Lawyer Language

Lawyer Lingo

Guide to Navigating The Ridiculous Nonsense That Lawyers Speak.

“W” is for “What?”

WTFBe it in Bankruptcy, Criminal Law, Personal Injury or Divorce, lawyers do love to use “lawyer lingo”. We use words like “Re-Rec” and “nolle prosequi”, and speak in terms of Form 14’s, pre-auths, SIS’ and SES’, rather than just saying what is truly meant. I’ve always been a big fan of simply using “decision not to prosecute by the state”, rather than “nolle prosequi”, but if I said “decision not to prosecute” in Missouri, some would look at me like I was speaking some foreign language from a whole different state. I’m not really sure why this lingo continues, frankly, it’s a pain in the neck. And no, I’m not really providing a guide to figure it all out, frankly, I’m not sure it’s even possible, and I’m figuring it out as I go. That said, it differs from state to state; say for example you go to another state and ask the clerk what day “Law Day” is that week, she’ll likely look at you funny, while here in Missouri, it’s likely the most asked question in the courthouse. One would have thought every day was “law day” in a courthouse, but nope! Apparently, only Thursdays; something to do with judges being overworked.

In the state of Washington, the criminal cases are all set for an “Omnibus Hearing”. I was up there a while asking various lawyers why they called it an “Omnibus Hearing”, and no one seemed to know the answer. One lawyer suggested that, “it’s because they could not think of what else to call it”, but he was guessing. Taking it upon myself to look up the definition, I learned that “omnibus” means a grouping of unrelated events. In these particular cases, all of them were set for pre-trial hearings, and all of the various “omnibus hearings” that day were in fact unrelated to each other. Hence, I began calling those hearings “pre-trial hearings on the omnibus docket”, and well, apparently I was wrong,….or was I?

At the meeting of the creditors under a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, you’ll far more often than not come to the conclusion that the creditors must be meeting somewhere other than where the court told them to meet, perhaps at the local pub, because once you arrive, you’ll usually realize they did not. Hence, shouldn’t that be called the Chapter 7 Meeting That Creditors Generally Ignore? Bottom line, most of the time, they are not there. Oh, and it’s generally not really much of a meeting at all, even if they did show up. It’s more of a mini inquisition. “Not a lot of meeting going on there!”

I went to night court a few weeks ago, yes night court. In Missouri, they still do night court, no Bull, and worse yet, no Markie Post! The prosecutor asked me if I wanted something called a re-rec (sp?). Not knowing what the heck he was talking about I responded, “Uhhh”. What I wanted was to talk about the case, but apparently talking wasn’t really and option, or I must of skipped “re-rec” day in law school. Later I learned it stood for re-recommendation, or getting a new court date based upon the same recommendation, which brings me to yet another lawyer lingo issue:

Here in Missouri, I get what are called “Recommendations” from local prosecutors all the time. These are letters, stating that if my client pleads guilty to something, maybe a lesser charge, that the state will “recommend” a certain sentence. Otherwise, my client would have to take his chances with the judge or jury. The rest of the English speaking world would consider this to be an “Offer”, but it’s a “Recommendation” for a Missouri prosecutor, and worse yet, in Missouri you have to actually ask for one.

In sum, the legal system is full of this “lawyer lingo”, and it drives me nuts. I cannot imagine how folks outside the legal system understand what’s going on. I still find the best way to maneuver in this system is to call the opposing counsel, tell them I don’t speak “Lawyer”, and resolve the case like reasonable adults. The law has developed a systematic mis-identification of concepts, that are otherwise not really all that difficult to comprehend. (I acquiesce in that conclusion, and now concur with this notion sub judice; I think?) I have no idea why we’ve done this, but I’d love to hear of other examples, and your experience with them.

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