Law Offices of David Clough P.C.
"Lawyers spend a great deal of their time 
shoveling smoke."
-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Available for matters in Cook, Dupage, and Will Counties
Established in 2001
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August 2014
How to Decode "Lawyer-Speak"

The legal profession loves to obfuscate. If a five-cent word gives adequate explanation to a situation you can rest assured that a lawyer will try to use a fifty-cent word to describe the same situation. This is primarily done to show his clients and opposing counsel, "I am smarter than you," as well as to confuse, conceal and complicate the issues at hand. There are numerous phrases the legal profession uses to help disguise the true meaning of what they are trying to say. Below are a few of my favorites.


"Who is your Chinaman?"

This is not pejorative, and I have only heard it in the Cook County area. What that person is asking is: Who is your patronage boss? Who sent you? How are you clouted? Remember, in Chicago the political mantra is "We don't want nobody nobody sent."


(BACKGROUND NOTE: Not everyone will be familiar with the mantra above. It means you are not eligible for a government job unless you have a political sponsor. If you want to be a fireman, a garbage man, a police officer or a judge, you must have a sponsor who is politically connected. It starts with a ward committeeman, and probably goes up from there, depending on the level of the job. According to Wikipedia, the phrase originates from Abner Mikva, a former U.S. Representative, Federal judge and law professor. When seeking his first job in politics, Mikva stopped by a ward headquarters to volunteer to work for Adlai Stevenson and Paul Douglas. The ward committeeman, Tim O'Sullivan, asked Mikva who sent him and, with his cigar in his mouth, added, "We don't want nobody that nobody sent.") 



"Don't be a seagull"

This is a euphemism for don't make a mess of things, and then make me clean up your screw ups. As it's been explained to me, the phrase comes from, "You guys are seagulls; you fly in here, make a bunch of noise, cr#p over everything, then fly away." It's usually uttered by non-participant litigators during the course of the trial when they suggest ways to "improve" your trial technique.


"As we stand here today"

A bit of a misdirection. This phrase is usually uttered by an attorney in front of a judge. What it really means is: my client said he had something really important to tell me about this case, but since I have already had my talking points laid out and ready to be spun carefully before the court, I told my client to tell me after I talk to you.  


"Your/my client is unsophisticated" 

When this statement is made by a Judge, he is saying, I'm not buying what you're trying to sell me about your client. When the attorney says this about his client, he means, my client is an idiot.


"That's one way of looking at it" 

When the judge says that to an attorney, he is implying that the attorney is an idiot.


I hope you find this email enlightening. As always, feel free to circulate my emails to your family, friends, and colleagues. If any of you need assistance with a legal matter, please call or email me. And I promise you won't ever hear me utter any of the expressions above! 



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Law Offices of David Clough P.C. | 312-849-3000 | [email protected] |
55 West Monroe, Suite 3950, Chicago, IL 60603

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