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WW - A (Mostly) Succinct History of English Legal Language

Total Credits: 0.75 including 0.0 Ethics CLE, 0.75 CLE

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Webinar Wednesday
Britt Hanson
44 Minutes
Audio and Video
Never expires.


From the Norman invasion in 1066 A.D. until the 1700’s, the language spoken by lawyers and judges in English courts was French. Most treatises, including Sir Edward Coke’s famous Institutes of the Lawes of England, were written in French. As a result, as law history scholar Frederic Maitland put it: “How shall one write a single sentence about law without using some such [French] word such as ‘debt’, ‘contract’, ‘heir’, ‘trespass’, ‘pay’, ‘money’, ‘court’, ‘judge’, ‘jury’. In all the world-wide land where English law prevails, homage is done daily to William of Normandy and Henry of Anjou.” But curiously, the language of record was Latin, which is why ipso facto so many legal maxims are in Latin. Meanwhile, most of the litigants spoke English, and thus didn’t have a clue as to what was being said in court against them or on their behalf. A (Mostly) Succinct History of English Legal Language power point presentation explores the etymology of English legal language, and along the way we’ll also discuss the history of the English legal system, because word origins and origins of the system are closely entwined.



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Deputy Cochise County Attorney

Cochise County Attorney's Office

Britt graduated in 1977 from the University of Illinois with a degree in economics, and from DePaul Law School in 1983. After law school Britt specialized in corporate reorganizations in Chicago with Sidley & Austin and Lord, Bissell & Brook. Later, he became a prosecutor in Apache County, and served as Chief Civil Deputy in the Cochise County Attorneys Office until 2020. He is now Of Counsel to the County Attorney’s Office. Britt has frequently been on the faculty at the annual Arizona Public Practice Seminar in Prescott.

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