Words Will Always Retain Their Power.

(In case you didn’t know, yesterday’s quote/title was from the movie Dave.)

Back in the first quarter, something Prof. CivPro said while getting onto someone for not being as precise with their words stuck with me. “Words matter.” He was a stickler for this, and repeated the phrase several times throughout the quarter. It has become somewhat of a mantra for the early quarters of law school. In Property, even a single word out of place can drastically change the conveyance granted by a deed or a will. In LARC, you’ll have to correct your Research Assignment or you might lose points on your next Memo. Using the wrong words while defining mens rea in CrimLaw nets you a loud buzz noise from Prof. CrimLaw. Or, you’ll just feel silly, like me today.

Today we were talking about the distinction between mistake of fact and mistake of law, and when mistake of law is a defensible position. Ultimately, it came to when ignorance of a law negated the mens rea, mistake of law is a valid defense; though not just because “they didn’t know the law,” but because they lacked the mens rea necessary for there to even be a crime. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse when the government can establish all of the elements of a crime. “I didn’t know that crime existed” isn’t a valid defense. Anyway, Prof. CrimLaw had put two examples up on the board, then asked me why “I didn’t know that was a law” was not a defense. I said something to the effect of, “He did the act, he knew that he was doing it, so the elements are still satisfied.” I wasn’t articulate enough, though, because he wasn’t satisfied. What I was trying to get at, and what I should have said, was “Even if someone says that, they still performed the actus reus and possessed the necessary mens rea for the crime in question.” But, I didn’t.

It’s an illustration of what I was talking about earlier; words do matter, especially in this profession. Precision is important, especially in those situations where one word misplaced can completely change your intended meaning. I appreciate this. While I still need to work on my own precision and preparation, I appreciate the power that precise words have in law school. They definitely affect your grade in LARC, as less precision in memos nets lower grades. They affect classes; the less precise someone is with their words in class, the more time the class spends on the specific topic and the less efficient the class is overall. And, at the very least, you’ll avoid the Prof. CrimLaw buzzer.

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3 Responses to “Words Will Always Retain Their Power.”


  1. 1 Brian June 12, 2008 at 12:13 am

    “That’s all I’ve got”

    Gotta be the quote of the day…

  2. 2 masten June 12, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    Amen. Nuance is very important to me. It wasn’t until after a few quarters of law school (maybe just after LAPP) that I realized how poorly we communicate in our everyday lives. It’s pitiful.

  3. 3 pbpope June 13, 2008 at 5:52 am

    I hear you, Jeremy. This is one of those “lessons” that is saturating my life, I’m finding. Even in life away from the law school, I find myself trying to consider my words more carefully, even more so than just a week or two ago. It seems like a constant struggle.


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