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On the Composition of Legal Texts

“How do lawyers compose their texts?” was the question in focus of a lecture given by Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Wolfgang Schön at the 2019 Theme Concerts in Munich.

He took the audience on an entertaining journey into the world of legal texts – from the scholarly treatise to the sober draft bill of the legislator to the rhetorical thunderstorm of the lawyer – by exploring the parallels between the processes of thinking, designing and communicating in the jurists’ world and in the world of music. The instrument connecting legal practitioners and professors, judges and lawyers, civil servants and consultants is the common language, Schön pointed out. But everyone plays it differently.

Even court judgments can differ in style, although writing judgements is a well-defined compositional art which consists in conveying the impression of consistency, even of inevitability, in a manner similar to a fugue or a sonata theme. Schön gives the example of a German judge who tends to write his judgments rhymed as poems. Judiciary style can also differ between jurisdictions. The style of the UK judicature for example is characterised by flowery remarks, witty comments and harsh formulations, whereas the highest French court traditionally cultivates an extremely short and sober Cartesian language. Also, while in the Anglo-Saxon tradition the voices of individual judges can be heard in a “polyphonic way”, continental Europe cultivates a “homophonic judgmental style”. The brass players of the Bavarian State Opera also showed their homophonic and polyphonic skills, rounding up the delightfully witty presentation with an impressive concert.