A small fiction (or essay) that illustrates the French roots of legal English:
Let’s talk about your client. His organization recently became a victim of espionage. As usual, you give him good direction and advise him about the procedures he must follow. You will do your best, as you have never been accused of malpractice or negligence.
The suspects broke into your client’s office. It was not a force majeure, so you can accuse them of vandalism. Your client sees it as a brutal aggression.
Espionage and vandalism – are they only torts or are they crimes? You think they are crimes, and your client seems content to hear this.
These acts may cause the liquidation of his organization, and he may need a payment plan to pay your fees. While he needs money, his priority is to make the suspects pay in another way; he would torture them if he could. You think it’s cruel, but you understand his pain.
Therefore, you assume he wants to see them in detention. The only verdict he will accept is a prison sentence after an indictment, a formal accusation from the grand jury.
Before that, you send your client to the police station where he will sit for a deposition about this affair. Then you will represent him before the court of justice.
You finished this rendezvous telling your client with assurance: They are not innocent! I will cite legal precedents to counter the arguments of the defense and convince the court of their culpability. The only thing that can save them would be a pardon by the President!
Client, organization, direction, procedure, malpractice, negligence, victim, espionage, suspect, office, force majeure, accuse, vandalism, brutal, aggression, tort, crime, content, cause, liquidation, payment, plan, torture, cruel, assume, detention, verdict, prison, sentence, accusation, grand jury, police, deposition, affair, represent, court, justice, rendezvous, assurance, innocent, cite, legal, precedents, argument, defense, pardon, president: All these words are used by French lawyers as well, often with an “e” at the end of it—like “victime” or “affaire”—or with a meaning slightly different—like office or tort. Pain and culpability are also very close to the French words “peine” and “culpabilité”.
This article illustrates the French roots of legal English. Every day, you already speak French without knowing it; you can learn the rest! A little more work and voilà, you will be able to read and understand French contract clauses, or “clauses de contrat” as they say in Paris!
Compliments of Mathieu Legendre, a member of the EACCNY