10 Latin Phrases to Remember in Litigation (Crossing the Rubicon)
It has been said that, “Everything spoken is stronger if spoken in Latin”, Omnia dicta fortiori si dicta Latina. The skeptical humorist may prefer, Quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur (“Anything said in Latin sounds profound”). While Latin may add a sense of formality to a text, if a reader cannot discern meaning from it there is little point. Ergo, I present a few legal lessons to accompany the following X (10) Latin phrases.
A lawsuit has been filed, the proverbial die has been cast, and the parties are on the court’s clock to have their claims resolved. As a practitioner, I have seen many cases at this stage improperly filed or improperly defended. Having counsel, no… having appropriate counsel, is essential in maintaining or defending a successful lawsuit.
Let’s let the Latin speak for itself: (1) Vigilantibus non dormientibus iura subveniunt: “The laws serve the vigilant, not those at rest”. Many know their legal rights are only enforceable within a certain period of time, the “Statute of Limitations”, but few know how long that period is. Even fewer know the time requirements for filing answers, filing motions, or other procedural rules. Failure to abide by statutory or local court deadlines can prove fatal to the claims or defenses of a party. “I didn’t know, your honor”, falls squarely under the category of (2) Ignorantia iuris non excusat: “Ignorance of the law excuses no one”.
Similarly, legal pleadings must not only be formatted correctly for style, but also substantively crafted so that facts are alleged properly and are aligned with their attendant legal theories or defenses. (3) Forma legalis forma essentialis est: “Legal form is essential form”. Omitting basic facts, theories, or defenses may invalidate or preclude a claim or defense, while clerks and judges may refuse improperly filed forms and papers. I like to say there is no such thing as a technicality. I have seen many pleadings filed by pro se parties, with paragraphs and strained phraseology so devoid of legal meaning that any actual claim or defense is easily refuted or not articulated at all.
The laws and rules of court exist for the benefit of efficiency, as “justice delayed is justice denied.” With regard to rules of time and form, the benefit of uniformity and timeliness outweigh the interest in having every litigant operate on his or her own schedule. If you miss a deadline, (4) Lex citius tolerare vult privatum damnum quam publicaum malum: “The law would rather tolerate a private injury than a public evil”. “It is in the interest of the state that there be finality in litigation” (interest rei publicae ut sit finis litium). Once a claim is brought to court, the litigants must be prepared to see it to the end.
Every court is an island unto itself, with its own set of rules, customs, and best practices. (5) Cursus curiae est lex curiae: “The practice of the court is the law of the court”. Similarly, “a court’s custom is held as law” (consuetudo pro lege servatur). Navigating a court’s intricate series of rules and customs requires appropriate counsel, with the experience in the specific court, something the wrong attorney or a pro se litigant is simply not equipped to handle. It is a universal maxim that: (6) Multa exercitatione facilius quam regulis percipies: “You will perceive many things more easily by experience than by rules”. Knowing the rules is one thing, but knowing how they are enforced and how they apply to a specific case is quite another, and worth the money spent for appropriate counsel. “The laws depend not on being read but on being understood” (Non in legendo sed in intelligendo leges consistent).
Custom, experience, and established laws govern what facts, legal arguments, and theories should be presented to the court. In order to prevail, the facts of the prosecution, or conversely, the facts of the defense, must (with the rare exception) conform to law and precedent. The best presented facts and arguments make a Judge feel comfortable deciding the case. Cases, even complex cases, often turn on one or two points of law or the proof of one or two facts. Therefore, Judges are concerned with hearing the facts and arguments relevant to the narrow issues which will decide the case. (7) Causa proxima, non remota spectator: “The immediate, and not the remote cause is to be considered”.
Thus, legal arguments often require as much precision as they require force, a counterpoint to “hitting the nail on the head” is the maxim: (7) Rem acu tetigisti: “You have touched the point with a needle”. Needlepoint precision and clarity in the face of a complex issue give the Judge the comfort that not only is he or she deciding the case correctly, but that such a decision is the only way the law will allow. The best attorneys work from the beginning of representation to find that clarity a difficult case requires.
To face litigation without an attorney (or without the appropriate attorney) is to discover the maxim that: (10) Misera est servitus, ubi ius est vagum aut incertum: “It is a miserable slavery where the law is vague or uncertain”. A pro se litigant can easily get lost in the labyrinth of statutory and court requirements and deadlines, while struggling with laws that are “all Greek to them”. With that in mind, I hope that reviewing a few otherwise “vague or uncertain” Latin phrases has not made the reader an unwilling captive to a few maxims of an otherwise dead language.
Seth Obed is an attorney at law, but a classicist at heart. Obed Law is a general civil litigation, business law, and estate planning firm in Alexandria, VA. This post is not legal advice; reading, commenting on the post, or communicating about this post with the firm do not give rise to a legal representation. Contact Seth at email@example.com