still not quite been learned correctly as a 1L.

Two examples of why it's best... not to give examples:

  1. The honorifics by which you address the Court can vary by Province and by level of Court, and can also vary over time. For instance, just in the last year the BC Supreme Court stopped using "My Lord" and "My Lady". In other Provinces I think those terms are still in use. Essentially there is no point trying to cram your mind full of correct terms, when the actual right answers are not stable. You will double-check the correct terminology before you're actually speaking to the Court, which is a couple years away!
  2. On things like Standards of Proof, these again are a bit context-dependent. "Beyond all reasonable doubt" is the correct term for a conviction in criminal court, but not for all questions related to criminal law. "Balance of probabilities" is sometimes called the "only" standard in civil matters, but that term itself isn't always used, depending on the type of litigation. For instance, in an application for leave for judicial review in federal court, you need to establish that you have a "fairly arguable case". Technically i think that's the "burden of proof", and the BoP is that "standard of proof". You have to show, on a "balance of probabilities", that you have a "fairly arguable case". But the terms get cloudy, and one might be mentioned but not the other, depending on the context. I hope this example is boring and confusing, because that's kind of the point. 😉 You are likely to confuse yourself further if you try to replace wrong terms with right ones, before being familiar with the specific litigation context.

So, yeah, this is just a long way of agreeing with the previous poster. You're right to want to eliminate American influence, but don't rush to try and learn all the correct Canadian terms. They will all come in time, and you may just end up confusing yourself a little more. Enjoy the summer!

PS i am still just a 2L -> 3L myself, so I'm not an expert. Perhaps someone who is actual counsel will add some more insight!

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Taiko
  • Law Student

I would be less concerned about American legal jargon and more concerned about the hollywood legal jargon you may have picked up. Not to mention any preconceived notions you may have developed about what it will actually be like to practice law.

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In the states you can insist on having your lawyer present during an interrogation. In Canada that is not among your rights. 

Hollywood tells us that saying “lawyer” is some kind of magical incantation that prevents police from continuing to question you. In Canada, once you have spoken with counsel and received legal advice (“SAY NOTHING!”) you do not get a second call to counsel unless your jeopardy changes (eg the guy you are accused of assaulting suddenly dies and it’s now manslaughter).

Up here there is no “Miranda”. That is the name of an American case that set out various legal obligations and processes in the states. In Canada you have Charter Rights, and when it comes to an arrest and access to counsel you are talking about section 10(b).

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Diplock
  • Lawyer

DUI - There is no such charge in Canada as "driving under the influence." We have similar charges, of course, but they are called different things - driving while impaired (aka "drive impaired") and operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level of higher than .08 milligrams per whatever (aka "over 80"). For a layperson to say it is excusable. For a lawyer it's a bit embarrassing. There are Canadian lawyers who market themselves in relation to DUI charges. Which means they are lawyers who are presenting themselves in a way that implies they don't even know the laws of the country where they practice law in order to appeal to clients who are equally ignorant. You can imagine what most other lawyers think about that.

Edited by Diplock
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