Article: “St. John’s LL.M. Programs Stand Out With Language Support From Day One”

Here’s an article that was just posted on the St. John’s website today that provides some context and an overview of our language support capabilities in connection with our LLM programs.

“St. John’s LL.M. Programs Stand Out With Language Support from Day One”

Rui “Barry” Zhang smiles broadly as he explains one of the big differences between his legal education at China Youth University of Political Studies (CYU) in his native Beijing and the education he’s receiving as a graduate student in St. John’s Master of Laws (LL.M.) program. “In China, it’s like they give you a map and tell you to go find the treasure,” he says. “Here, they give you the treasure and you draw the map.”

It’s a treasure hunt that couldn’t be undertaken, Zhang adds, without the practical skills that he and his LL.M. classmates gain through the Law School’s exceptional language support—or Legal English—programs.

These offerings are specially designed to meet the needs of students in St. John’s Transnational Legal Practice (TLP) and U.S. Legal Studies (USLS) LL.M. programs, who earned (or are earning) their first law degree outside the United States. TLP students typically

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Bar Exam Language and Strategies: Mirroring and reverse rule writing

Today’s BELS (Bar Exam Language & Strategies) class was exciting because we (Professor Piper and I) tried out a new innovation in teaching IRAC writing to our students in the BELS academic support program.

Last week as we reviewed the students’ bar essays, we noticed that often the rules in their Rule section didn’t match well with what they discussed in their Application/Analysis section. Some students discussed, mid-analysis, elements or definitions that they did not introduce when they explained the applicable rule. So we tried to make the point that the Rule section is like a menu, and the Analysis/Application section when you order and eat. You can’t order anything if it’s not already on the menu.

We also tried to emphasize the concept of mirroring the language from the rule in the application. More specifically, Professor Piper talked about linguistic mirroring (incorporating into the analysis section the exact words and phrases of the legal standard identified in the rules) in addition to structural mirroring (applying, to some degree, every element introduced in the rules, in roughly the same order of introduction). For example, if the rule is that there is a duty to act as a reasonably prudent person, then the application should say something like, “Here, when the defendant jumped into the street to avoid the falling piano, he acted as a reasonably prudent person” rather than “Here, when the defendant jumped into the street to avoid the falling piano, he acted carefully.”

To help build awareness of mirroring, we devised an exercise wherein students had to infer and extract rules from sample analysis paragraphs.  To begin, we gave the students the Application/Analysis section from five different model answers for the same question. After presenting them with the analysis portion of each essay, we asked them to try to write the rules they think the author wrote, based on language clues  they read in the analysis. Near the end of the activity, they discussed which essays made it easier to reconstruct the author’s rule paragraphs. Finally, they matched the actual rules of the model answers to their own estimations of those model rules, and thought about which authors did the best job in mirroring their own rules in the analysis portion of each essay.  In addition to valuable practice writing out rules, the students also started to notice which model answers did a good job of mirroring. This became evident because it was much easier to reconstruct the rule when the model answer made use of mirroring.

This really drove home a sense of awareness of how much stronger a bar essay answer looks and feels when the pieces connect in a logical way that increases predictability and clarity, especially from the perspective of the person reading and grading the essay.

In this way, we continue to try to dig into the discourse and language issues unique to bar exam writing for our non-native English speaking LLM students.

Bar Exam Language Support Course: Things we learned

Professor Kathryn Piper and I just finished the Bar Exam Language Support (BELS) course this past week and we wanted to share a few takeaways and things we learned given that this is a new course and, we believe, the first ever bar prep course at a law school that incorporates language learning pedagogy and perspective.

  1. Working with familiar topics: By using bar exam prep questions that the students had already studied and written answers for in a separate bar preparation course, we cleared away most of the obstacle that is background knowledge. This meant that we had the luxury of being able to truly focus on helping them with their writing. If we had used unfamiliar questions, and they in turn wrote poor answers due to lack of comprehension of the question or topic, or inability to remember the rule, then we would not have been evaluating their writing, but rather their knowledge or their comprehension. And it would have meant that we would have spent time teaching the relevant bar exam topic rather than working on writing. Working with familiar topics to enable a better focus on writing opened the door to identify and work on the actual writing issues faced by our non-native English speaking students (NNES).
  2. Speed is king: By the end of the first day of class, discussion of the bar exam writing process with our students made clear to us that speed and language processing were the biggest challenges for our students, all of whom were NNES. The speed issue manifests itself Continue reading

Perspectives on Graduate Writing and Bar Preparation

cgc-logoI just returned from a unique and excellent conference–the Consortium on Graduate Communication’s Summer Institute, which was held at Yale University this past Thursday, June 9 through Saturday, June 11.

Yale_University_LogoIt brought together the community of writing support professionals and community of English language support professionals to discuss and share ideas relating to the increased need for graduate level writing support. And it was a wonderful opportunity to think about law school in the greater context of graduate level programs and to get to know and chat with with ESL program directors and professors, writing program directors, and writing center directors.

One aspect that made the conference uniquely productive was the emphasis on discussion and working groups. Each attendee was requested to “bring” a writing curriculum or course project that we would have time to discuss and work on with members of our assigned working groups.

In my case, I focused on the Bar Exam Language Support (BELS) course that I recently developed and have been teaching with my colleague Kathryn Piper since late May. One of my takeaways from the first three weeks of the course has been that Continue reading

New: Bar Exam Language Support (BELS) Course

bar-examMy colleague Katy Piper and I have the opportunity to try something new and exciting for our Summer 2016 semester: a course focused on language support for non-native English speaking students who will be taking the New York bar exam in July 2016–the Bar Exam Language Support (BELS) course. We’re not aware of any similar type of course or program at a U.S. law school. (If you know of one, please let us know. We’d love to hear about it.)

While most of our interaction to date has been with the Transnational Legal Practice (TLP) and American Law: Discourse & Analysis (ALDA) LLM Programs, we’ve also had some opportunities to work with some students from the U.S. Legal Studies (USLS) LLM Program. All USLS LLM students are foreign-trained lawyers focused on passing the bar exam. Some are international students and others are immigrants living in the New York area. Given our location in Queens (the most ethnically diverse urban place in the world), this group often includes speakers of Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic (among other languages) as well as speakers of various World Englishes.

The idea sprung from a conversation earlier this semester with beloved St. John’s Professor Continue reading