Language of The Law

Worked with him while training to become a Chartered Accountant. I was in my late twenties, while he was in his mid to late forties. Great sophistication and culture about him. Remember when we were auditing a credit union of a community based originally in Eastern Europe. In the basement, the makeshift lunchroom, the manager looking at him with shame: “What could we do?” This is the late 1970s; the Holocaust of the 1940s is still very real, including one’s complicity in it.

He was Czech. Had been a lawyer in Czechoslovakia. A distinguished lawyer. Left after the 1968 Russian invasion. One of his colleagues didn’t leave. Instead, committed suicide via poison gas, inhaled through a copy of the country’s constitution.

How did you end up in accounting, I asked. Everyone sees you as the distinguished lawyer you once were.

When I came to Canada, I learned very quickly that my English was not perfect. To practise law effectively in Ontario, it is crucial that one have a mastery of English. I don’t have it. Hence, accounting for me.

In the mid-1980s, I taught at a law school. Legal Accounting. Had a mid-term; big problems, since mid-terms were foreign. Commented on a student’s paper: your mistakes in English are egregious and unacceptable. Believe it or not, an accounting exam with expository questions. She objected. Said her first language was not English, and therefore my objections were not valid.

Czech approach…well, times, change, I guess…
Postscript, April 27, 2012: Or French. Student’s first language was neither. This was in the 1970s to mid-1980s, when the use of French in Ontario courts was not common. No common law in French legal program. Basic point remaining that, irrespective of in which of the two Official Languages of Canada legal proceedings are conducted, one should have a mastery of that language, in order to practise law effectively.

About brucelarochelle
This entry was posted in Accountants - Professional, Legal Education, Ottawa Reflections, Toronto Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Language of The Law

  1. This piece reminds me that many of my business professor colleagues complain bitterly that many of our undergrad students are not fluent in English, unable to effectively write papers or participate in class. We do have 30% foreign students (mostly involving English as a second language) in our program, with most of these being from China or India.

    And yet, strangely, I hardly ever encountered this problem. I ended up thinking that the difference was that my assignments were mostly very practical – analyze this case situation and make specific recommendations what to do to improve things. Very applied. I think most of my colleagues are much more theoretical, and give more academic assignments.

    Our foreign students whose first language is not English are, on balance, very bright. Maybe they are fluent in what to do, but stymied by theoretical jargon that may indeed have no practical meaning in the “real” world. My colleagues look at me very doubtfully when I say such things. Perhaps they doubt that teaching practical applications imparts any teaching of real value. How can we professors demonstrate our erudition if our students have no trouble understanding what we say? The more clear we are, the less erudite we appear? What a conundrum!

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