LLM Summer Reading Club

I find myself thinking a lot about ways to interweave extensive reading into the law school experience of our LLM students. So much time is spent engaged in intensive reading. Yet research makes clear that reading for enjoyment in English contributes significantly to improving much-needed reading speed, vocabulary, and background knowledge. At the same time, many of our students return to their home countries over the summer before returning for the fall semester and may not focus on improving their legal and language knowledge. Additionally, many LLM students may not have developed a habit of reading for enjoyment in English.

In response, this summer I decided to pilot our first ever LLM Summer Reading Club. I picked a book–24 Hours With 24 Lawyers: Profiles of Traditional and Non-Traditional Careers, edited by Jasper Kim–and invited any and all St. John’s LLM students to join the club if interested. (I also listed several other law-themed books that would make good reads for anyone looking for something to read on their own.)

The plan is that we will pick a couple chapters to read each week and then meet online to discuss the reading. (It looks like WeChat may be our platform of choice, though I just learned that video/voice calls have a 9-person limit which won’t work for us.) No assignments or homework. Just a relaxed, social way to engage in law-related reading and keep students feeling motivated and connected over the summer.

If anyone else has done something along these lines–or if you decide to do it this summer–please feel free to share your experience as well as any advice and perspectives.

Global Legal Skills: Mountains, Mariachi and Mentorship in Monterrey

I had the pleasure of attending the annual Global Legal Skills Conference this week, hosted by the Facultad Libre de Derecho de Monterrey. Sarah Kelly and I were glad to present the in-class role-play methods we use in our core LLM courses at St. John’s, and I was grateful to our audience, who engaged in all the steps of an introductory negotiation exercise and gave feedback on the experience.  This year Continue reading

Comprehensible input for legal English students: Resources, approaches and ideas

comprehensible_input_1International students in LLM and legal English programs at US law schools come to study law, not ESL. At the same time, law study requires deep engagement with texts and concepts that are complex and challenging even for native English speakers. But how do you have substantive class discussions or evaluate students’ legal writing when students are struggling to sufficiently comprehend the language of the reading?

In linguistics, the relevant term is “comprehensible input.” The British Council’s Teaching English website has a nice explanation of the term:

“Comprehensible input is language input that can be understood by listeners despite them not understanding all the words and structures in it. It is described as one level above that of the learners if it can only just be understood. According to [Stephen] Krashen’s theory of language acquisition, giving learners this kind of input helps them acquire language naturally, rather than learn it consciously.”

paperchasememeComprehensible input is important in graduate level programs like law school because, as I’ve discussed in a previous post, reading and listening ability tend to be the best predictors of success in the programs. Speaking and writing ability, while obviously important, are in many ways often a function of reading and listening ability. It’s much easier to produce the language needed to speak or write when the input needed to absorb that kind of language is comprehended by the learner.

In elementary schools, reading is often taught using “just-right” books. That is, books that are just the right reading level for students based on teachers’ assessments of their students. (My wife is an experienced elementary school teacher and a reading specialist, so I often find myself drawing comparisons from her levelreadersexperiences.) For ESL students–both adults and children alike–the equivalent is graded readers (or level readers, depending on the publisher) which are books or other texts that are written in a simplified way. A great example of a unique graded reading source that is appropriate for adults is the Newsela.com website which makes Washington Post, Reuters, and other news articles available, but re-written in 4 different easier-to-read levels along with the original version of the article.

In law school, unfortunately, there is no equivalent to just-right books or graded readers to be purchased. So what is a legal English teacher to do?

As I’ve been thinking back over my classes from the last few years, I realized I’ve been putting significant effort into figuring out how to develop and provide comprehensible input to LLM students when working with complex and sophisticated texts. Here are some of the resources and approaches I’ve used:

READING RESOURCES Continue reading

Merry Christmas from your lawyer

Not just an accessible example of American legal humor, but a great example of American-style contract language and culture. It’s also giving me ideas for new activities around teaching English for contract reading and drafting as we get ready for 2017.

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Wishing everyone a happy and safe holidays and New Year from the St. John’s Legal English team!

Lawyer-client practice for LLM students

20161110_161115Yesterday for the second time we completed another successful U.S. Legal Studies (USLS) + Transnational Legal Practice (TLP) Program + American Law: Discourse & Analysis (ALDA) Program collaboration activity based around lawyer-client practice.


20161110_161019The activity
: The USLS and TLP students are the lawyers and the ALDA students the clients. Each lawyer is part of a group or firm of two or three lawyers. And each client is actually two or three ALDA students.  The clients are given a fact pattern which they study, review, and discuss prior to their meeting with their lawyers. The clients then join the USLS and TLP students’ Legal Writing class and are matched with their lawyers at separate tables. The lawyers then need to lead the meeting and ask questions to learn about the client’s issue. The clients tell their story (and occasionally have fun making up facts where necessary and appropriate.)

20161110_161032The lawyers have 45 minutes to try and understand the client’s situation, identify the legal issues in the fact situation and help the clients figure out who they can or can’t sue and evaluate the strength of the case.

Following the activity, a group discussion was held to reflect on the experience. Everyone had a good time and expressed appreciation for having the opportunity to step into their roles and really think through the situation.
20161110_161105For homework, the ALDA students were tasked with writing a follow-up email to their lawyers confirming their understanding of the main points of the discussion. And the TLP students have been tasked with writing a client letter describing the issues and offering their evaluation and recommendations for how to proceed.

20161110_095808This is an activity that will certainly continue each semester as the students greatly enjoy
it and derive great benefit in terms of experience, critical thinking, and language use.

 

Teaching American Culture: Pumpkin carving for LLM students!

pumpkincarving08img_9733To help our LLM students get into the Halloween spirit–and to expose them to American Halloween traditions (i.e., increase their background knowledge)–Professor Katherine Piper organized a pumpkin carving for our LLM students on the Friday before Halloween. The students all were familiar with the classic pumpkin images. But actually getting their hands dirty (literally) and making their own jack-o-lanterns seemed to help them feel closer to the American Halloween experience. Plus, it was a whole lot of fun! See the pics below.

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Language, Law & LinkedIn: Encouraging Chinese Law Students to Embrace Professional Social Networking

I try to structure my Legal English courses to be more than just a vehicle for preparing students for U.S. law schools. Ideally, the courses (1) provide the students with a foundational understanding of U.S. law & legal concepts, (2) prepare students to succeed in their LL.M. and J.D. programs and (3) and in some small way, help students think about post-graduate employment in China. To achieve the first aim, I focus on language, vocabulary and concepts. To achieve the second aim, I focus on writing briefs, memos, legal analysis and discussing test-taking strategies. Achieving the third aim is more difficult, for a number of practical issues. LinkedIn has already been a valuable tool for achieving the third aim, and provides students with opportunities to improve their writing, improve their networking skills and begin building a professional presence in a specific field of law.

Step 1: Writing

                The initial process for registering for LinkedIn is painless. Providing a valid e-mail address and some basic information will allow a student to register for free. However, creating a professional profile takes a considerable amount of time and effort, especially for students who speak English as a second language. I start by explaining what LinkedIn is, and why LinkedIn is used by many professionals around the world. I show students sample profiles from law students and lawyers from their specific school to demonstrate that Chinese lawyers use LinkedIn. I discuss examples of bad writing and good writing, and work with the students on how certain information can be improved on existing profiles (without showing the name of the individual profile). I then explain why having a LinkedIn profile will be beneficial to my students in a way that makes them want to actually do all the work I am about to require of them.

In order to ensure that the profile is professional, I encourage students to write the information about their universities, work experience, publications, awards and summary in a word document. I am then able to review these and provide editing and comments. I like that the students are completing a writing exercise, sometimes without even realizing it. They are thinking about past activities, figuring out how to summarize key information in enough detail to provide meaning, and beginning to build their professional profiles. The summary section takes the most time, and students have to critically assess their individual goals for their profiles. Once the language is professional, the students then add the information to their profiles.

Step 2: Networking

Once the profiles are completed, I work with students on actually using their profiles. I show them how to search within their university to see how many of alumni on LinkedIn are in the city where they will attend law school. We then break that down into people within the legal field (as opposed to finance, human resources, engineering, etc.). We then look at which alumni are in their current city and see whether there are any connections. As an optional exercise, I tell students to draft a professional e-mail to a particular alumnus, and ask to meet. I ask the students to find an alumnus with a position or job similar to the one that the student wants right out of college (entry-level) and one with a position or job that the student wants later in life. I ask the students to preferably find alumni who have studied in the United States (ideally at the same school my student is going to), and to then write the e-mail in English (Chinese if the student isn’t comfortable writing in English, or if the alumnus never studied in the United States). I then work with my students on the grammar and structure of the e-mail, the types of questions that the student will want to ask, and etiquette for such a meeting (dress, appearance, behavior, etc.). After the student completes this exercise, the student writes a follow-up e-mail thanking the alumnus, and provides me with an overview (in English) of how the meeting went (either in-person or via e-mail).

Step 3: Professional Presence

After the networking, the focus turns to fine-tuning and maintaining the professional presence, while beginning to build a name in a specific area of law. As the student’s network grows, as the student achieves more (jobs, awards, publications, etc.), and as the student decides which law school to attend, I ask the student to continue updating the LinkedIn profile. If the student has a specific area of interest, I explain to the student how to join groups, display and create related content, and begin focusing on building a personal brand. I work with the student to target current Chinese students at the particular American law school, American students with common interests, and alumni within the desired field. I explain to the students that they should maintain their professional presence, and to think of LinkedIn as a more professional version of WeChat. We discuss what is appropriate to post and comment on, and how to continue expanding their networks through alumni activities, meetings, and professional organizations. Finally, we discuss how the students should use their LinkedIn profiles to target Chinese firms and companies, as well as international firms and companies, for post-graduate employment.

Goals

Rather than merely creating a LinkedIn profile, I try to incorporate language exercises into each stage of the process. Whether the student is summarizing a previous internship, writing an English blog post on a hot topic in Chinese law, or speaking with an alumnus of their American law school in the United States, I want my students to improve their English language and legal analysis. The added bonus is they are improving their professional communication, something Chinese managing partners have repeatedly told me is important. Although I have just started working with students on LinkedIn, I am noticing enthusiasm for using the website, and for using it in ways that ultimately enhance their networking skills. My goal is for LinkedIn to serve as a small part of a coordinated effort to help my Chinese students who will study in the United States secure excellent post-graduate opportunities.

 

Additional Notes

  1. I explain to students how important a professional headshot is for LinkedIn, especially for law students interested in being hired by law firms. First impressions matter, especially in law.
  2. I explain to students how LinkedIn is only as powerful as the network created, and work with the students to find connections from their schools, work, hometowns, etc. I generally wait a week to begin the networking portion, so that students can actually build a small initial network.
  3. There is no universal style for how Chinese lawyers write their names on LinkedIn. Let’s assume a female student named Zhang Yusi chose Jessica as her English name. Her profile might read:
  • Yusi Zhang
  • ZHANG Yusi
  • Jessica Zhang
  • Yusi (Jessica) Zhang
  • Yusi Zhang (with Chinese characters for her name)
  • Or some other combination of English and Chinese