Shimer College

June 23, 2014

Shimer Internship Blog: The Importance of Language

The importance of language in the court room, and how Shimer is preparing me for the world of law.

This week I had the unique opportunity to attend a hearing with the ACLU in federal court. To learn more about the case, click here: This was an eye-opening experience in many ways, and it also impressed upon me the importance of language in legal processes and the importance of a Shimer education in preparing me for a future career in the legal field.

The proceedings of court are like a game of chess: one sets their pieces carefully, blocks one’s opponent strategically, and analyzes all actions and statements with great care, knowing that the one that is best at this game will come out on top. There are many places that this intensity can be felt in the court room. The first is through the questions of the counsel (the attorneys) to the witnesses. Not having attended law school, it is difficult to understand the many varying rules that shape the language of the court (the judge) and the plaintiffs and defendants. It is clear, however, that the language must be incredibly precise; if it is not, one has left room for the opposing side to strategically object to the statements being made. The counsel must carefully form questions so that they are not leading, badgering, or somehow lacking foundation, and are sometimes forced to restate the question many times before the court will allow the statement to stand. This process requires a deep understanding of language and its implications, as well as the ability to rework sentences and even lines of questioning with the notice of only a few seconds.

In addition to lines of questioning, the importance of language can be seen in the form of objections. As touched on above, the opposing counsel may object as many times as they see fit, provided they find some fault with the question that has been posed, or the language with which the opposing counsel has posed such questions. Many objections such as relevance, foundation, accuracy, etc., were able to be used and sustained due to nuances in language that were perceived as being faulty by the opposing side. Many such objections were also overruled by the judge, who possessed the final word in interpretation.

In addition to the dialogue that took place during the hearings, the written preparation and evidence submitted also possess great importance through their language. With a document with slightly broad wording, one could find some of their most important evidence thrown permanently out of admissibility due to relevance. Through the different interpretations of text between the counsel and the court, evidence submitted could be found useless, or alternately, potentially case-making.

Through witnessing these proceedings, it was impressed upon me again that high adequacy with language, both written and verbal, can not only decide the outcome of a trial, but can consequently decide the fate of many individuals and can inform the formation of future laws, and the direction that the laws in our country will take. Through my education so far at Shimer, I have already felt the benefits of an education that is heavily focused upon reading and writing. Not only has my comprehension improved and my reading efficiency increased, but my academic writing has also improved steadily. Through such an education, I truly feel that I will be better prepared for law school, and better prepared for the world of nuance and interpretation that is the law.

-Tess Doubet King