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Lawtalk: The Unknown Stories Behind Familiar Legal Expressions
Reviewed by:David R Pickup
Author:James E. Clapp et al
Those of us who like to read John Grisham, watch Suits on television or just about any American thriller may sometimes need a handy dictionary to explain some legal expressions. I have always liked the idea of an ‘ego wall’, where you hang your certificates and photos of you and the local congressman, or you and a film star. In the UK you can have an ego wall with your admission certificate signed by Lord Denning, if you are old like me; and that is all well and good unless you want to download and print your receipt from the SRA.
This book includes American expressions such as ‘Jim Crow’, ‘rainmaker’, and ‘shyster’; and also more widely known ones such as ‘pound of flesh’, the ‘law is an ass’ and ‘politically correct’. Surprisingly, ‘politically correct’ goes back to the Declaration of Independence. Now you know.
The explanations are interesting, clear and honest. When an author does not know, they say so. One of the authors is Bosshard Professor Emeritus of Law and South Asian Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison. What book is such an eminent academic best known for? Apparently he is the author of Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture. I rest my case.
There are two articles which should be read by everyone. They are ‘Billable hours’ and ‘Finders, minders and grinders’. Billable hours is about how lawyers learned to charge for how they spent their time rather than how good the work was. The obvious problem is that there was no incentive to work efficiently and, ultimately, the profession suffers. Finders, minders and grinders is about how to run a firm. The partners find the work, someone makes sure it is done well and caseworkers, as we would call them, do it.