Should Trial Attorneys Use Complex Language? It Depends…

Today’s Read:

Alivia Zubrod, Lucian Gideon Conway III, Kathrene R. Conway, and David Ailanjian, Understanding the Role of Linguistic Complexity in Famous Trial Outcomes, Journal of Language and Social Psychology 2021, Vol. 40(3) 354–377,

I suppose starting off with a quote from one of the most famous trials in U.S. history is appropriate:

“If [the glove] doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
Johnnie Cochran, Defense Attorney for OJ Simpson, June 15, 1995

Regardless of your opinion about the outcome of the OJ Simpson trial, you have to admire the beauty and simplicity of this contention by the defense. It does not employ any complex legal arguments, and it does not twist itself in circles trying to explain why the defendant is innocent. It just appeals to the common sense of the jury. Memorably, it even rhymes. And, clearly, it worked.

The article I’m reviewing today, published last year in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, provides a fascinating look at the use of complex language in “famous” trials.

As their corpus, the researchers used Famous Trials, an open-access database established and maintained by Douglas O. Linder of UMKC School of Law.

The idea behind the research was to figure out whether and how the use of complex language by prosecutors and defense attorneys in their opening and closing statements appears to have impacted the outcome of the case.

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Legal Scholarship and the Expectations of Old, Western White Guys

Today’s Read:
Alonso Gurmendi and Paula Baldini Miranda da Cruz, Writing in International Law and Cultural Barriers (Part I), August 7, 2020,

It’s getting to be that time of year. I’m staying afloat, and feeling OK and reasonably productive, but waves of emails and requests and things that need to be done ASAP are threatening to pull me under if I’m not careful. Alas, COVID hasn’t really changed the volume or urgency of the work in my world, I’m afraid. At least I don’t spend 90 minutes a day commuting right now. But whether I am always using that found 90 minutes productively is a different story.

Anyway, I wanted to get in a read before the crush of the fall semester is here. I did myself a favor and chose a short blog post this time, and I am so glad I did! This wonderful piece by Alonso Gurmendi and Paula Baldini Miranda da Cruz really got me thinking about language and legal commentary. It allowed me to further contemplate some of the thinking I was doing in my last blog post, in which I explored the legal canon, who decides what’s in it, and how librarians may be complicit in that system: a system that definitely fails to amplify minority voices.

Well. We who care about legal literature must ask ourselves what place foreign-trained legal scholars, especially those who are not native English speakers, have in that literature, mustn’t we?

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Who Decides What’s In “The Canon”?

Today’s Read: Alexandra Kemmerer, Juristische Kanonfragen: Andere Auffassungen nähren die Neugier (Legal Canon Questions: Other Views Feed Curiosity), July 27, 2020, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,

Today’s read is a short newspaper article written by my friend Alexandra Kemmerer, who is a Berlin-based senior fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (located in Heidelberg).  She also writes for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, which is where this article was published.

This article is in German, and it stretched me in terms of both language and substance, so I hope I get everything right AND can do it justice.  I also want to use it as a springboard for some thoughts I have about how the concept of the canon affects academic librarianship.

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Perceptions of Non-Native Speakers

Shedding New Light on the Evaluation of Accented Speakers: Basic Mechanisms Behind Nonnative Listeners’ Evaluations of Nonnative Accented Job Candidates, Janin Roessel, Christiane Schoel, Renate Zimmermann, and Dagmar Stahlberg, Journal of Language and Social Psychology 2019, Vol. 38(1) 3–32, DOI: 10.1177/0261927X17747904


This article immediately piqued my interest for several reasons: (a) I have given presentations and lectures as a non-native speaker of German a few times before; (b) I am always terrified of being judged as incompetent when I speak German in a situation like this, even though a lot of people tell me my German accent is relatively slight (especially for an American); and (c) I work with non-native English speakers all the time and I wanted to explore some of the literature on this topic to understand better how I can support them.

The results of this research are not good for the non-native speakers among us, especially those with strong foreign accents.

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