The interview was edited for length and clarity.
The National Law Journal: You’ve written and spoken about the overuse of legal jargon for more than a decade, why did you decide to bring it up again in this particular case?
Richard Posner: I’ve actually become more concerned about legal jargon, and I mean very bothered by it. This was a case in which you can see from my opinion I don’t disagree with the result at all, but I’m troubled by the jargon. So it seemed kind of a pure example of a case where a judge is not arguing over how the case should be decided but is expressing concern about legal language. I think this is done very rarely. I like to attract attention to the problem.
I think there is no need for terminological complexity in law. I think everything we do, the judges do, can be expressed in ordinary English. And I would think it very desirable for opinions to be written in a way that everybody can read it.
One thing that’s troublesome is that there are a great many litigants who do not have lawyers and I think to not have a lawyer and to be involved in a lawsuit is very, very difficult. But it’s made more difficult if what the judges say, whether orally or in writing, is in an esoteric, professional discourse that laypeople don’t understand.
I think it’s very easy for judges to sort of lose sight of the important issues in a case if they are entangled in this specialized vocabulary.
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