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Classics for Law Students

By Roscoe Pound, Dean of the Law School, Harvard University, 1917

It is not merely the obvious need of study of Latin in order to understand law Latin, and the Latin maxims and phrases of which the books are full, that leads teachers of law to insist upon the importance of classical training. It is the lawyer's ever day business not only to reason soundly but to express his ideas clearly and accurately; to make what he has put on paper so clear and so definite as to convey his precise meaning to disputants with "fired zeal to pervert" and thus to forestall controversy. It has been said that a great deal of bad law making, a great deal of bad pleading, and a great deal of bad conveyancing is simply bad English, in the sense that the writer has failed to formulate accurately what he had in mind and to express with precision. Language is the instrument of thought as well as the medium by which thought is preserved, and one whose philological instincts are undeveloped is not likely to think critically nor to express his conclusions exactly.

There is no better way for the student to train himself in the choice of the very word that will fit his thought than by translation from Latin and Greek. Thus he develops habits of analysis, habits of discriminating choice of words, habits of accurate apprehension of the meaning which another has sought to convey by written words, which lead to power of expression and to power of clear thinking. Such habits are worth more to the lawyer than all the information which a modern school may hope to impart.

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