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Talking using pictures: on the various possibilities of representing legal claims

1 March 2016

Legal claims in pleadings are expressed in words. This is the law; this is the convention. Yet, why should we confine the means of legal expression exclusively to realm of words? Why not express these claims through another set of symbols, e.g. visual representation such as drawings, illustrations, icons or video clips (or a combination of all the above)? For the sake of argument, we can differentiate between factual claims and legal claims. Legal claims are initially expressed in words; in order to reach a legal result, one must compile an argument which is essentially a set of inferences constructed of concepts, which are in turn expressed in words. A legal system is also comprised of normative rules, which are also expressed in words. Therefore, law can be defined as "discursive" i.e. expressed by verbal discourse. Yet, must the legal system remain exclusively discursive? Think of a flight attendant explaining what to do in case of an emergency evacuation, using hand gestures. The rules instructed are very clear and do not require a verbal translation. Why can't legal principles and laws be expressed visually? This question might be one too complex to discuss. In order to present my idea I will indeed assume that the legal system of rules is discursive and will remain as such.

That said, what about factual claims included in legal claims? Those are not initially described as a discursive system; it so happens that the parties decide to express their claims verbally. Yet, why settle for this? Consider the following generic factual statement: "on a certain day so and so met in a certain place and agreed on a shared investment in establishing a company in which each side commits to invest certain core capital". This factual claim can be easily illustrated or drawn in a manner that will include many details excluded from the verbal description. For example, a visual representation can include details which can describe the weather condition during said situation. A visual illustration can also include Emoji describing the emotional status of each side, etc. Of course, lawyers may claim that it is necessary to include only the most relevant details, which is a good point: whether it was sunny or rainy hardly seems relevant. Yet, as experienced lawyers already know, relevance usually depends on the perception of the individual composing the legal claim. Furthermore, formulating a factual narrative is in many cases the most difficult and critical part of describing the "factual" aspect of this event. Let's assume that instead of inserting additional wording such as "both parties were satisfied with the mutual engagement", the visual representation of said meeting will include a smiley-faced sun and happy (satisfied) Emoji generously used in order to reach the required narrative effect. I believe that this means of narration is as efficient as the explicit (yet dull) wording of the verbal description. Therefore,   there is no reason not to use visual representation i.e. symbols in order to express a set of factual claims made by a party in a legal discourse.

I am neither claiming that verbal content can be precisely converted to visual/symbolical content, nor that this is necessary. I do not believe that factual "arguments" are initially "phrased"/formulated verbally and can then be converted to another type of representation.  I am actually stating the contrary, more elementary argument. I am arguing that factual "content" relevant to legal practice is not initially comprised of words (at least not exclusively) and it is therefore a matter of choice whether to formulate the content one way or another. There is no reason not to formulate content visually beside convention and current law which prevent us to realize this. Regarding convention at least, I believe we can break free of this confinement. 

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