Whereas legal comparisons tend to be concerned with legal systems, structures or rules, this paper focuses on a more fundamental element of law: a legal concept. From the semiotic point of view, a concept is an element of the tripartite construct of meaning, which – in the legal context – is derived from a particular legal system. Since effective communication in legal practice is predicated on the unity of meaning, issues are likely to arise when an act of communication spans disparate legal cultures. When the epistemic embedding of legal concepts fundamentally differs between the respective legal systems with which the participants to a communicative event are familiar, conceptual incommensurability will arise, impeding the communication process and, potentially, also having an impact on associated court proceedings.
Against this theoretical backdrop, the paper shifts its focus to globalised legal practice, which requires a broader legal skillset and comparative perspectives. As an illustration, the equivalence of selected substantive law concepts is explored across the common law/civil law divide, accurate comprehension of which is essential to intercultural provision of legal services. Drawing parallels between the functional method in comparative law and the functional approach recommended in legal translation, an overview is provided of techniques for remedying terminological incongruence and conveying intended meaning across legal cultures. The paper concludes by querying whether the law curriculum would be enhanced by inclusion of comparative and linguistic perspectives, with a view to equipping graduates with interdisciplinary tools for effective legal communication and global law practice.