January 2 , 2024

Plain Language for Lawyers

December 15 , 2023

Limitation Periods Have Shrunk

November 30 , 2023

Advocacy's Key

November 28 , 2023

Motions Fritter Away Time and Money

November 27 , 2023

Will Foreclosure History Repeat Itself?

November 21 , 2023

Rules of Court Bind Even the King's Bench

November 2, 2023

Records and Affidavit of Records

November 2 , 2023

Uncommon Law

October 20 , 2023

Expanding Judicial Review Evidence

June 22, 2023

Competition v. Benefits

June 19, 2023

Clogged Courts

June 12, 2023

Preparing Applications in Uncertain Conditions

May 8, 2023

Competence is a Delicate Flower

March 30 , 2023

Urgent! Very Hard to Meet a Limitation Period

March 13 , 2023

Parties to Planning Appeals

March 7 , 2023

Costs in Family Law Litigation

January 30 , 2023

Dodging Settlement Privilege

January 4 , 2023

Lurking Dangers and Errors

January 3 , 2023

Your Real Goals

December 5 , 2022

Contracts for Higher Costs

November 24 , 2022

Scope of Offers to Settle

October 13 , 2022

Checklist for Cross-Examination

September 16 , 2022

Reviewing Latest Changes

August 22 , 2022

First Steps in Problem Solving

July 28 , 2022

Checklist of Powerful Procedural Principles

March 22 , 2022

Repeating a Cross-Examination Question

January 25 , 2022

Enforcing Land Sales Becomes Easier

January 5 , 2022

Proving a Settlement After a Mediation

November 16, 2021

Types of Injunctions

October 1, 2021

Orders After Litigation is Over

August 11, 2021

Discoverability for Limitation Periods

August 5 , 2021

Releases of Claims

June 7 , 2021

Language Used Still Matters

May 17 , 2021

Serving Uncooperative People

April 15 , 2021

Death and After-Life of Contingency Agreements

February 22 , 2021

Legal Analysis

February 2 , 2021

Costs Clarified at Last

January 4 , 2021


December 10, 2020

Traps and Confusion in Service Times

November 24, 2020

Don't Cut Corners

October 2 , 2020

Consent Orders

August 4 , 2020

Electronic Hearings

July 21, 2020

Ceasing to Act

June 29, 2020

Writing Skills

June 29, 2020

Keeping Up With the Law

June 22, 2020

Assets as a Test for Security for Costs

June 19, 2020

What is This Case About?

June 11, 2020

Cross-Examining Child Witnesses

May 20 , 2020

Formal Offers

May 13 , 2020

Vexatious or Self-Represented Litigants

January 7, 2020

G.S.T. and Costs

December 20 , 2019

Electronically Navigating the

October 7 , 2019

Questioning is a Bad Word

July 29 , 2019

Dismissal for Delay

May 7 , 2019

Rule 4.31 Fallacies

March 18 , 2019

More Dangers in Oral Fee Agreements

February 11 , 2019

Weir-Jones Decisions

January 9 , 2019

Discouraging Settlements

November 30, 2018

European Court Helps You Twice?

November 23 , 2018

Courts Overruling Tribunals

November 16 , 2018

New Evidence on Appeal

October 30 , 2018

Schedule C's Role

July 17 , 2018

Loopholes in Enforcing Settlements

May 7 , 2018

Enforcement of Procedure Rules

April 16, 2018

Limping Lawsuits are Often

April 3 , 2018

Court of Appeal Tips for
Summary Decisions

March 19, 2018

Serious Dangers in Chambers

February 13 , 2018

Court Backlog

December 18 , 2017

Lowering the Status of Courts

September 15 , 2017

Access to Court Decisions

July 4 , 2017

Strictissimi Juris

June 14 , 2017

Why Don't Your Clients Settle?

June 5 , 2017

Gap in Rules About Parties

June 5, 2017

Personal Costs Against

April 26, 2017

Clogged Courts

April 11, 2017

Dismissal for Want of

January 6, 2017

Incomplete Disclosure

December 15, 2016


November 23, 2016

Is Contract Interpretation Law?


Côté’s Commentaries

© J.E. Côté 2016-2024


The legal profession has many verbal habits and traditions which impede communication with non-lawyers, even well-educated ones. Developing habits and vocabularies suited to non-lawyers is important, and can help everyone concerned.

There are various ways to attempt this. However, some are apt, and some are ineffective or harmful. Which is which, depends on what is the problem being addressed. To cure an illness, you first need diagnosis. Here are five of those problems with lawyers’ language.

  1. Lawyers use a word unfamiliar to lay people, which has pretty well the same meaning as a common English word or phrase. For example, instead of “submission” say “written argument”. Instead of “the record” say “the court file” or “the shorthand transcript”. Instead of “the plaintiff”, say “the person suing” or (in this case) “The Union Bank”.

  2. Lawyers use what sounds like an ordinary English word, but has a very different meaning in legal matters. This is very dangerous: it is likely to produce positive misunderstanding, rather than mere puzzlement. So instead of “execution”, say “Signing” or “Seizure” or “Performance” (depending on which meaning of the legal term you intend this time). Instead of “stay”, say “freeze” or “postpone”.

  3. Lawyers use a word or phrase not found in ordinary English. Then no good comes from trying to substitute some English word which has some vague similarity. That will either puzzle the audience, or (like #2) give them a bad misunderstanding. The solution is either to use some explanatory phrase or sentence, or to use the legal term and explain what it means. Note that the medical profession properly uses terms like “ultrasound” or “MRI”. They do not (for example) try to call them “photographs”, because that English word has little real similarity to the medical term.

  4. Lawyers use double, treble, or quadruple negatives. Only a trained philosopher can readily understand their meaning.

  5. Lawyers use the passive voice. That is both harder to understand, and tends to be vague, inconclusive, or even misleading. “Dog bites man” differs from “man bites dog”, and “suffered dog biting” is often misleading.

None of these problems is imaginary. The Rules of Court now used in King’s Bench persistently try to use language which lay people use. Sometimes the result is helpful. But the Rules of Court make some of the errors (misdiagnoses of the problem) listed above. That misleads both lawyers and lay people. For example, calling an examination for discovery a “questioning” is a dubious improvement. And then using the identical word “questioning” for two or three other very different legal procedures, is just asking for trouble. See F.E.G. v. M.J.V. 2023 ABKB 726 (Dec. 19) (¶’s 10, 13). (Many provinces and territories name one court “the Supreme Court” though in most civil litigation, it is the lowest civil court, below the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court of Canada. Is that another example?)


– Hon. J.E. Côté


The Commentaries are intended to call the attention of lawyers to promising or threatening developments in the law, in civil procedure, in developing their skills, or simply to describe something curious, funny or intriguing.

The Hon. Jean Côté retired from the Court of Appeal of Alberta and would be willing to act as an arbitrator, mediator, or referee under Rules 6.44 and 6.45 of the Alberta Rules of Court.

He may be contacted through Juriliber at:

email: or phone 780-424-5345.