Lawyers are nothing if not extremely picky about linguistic precision, and it makes us look like jerks. I am no different.
This is a huge issue in my marriage, as my wife will attest. Non-lawyers are driven bonkers when their lawyer spouses utter the words “define __________.” This may be why lawyers are so insistent about comfy leather sofas in their offices.
A bit of snark coming here. This is a manifesto about precise language, in order to preserve the record for later debates over coffee or beer.
The vocabulary I am most picky about sits squarely within my practice area. In fact, my unique little bailiwick is described by this often misused term: international litigation. Laypersons misuse it. Lawyers misuse it. I intentionally misuse it myself, out of practical necessity.
International litigation refers to disputes between nation-states. Such cases are usually brought in the International Court of Justice or the World Trade Organization Dispute Settlement Bodies. You know—esoteric moot court stuff. I was on the WTO and Jessup moots in law school. I was and continue to be an international law geek, but technically, I don’t work in the field of international litigation.
I handle transnational litigation. This term refers to disputes involving individuals and entities. Sometimes a foreign nation-state is thrown in, such as when a homeowner sues the foreign ambassador next door because the latest diplomatic gala is noisy. (Very obscure reference, but I’ve seen it!)
Usually, though, it pertains to a guy in Niagara Falls suing a guy in the other Niagara Falls (there are two of them) or a plaintiff in Hamburg, Iowa suing a defendant in Hamburg, Germany. These cases are colored by international law—treaty relationships apply—but they are not correctly described as international in nature. They are transnational.
I just have to call them international because if I don’t, two problems arise:
- My website’s SEO rankings in Google are shot. I can’t afford that. I am at the mercy of Larry & Sergey. (As we all are. Each of us owes fealty to the Masters of Mountain View.) You’ll note that this article is tagged in international litigation but not transnational because LinkedIn doesn’t have such a tag.*
- Nobody knows what I’m talking about, so they scratch their heads and move on to the next person they don’t know at the bar association happy hour.
So if you catch me talking about international litigation, I’m probably talking about the transnational kind. Fellow lawyers, be content that I feel icky when I do.
(Feel free to slide two pennies across the table any time. I’ll be that much closer to getting my fancy leather sofa.)
*This post was originally published on LinkedIn, March 1, 2016.