Legally speaking


Jullie Y. Daza

When Supreme Court Senior Justice Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen launched his Supreme Court stylebook at Baguio Country Club’s Forbes ballroom last month, the event attracted 220-plus justices, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, law students, and, one supposes, the law-abiding, too. A bystander said it was more than a book launch, it was also an impromptu discussion.

In this country, when you see five people talking together, possibly all at the same time, they must be lawyers (at least four of them would be). I take it Justice Leonen wouldn’t mind listening to them, as long as the correct words are used.

But listening is not the same as reading, and in this book, the correct words are the short and simple ones, just as the best phrases are those commonly used, please keep the esoteric and exotic for your son’s term paper.

After I read the first chapter of Supreme Court Stylebook, first edition 2023, I immediately told myself that if I were a publisher I’d buy copies for my reporters, editors, and contributors, including columnists, for their own enjoyment/enlightenment and as a refresher course. To be fair, lawyers and journalists aren’t the only people who love words, there are other professional types who cannot help falling into the trap of using important-sounding, multisyllabic words to make themselves (or their language) “interesting” to their readers.

Just because communication is an impressive-looking, impressive-sounding word, it doesn’t mean that five-syllable words should be used more often by more communicators. If you don’t believe me, you would believe a Supreme Court justice, wouldn’t you?

While the book is obviously tailored for the lawyering class – see Chapter One, Fundamentals of Legal Writing – the lessons overall are obviously for all of us who speak and write to be understood. A sampling would include doing away with fancy words and “avoiding foreignisms”; remembering the rules of grammar; being aware of commonly misused words; capitalization and punctuations; units of measurement and sums of money. There’s a timely chapter on the use of inclusive language, referring not only to gender but also to persons with disabilities.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the only book I have seen that carries the imprimatur of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Alexander G. Gesmundo, signed.