Are these an acceptable two sentences for a mini cover letter? Watch

Shellbeach
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Mini-pupillage, that is.

I've boldfaced the sentence referred to in my title, and I've given the surrounding sentences just to contextualize it.

I just want to very succinctly explain what my Masters degree was about.


Further, my background in theoretical linguistics attracts me to commercial/chancery practice, since the former is directly relevance to the latter. Briefly, theoretical linguistics proposes that unconscious thought patterns cause human language to be the way that it is. These thought patterns determine which sentences, and under which interpretation(s), sound natural to speakers in a given language. We use an abstract theory to explain this.

Linguistics has useful practical applications to law. Specifically, linguists seek optimal solutions to issues of ambiguous phrasing. Linguists study semantics (a lawyer's 'literal meaning' and its relation to pragmatics (a 'reasonable person's' understanding of a sentence). The latter phenomenon is key in legal disputes. I believe my linguistics would help me, as a barrister, to build stronger arguments about contractual interpretation, whichever side I was representing.


Thank you so much to anyone who can put their two cents in!
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Crazy Jamie
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(Original post by Shellbeach)
Mini-pupillage, that is.

I've boldfaced the sentence referred to in my title, and I've given the surrounding sentences just to contextualize it.

I just want to very succinctly explain what my Masters degree was about.


Further, my background in theoretical linguistics attracts me to commercial/chancery practice, since the former is directly relevance to the latter. Briefly, theoretical linguistics proposes that unconscious thought patterns cause human language to be the way that it is. These thought patterns determine which sentences, and under which interpretation(s), sound natural to speakers in a given language. We use an abstract theory to explain this.
Typo. Not that I would normally point out a typo in a forum post, but if you've copied that from a letter you're sending out, I thought you'd want to know about the typo.

More broadly, you are right that linguistic ability is absolutely essential as a barrister. Having said that, whilst I do think that (in theory at least) you could become a better advocate due to your theoretical linguistics, I think tying it specifically to issues relating to contractual interpretation (and therefore to chancery/commercial work) is a bit of a stretch. Simply put, I can see how this knowledge could help you to communicate and advocate your position more effectively, but I don't see (if I'm reading this right) how you could use it to convince a Judge specifically about a particular contractual interpretation, not least because if you're going to start to use expert knowledge you'd have to be extremely careful about not giving expert evidence (which, as a barrister, you cannot do). In any event, I think it's actually better for you if you tie it to general advocacy rather than such a specific use.

Back to the point of the original question though, whilst I appreciate what you're trying to say in the bold section, I'm not sure it's necessary for you to include that in a mini pupillage covering letter at all. I think you could be far less technical and far more succinct about it. Will it stop you getting a mini pupillage that you would otherwise get? Highly doubtful. I just think in the interest of constructive criticism that you could explain your point more directly using less technical language which, lest we forget, is also a useful skill for a barrister to have.
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Shellbeach
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This is immensely helpful, thank you. I've just replied to a few of your comments in bold.

(Original post by Crazy Jamie)
Typo.

Thank you, this isn't part of a letter, it was just a post on here - I would proof read an actual letter!

More broadly, you are right that linguistic ability is absolutely essential as a barrister. Having said that, whilst I do think that (in theory at least) you could become a better advocate due to your theoretical linguistics, I think tying it specifically to issues relating to contractual interpretation (and therefore to chancery/commercial work) is a bit of a stretch. Simply put, I can see how this knowledge could help you to communicate and advocate your position more effectively, but I don't see (if I'm reading this right) how you could use it to convince a Judge specifically about a particular contractual interpretation,

Ah, but linguists actually do work on precisely the same type of ambiguity that barristers argue about in court. There's even an entire book about it ('Formal Linguistics and Law'), and several journal articles. Just a quick example:

Let's take plurals, which are inherently ambiguous, whenever they are used, between a 'collective' interpretation, and a 'distributive one' (I'll show what these are below, it's easy to see with examples, why we use these terms is unimportant). In the context of bankruptcy (this sentence is adapted from an actual sentence in an American contract).

Three creditors received one hundred pounds

......is a true sentence if two creditors received forty-five pounds each, and one creditor received ten. The phrase 'three creditors' is taken to be a group, who between them (together) received one sum of £100 (i.e. there only exists one sum of money). = Collective interpretation

.......is also a true sentence if three creditors received one hundred pounds each. = 'Three creditors' is taken to refer to each part of the phrase, each single creditor, as an individual entity. There are three separate sums of £100, and each creditor receives £100. = Distributive interpretation (or 'member of group', 'part of whole' interpretation, in simpler language).


In short, linguists actually come up with helpful solutions to dealing with this kind of ambiguity (taking context into account too, of course). - this same 'whole group' vs 'part of group' ambiguity is just one example of ambiguities which have been argued about in courts. That's what I meant when I said that linguists is directly applicable to chancery/commercial law, where a close reading of the words (and forming an argument about how those words ought to be interpreted) is particularly important.


....not least because if you're going to start to use expert knowledge you'd have to be extremely careful about not giving expert evidence (which, as a barrister, you cannot do). In any event, I think it's actually better for you if you tie it to general advocacy rather than such a specific use.

Yes, of course - I'm not trying to discredit what you've said, I just wanted to clarify what I meant with my example above.

.
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Crazy Jamie
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(Original post by [b)
That's what I meant when I said that linguists is directly applicable to chancery/commercial law, where a close reading of the words (and forming an argument about how those words ought to be interpreted) is particularly important.
[/b]I understand that, and I understand your example. What I was saying is that I don't see how theoretical linguistics actually helps you to convince a Judge which interpretation should be preferred. Such arguments are generally contextual, and therefore fact based. The point that I mentioned above is that if your intention is to actually use theoretical linguistics, you would be in danger of straying into the realm of giving expert evidence, which you cannot do. But if you think I'm wrong about that (or missing the point) you might want to give an example. Let's take something similar to what you've stated, and say that a contract has a clause that says "On receipt of the goods Company A shall pay £10,000 to Company B and Company C". There is a dispute over whether that means £10,000 each, or £10,000 in total. If I was arguing about that, I'd use the context of the rest of the contract, or perhaps make arguments about the language in the clause itself (e.g. it doesn't say £10,000 each, or on the other side of the argument it must mean £10,000 each because if it was £10,000 between them it would specify in what proportion). How do you say your experience and knowledge of theoretical linguistics would give you and advantage in that argument over me, a barrister who has not such experience or knowledge? Or are you saying that it wouldn't explicitly, but because of that knowledge and experience you would be able to develop the relevant skills quicker than a pupil/junior tenant who didn't have that knowledge and experience? I'm just trying to figure out what you're driving at here, because once I figure that out I think it may well be possible to put it in a better way in your letter.
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TimmonaPortella
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I obviously don't know, because I haven't seen it, but I think there's some chance you're getting too deep for a cover letter for a mini. Extrapolating from OP, it looks like it could be quite long.

I don't think people want to read a novella when they're just selecting for minis, and I don't think that is needed from you either. I kept mine to two or three paragraphs, had a high success rate and actually received compliments on one occasion (whereas I don't think anyone would usually mention it).

I suggest:

Dear Sir,

Here's why I'm interested in the Bar, and, in particular, this area of law. Your set is great for this because reasons.

Here's why I'm suitable/ generally wonderful.

Yours faithfully,

etc.

Done, send.
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Shellbeach
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(Original post by TimmonaPortella)
I obviously don't know, because I haven't seen it, but I think there's some chance you're getting too deep for a cover letter for a mini. d.
I agree! I was just toying with ideas by writing this thread. I haven't actually written a letter in full; I was only planning on writing two paragraphs, so only one side of A4 (and not more than 500 words).
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Shellbeach
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(Original post by Crazy Jamie)
[/b]

What I was saying is that I don't see how theoretical linguistics actually helps you to convince a Judge which interpretation should be preferred. Such arguments are generally contextual, and therefore fact based.
Let's take something similar to what you've stated, and say that a contract has a clause that says "On receipt of the goods Company A shall pay £10,000 to Company B and Company C". There is a dispute over whether that means £10,000 each, or £10,000 in total. If I was arguing about that, I'd use the context of the rest of the contract, or perhaps make arguments about the language in the clause itself (e.g. it doesn't say £10,000 each, or on the other side of the argument it must mean £10,000 each because if it was £10,000 between them it would specify in what proportion).
How do you say your experience and knowledge of theoretical linguistics would give you and advantage in that argument over me, a barrister who has not such experience or knowledge? Or are you saying that it wouldn't explicitly, but because of that knowledge and experience you would be able to develop the relevant skills quicker than a pupil/junior tenant who didn't have that knowledge and experience? I'm just trying to figure out what you're driving at here, because once I figure that out I think it may well be possible to put it in a better way in your letter.
Thank you. I've boldfaced the parts of your response which I think are important for my answer here, just to make things simpler. (First: I do not intend to write any of this in any cover letter! I just want to discuss it with you because I find it interesting, if that's ok.)

I didn't mean that linguistics would enable me claim that one interpretation of an inherently ambiguous phrase is 'superior', since that is just impossible (and linguists know this all too well!). What you refer to as 'context' (the clause, the rest of the contract), I'd refer to as linguistic context, to differentiate this from the hard facts. Linguists do always study a sentence within the entire text, and (if applicable) with regard to the extralinguistic situation. If the rest of the contract makes clear which interpretation of the ambiguous sentence was intended, then there is no dispute about this in the first place. If, however, the intended interpretation is not elucidated elsewhere in the contract, then the barristers can argue.

The linguistics background could give me an advantage over another pupil because of my experience of thinking as a linguist. I think it could make me more observant (of the possible meanings of language, and of possible arguments you can raise about how preferable different meanings are in a certain scenario), than, say, a non-linguist. I'm not saying that anyone else couldn't, or doesn't, have these skills per se.

As to developing necessary skills as a pupil, I think I am already experienced in thinking about which possible meanings a sentence can have, and how to argue why a particular interpretation should be preferable (in view of the rest of the text) over another. This is limiting ourselves to the language of the contact, and excluding any legal expertise (of which I have none).

When I say thinking as a linguist, I simply mean the following: when looking at an ambiguous sentence, a linguist aims to enumerate all of the possible meanings it could yield, given the whole text (and factual context). This includes the most logically likely interpretation(s), and any other other less less likely (or even, frankly unusual) interpretations. A lawyer, of course, aims to find and argue for a desired interpretation (for their client), and come up with reasons why the opponent's interpretation is undesirable. I just think that my linguistic experience might help me to be good at doing this. (Again, I'm not saying that a lay person could not do this, just that I think I've honed the skill of arguing about language!).
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Crazy Jamie
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(Original post by Shellbeach)
Thank you. I've boldfaced the parts of your response which I think are important for my answer here, just to make things simpler. (First: I do not intend to write any of this in any cover letter! I just want to discuss it with you because I find it interesting, if that's ok.)

I didn't mean that linguistics would enable me claim that one interpretation of an inherently ambiguous phrase is 'superior', since that is just impossible (and linguists know this all too well!). What you refer to as 'context' (the clause, the rest of the contract), I'd refer to as linguistic context, to differentiate this from the hard facts. Linguists do always study a sentence within the entire text, and (if applicable) with regard to the extralinguistic situation. If the rest of the contract makes clear which interpretation of the ambiguous sentence was intended, then there is no dispute about this in the first place. If, however, the intended interpretation is not elucidated elsewhere in the contract, then the barristers can argue.

The linguistics background could give me an advantage over another pupil because of my experience of thinking as a linguist. I think it could make me more observant (of the possible meanings of language, and of possible arguments you can raise about how preferable different meanings are in a certain scenario), than, say, a non-linguist. I'm not saying that anyone else couldn't, or doesn't, have these skills per se.

As to developing necessary skills as a pupil, I think I am already experienced in thinking about which possible meanings a sentence can have, and how to argue why a particular interpretation should be preferable (in view of the rest of the text) over another. This is limiting ourselves to the language of the contact, and excluding any legal expertise (of which I have none).

When I say thinking as a linguist, I simply mean the following: when looking at an ambiguous sentence, a linguist aims to enumerate all of the possible meanings it could yield, given the whole text (and factual context). This includes the most logically likely interpretation(s), and any other other less less likely (or even, frankly unusual) interpretations. A lawyer, of course, aims to find and argue for a desired interpretation (for their client), and come up with reasons why the opponent's interpretation is undesirable. I just think that my linguistic experience might help me to be good at doing this. (Again, I'm not saying that a lay person could not do this, just that I think I've honed the skill of arguing about language!).
I understand what you're saying. To be perfectly honestly I don't find it to be entirely convincing. I appreciate that we're getting a lot deeper into this than you would on a covering letter or even an application, but it may be something that you get asked more about in interview, and for those purposes it's important not just that you can properly articulate your point, but also that you're actually making the right point. As someone reading your application or interviewing you, I really just want to know in as concise a way as possible how this gives you an advantage over other candidates. Having these qualifications on paper is great in and of itself, but if you want me to think that they have a practical application beyond that, it's important that you can explain that.

There's a temptation to get quite technical on a subject that you have clearly spent a lot of time with, but for the purposes of pupillage/mini pupillage applications you really need to be clear on the benefit of this. I know this has been quite long form (relatively speaking), but really you're talking about this helping you with elements of critical analysis (which is obviously important for any lawyer).

With that in mind I'd both make your point simpler and broaden it. In your original post you mentioned contractual interpretation, and I suggested applying it to advocacy. Based on what you've said now I'd perhaps leave the advocacy element to one side, because I appreciate that you're not strictly speaking about your ability to communicate. So rather than focusing on contractual interpretation, think about other ways this skill could help you. For example, in terms of case preparation it could help you to better prepare for cases in terms of analysing language used in witness statements or pleadings, which has a much more general and common application than contractual interpretation. Simply stating that (e.g. that your experience with theoretical linguistics could help you to when it comes to analysing pleadings, witness statements or evidence for the purposes of case preparation, or similar), is to my mind a better way of doing it than the way you approached it in your original post.
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Shellbeach
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(Original post by Crazy Jamie)
I understand what you're saying. To be perfectly honestly I don't find it to be entirely convincing.
.
Thank you - I’m grateful for your honesty because that’s what I need; if you aren’t convinced, then it’s likely another barrister won’t be either.

I think that tying the skills (critical analysis, reasoning) gained during my Masters to practice at the Bar, in the ways you suggest, is the way forward.

I’ve been focusing on contractual interpretation so far simply because I was aware that some Linguists work specifically on legal language (statue and contracts). However, I think that perhaps this intersects more with what legal theorists, as opposed to practising barristers, do. According to the book I have, the practical applications of Linguistics are in drafting the contract, in trying to avoid ambiguity in the first place - not really any use for the barrister’s role.

Actually, the bulk of the «*Linguistics and Legal Interpretation*» literature focuses not on a close reading of the sentences, but on the understanding of the parties (lay clients) and the inferences they made from the contract, and given the situation. The Linguists are just trying to see how their theories can explain what is accepted as a ‘reasonable’ understanding by lawyers, because they’re interested in how people arrive at their understanding of language. This in itself is not applicable to practice the Bar, it just made me aware of the importance (sometimes?) of lay clients’ understanding of a contract. (I saw barristers raise arguments about how their clients understood a contract in a construction case last month, which I went to watch).
NB I’m not planning on mentioning this in letters either, I just wanted to let you know, in case you could maybe see the relevance there.
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