As A Lawyer In Practice, Your Vocabulary Will Win You Cases


Law students are often told in school that the most important tool in a lawyer’s arsenal are words- his use of words. What this means is that more than a lawyers head knowledge of substantive and procedural law, a lawyer’s mastery and use of words, could translate to better communication skills, robust representation of clients while also helping them fulfill their roles as legal advocates. Even when in court the the persuasiveness of lawyer’s argument isn’t really in the plethora of legal authorities and statutes they can cite, but actually in How they present their legal materials in as assertive and logical a way as it can be and a lot of it has to do with employing a fitting vocabulary otherwise the whole presentation would be sterile and blunt, and the taste it might leave in the mouth of the judges might be like that of an inviting meal with no seasoning. Hope you get the picture? It’s precisely for this reason why vocabulary building, with its immediate and far-reaching benefits to a successful career in law practice should be foremost for would-be lawyers. It’s even an ever essential requirement for thinking like a lawyer and a tool which must have been used to outstanding effect by some of the greatest lawyers in the modern day trial lawyers hall of fame.

Back then in my days in school as an undergraduate my roommates would often tell me that law students were verbose and grandiloquent folks. They believed the study of law often enlarged a law student’s vocabulary thus making us all incurably verbose and high-sounding. And while this assumption doesn’t hold true for every law student, it still remains an undisputed fact that the majority of law students know how to lawspeak to bedazzle non-lawyers aided by their ever growing repertoire of legalese. As a matter of fact, we revel in it and it’s among the list of cool things we do as law students to appear super-intelligent and to lay further claim to our being learned.

Without getting too carried away with all the glowing evaluation of how articulate law students are, it does however appear that vocabulary building is on the wane among law students at the moment mostly due to the fact that it is not a standard requirement in most law university undergraduate curricula. As a result of its lack of emphasis, we tend to pay it the least attention, with the result that we leave school to enter the profession with an annoyingly defective vocabulary.

Even judges in courts in Nigeria have recognized this negative trend among new wigs when making their first appearances in court. While judges are never known to play the role of career counsellor, they have taken it upon themselves to uncharacteristically advise that these new lawyers arguing before them work more on their vocabulary.

In a recent ABA magazine publication, it was pointed out that the size of “one’s vocabulary is the single best indicator of one’s career success whether it was in business or in the professions”.

Recourse was had to E.D Hirsch Jr. Piece’ A Wealth of Words- a work on vocabulary and its importance to one’s long-term success. Hirsch further pointed out in his article that “vocabulary size is a convenient proxy for a wide range of educational attainments and abilities- not just skill in reading, writing, listening and speaking but also general knowledge of science, history, and the arts”.

It is therefore clear that a successful lawyer would be one with a wide vocabulary. Without this, your legal arguments would be shallow and without bite. So today we share tips on how you can broaden your verbal repertoire.

Ways to improve your vocabulary as a law student

(1) Subscribe to a word of the day service

You can subscribe to one of those word of the day service that come with mobile dictionary apps on your Android, Windows or IOS. This way no day will go by in your life without your learning a new word. Multiply that by 365 days and you’ll already be on your way to building a great vocabulary.

(2) Read widely

The more books you read the more your vocabulary will broaden. As you read try to understand new words in the contexts in which they are used. Read both law and non-law books.

(3) Use a dictionary

You can make this a daily ritual. Endeavor each day to learn a few words in the dictionary. Write down their meaning down in a book and find out time during the week to quickly run back over to refresh your memory.

(4) Practice the words you learn

I learned words, I learned words: but half of them died for lack of exercise. And the ones I use often look at me with a look that whispers, Liar. –Norman Alexander McCaig.

Deliberately use the new words in your vocabulary in your conversations and writing. This will help gain mastery over them.

(5) Have a learning ritual

Make it your business to find the meaning of every strange word you come across. Since we now have on-the-go mobile dictionaries that means you can look up the meaning of any unfamiliar word on the spot. Do this every time you come by a new word. Don’t put if off. Let it become a habit. I’ve been doing this for the past 9 years of my life (you know I’m not one to brag) and I can’t help it anymore. It’s testament to the fact that I now know something around two-thirds of the dictionary.

To finish, we’d like to pose you a little test to see just how satisfactory your vocabulary is and to help you determine if it’s needs working on.

Here are 10 words to test your vocabulary.

(1) A priori

Does this word mean;

(a) Deductive, presupposed (b) Analytical (c) Approximate (d) False

(2) Addendum

Does this word mean;

(a) Supplement (b) Redundant (c) Surfeit (d) Irrelevant

(3) Mendacious

Does this word mean:

(a) Untruthful (b) Veracity (c) Ambiguous (d) Impassive

(4) Suborn

Does this word mean;

(a) To pressure to perjure (b) To stonewall (c) To substitute (d) An inferior

(5) Weltanschauung

Does this word mean;

(a) Worldview (b) Absent-minded (c) Damp (d) Curios

(6) Expurgate

Does this word mean;

(a) To censor (b) To propagate (c) To disparage (d) External

(7) Idiosyncrasy

Does this word mean;

(a) A crank, eccentric, unusual (b) Foolhardy, stupid, idiotic (c) Synchronize (d) Idiomatic

(8) Amanuensis

Does this word mean;

(a) A narcissist (b) An assistant (c) Nuance (d) Copyist, scribe, stenographer

(9) Megalomania

Does this word mean;

(a) Delusional, Psychopathy (b) melancholy (c) Wealthy (d) Melodramatic

(10) Perfidy

Does this word mean;

(a) Treachery, dishonesty (b) Immaculate, spotless (c) Mysterious (d) Modify

(11) Extradite

Does this word mean;

(a) To prohibit (b) To endanger (c) To indict (d) To deport

The answers then are; 1=A, 2=A, 3=A, 4=A, 5=A, 6=A, 7=A, 8=D, 9=A, 10=A, 11=D

If you got them right, may I say, congratulations to you! That means your vocab is up to scratch and you’ll be a competent lawyer. Kudos to you once again. We’ll continue this some other time.

  1. Sylvester Imhanobe says

    Excellent write. This is what l preach to lawyers every day.

  2. korina says

    Hi. I think there is a mistake in the answer for No. 2. addendum should be synonymous to supplement.

    1. Patrick Herbert says

      Thanks Korina for bringing that error to my attention. You are right, the answer should have been A, it must have been an oversight on my part.

      1. korina says

        You’re welcome. 🙂 I find your website very helpful. Thank you as well.

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