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The Use of Honorifics in the Legal Profession

Inside the courtroom
The Use of Honorifics in the Legal Profession
on May, 26 2015

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) recently tagged the word “Mx” for possible inclusion in the newest version of the OED to be released this year. Pronounced as “mix” or “mux,” this gender-neutral honorific is set to be officially recognized by one of the world’s major dictionaries. It is an honorific intended for people who prefer not to be identified with either Mr. or Ms.

The use of “Mx” is not new especially among British English speakers. It is already being used in British government offices, the Royal Mail, banks, a number of universities, councils, and even in driving licenses. OED assistant editor Jonathan Dent, in an interview with The Sunday Times, said that it would be the first addition to the standard stable of honorifics in recent history and such addition demonstrates how the English language is evolving to suit the changes in society.

In view of this, perhaps it’s worth the time discussing some important details on how honorifics are being used in the legal profession. New lawyers and witnesses, in particular, could use some guidance on how the major characters in a trial should be addressed or referred to. There are those who think honorifics are being used sarcastically or are being unwittingly disregarded that some people are offended.

Addressing Judges and Justices

Judges in court documents and written correspondence are expected to be addressed with formality. In writing, they are usually addressed with their title and full name. The honorific “The Honorable” may be added before the name but not before the title. When the title is used before the name, the honorific may be omitted. In letters, the typical “Dear (Title) (Full Name or Surname)” in the salutation may be used. During hearings or trials, the judge is usually addressed as “Your Honor.”

According to the Oxford Dictionaries, the honorific “Honorable” must start with a capital letter when paired with the name of the person being addressed. Also, it should only be paired with a full name (first name + surname). Honorable may be abbreviated as “Hon.” but “The” will have to be omitted when the abbreviation is used and it should only be used when writing addresses.

Using Mr., Ms., Madam, and Mx.

Distinguishing the sexes of the judges or justices being addressed, nowadays, is being viewed as a form of sexism. That’s why it’s better to simply write the title (Judge or Justice) and avoid the honorific. The gender-neutral “Mx.”may be used as it is already gaining popularity although not many may feel comfortable using it or having it paired with their names. To be safe, it’s better to simply write the title and the name of the person being addressed. In spoken communication, it would be advisable for now to not use “Mx.”as it may only lead to confusion.

Mentioning People in the Third Person

Usually, persons mentioned in letters or documents have their titles and full names written on the first instance of use. In the succeeding references to the same person, the first name may be omitted. There is no strict rule on omitting the first name on succeeding mentions but it is generally advisable for brevity and convenience. Additionally, honorifics are to be avoided when referring to people in the third person.

Lawyer Referring to Another Lawyer

In general, the honorifics Mr. and Ms. should suffice in lawyer-to-lawyer references. Mx. may also be used when it is deemed popular enough in a particular area or court. Some append “Esquire” or “Esq.” before a lawyer’s name but this is viewed as something mostly used by members of exclusive circles. The title “Attorney” will have to be omitted when Mr., Ms., or Mx. is used.

In cases when documents or letters need to be translated to another language, it is advisable to be mindful of the equivalent honorifics or related etiquettes. That’s why it helps getting expert and certified legal translation services when nobody is capable and competent enough in translating legal documents and written communication. Honorifics may sound insignificant but they can leave an impression that may influence cases.

Share with us what you think about the use of honorifics in legal profession. We would love to hear from you.

Day Translations Team

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