TESOL 2017 Seattle: Legal Language – Strategies for Effective Communication in Law School

Pam Dzunu, Stephen Horowitz, Shelley Saltzman, and Kirsten Schaetzel

I had the honor of joining an esteemed panel of legal English professionals last Thursday at the TESOL 2017 Convention in Seattle for a presentation titled “Legal Language: Strategies for Effective Communication in Law School.” The panel was organized by legal English expert Pamela Dzunu of Washington University of St. Louis School of Law and also included experienced legal English practitioners Kirsten Schaetzel of Emory Law School and Shelley Saltzman of Columbia University.

Pam Dzunu presenting on Using Storytelling to teach legal English.

The topics presented were:

An amusing slide from Michelle Ueland’s presentation on Empowering Teachers to Address the Challenges of ESP Curriculum Design

In addition to our panel presentation, I also had the opportunity to attend several other excellent, informative and thought provoking presentations, including:

  • Collectivizing for Reading Developing in the L2 Legal Classroom – English for Specific Purposes, by Lindsey Kurtz of Penn State University. (Lindsey is one of a handful of people conducting linguistic research on law school language and learning.)
  • Beyond Exit Tickets: Teaching Pre-service Candidates Linguistic Assessment Techniques, by Beth Clark-Gareca, University at New Paltz-SUNY
  • A slide from Kirsten Schaetzel’s panel presentation on Engaging, Enriching and Empowering ESP Teachers and Students

    Engaging, Enriching, and Empowering ESP Teachers and Students, Cynthia Flamm and Maria Tameho-Palermino, Boston University; Marta Baffy and Michelle Ueland, Georgetown University Law Center; Kirsten Schaetzel, Emory Law School; and Shelley Saltzman, Columbia University (all legal ESL professionals with extensive experience)

  • Empowering Teachers to Address the Challenges of ESP Curriculum Design, Heather Gregg Zitlau, Business English and Jennifer Chang-Lo, Business English, Georgetown University; Julie Lake (legal English) and Michelle Ueland, Legal English, Georgetown University Law Center; Robert Engel, Defense Language Institute; and Liz England, Liz England & Associates LLC (plus general handout, and Ueland  handout)

Unfortunately, I also had to miss two presentations I was very excited about seeing:

Other highlights:

  • I joined the English for Specific Purposes (ESP) Special Interest Group meeting and had the opportunity to connect with and get to know not only legal English professionals, but also teachers, consultants, and administrators (e.g., outgoing president Robert Connor of Tulane and ESP group newsletter editor Kevin Knight of Kanda University in Japan among others) who develop and teach curricula related to engineering, business, tourism, and medicine among other relevant ESP fields that are increasingly in demand.
  • Having a nice chat with Christine Feak of the University of Michigan’s English Language Institute. Feak, together with John Swales, has published a number of influential books and research articles on teaching academic writing at the college and graduate level to non-native English speakers. She has also developed and taught curricula for legal English in the past, and I discovered that, like me, she also has an affinity for the Lefkowitz case as a vehicle for teaching students to read and brief cases.
  • Meeting Ted Chen, a lawyer who now teaches legal English at Edmunds Community College in Lynwood, WA near Seattle. He’s the first person I’ve met who teaches legal English at the community college level. (If you know of others, I’d love to hear about them.) He’s incorporated some interesting ideas into his course including inviting a police officer to visit his class and answer questions–an idea I would love to incorporate when we teach criminal law in the ALDA Program next semester!

Final comment: Seattle is a beautiful city with a wonderful vibe, even in the rain. Especially in the rain, come to think of it.

Early morning by Pike Market in downtown Seattle.

A New Language Map of Queens

One of the great things about being Director of Legal English Programs (and a linguist) at St. John’s Law School is that Queens is not only the most culturally diverse place in America but also the most linguistically diverse.

And now there’s a map to demonstrate this, created by the Endangered Language Alliance and featured in a recently published book titled  Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas edited by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. The map was also part of an exhibit at the Queens Museum.

 

New article by Alissa Hartig: “Intersections Between Law and Language: Disciplinary Concepts in Second Language Legal Literacy”

alissahartigIntersections Between Law and Language: Disciplinary Concepts in Second Language Legal Literacy” is a recent article published by Alissa Hartig in Studies in Logic, Grammar & Rhetoric (The Journal of University of Bialystok) that discusses a distinction between discourse-structuring concepts and discourse-relevant concepts in ESP. Don’t be intimidated by the linguistics terminology, though. The article describes her work with two LLM students from China and two from Saudi Arabia and provides concrete examples of the complex issues and dynamics at play when teaching them in a law school context.

Hartig is an Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics at Portland State University. She is the author of a forthcoming book titled Connecting language and content in English for Specific Purposes: Case studies in law. (Publisher: Multilingual Matters) Her previous research and writing on the intersection of law and linguistics includes a 2016 article titled “Conceptual blending in legal writing: Linking definitions to facts” and a 2014 article titled “Plain English and legal writing: Comparing expert and novice writers,” both published in the journal English for Specific Purposes.

 

Contracts and Grammar, Prescriptivists and Descriptivists

Contracts_680x376[Co-written with Kathryn Piper]

We were excited–for two different reasons–to see a recent blog post on the Legal Writing Profs Blog titled “An Empirical Look at the Prescriptivist vs. Descriptivist Dilemma in Drafting.” The post actually leads to a more involved blog post by Ross Guberman titled “A Day in the Life of an American Contract” which lays out the descriptivist vs. prescriptivist dilemma and describes the gap between the kind of language that authoritative sources say should be used in contract drafting and the kind of language actually used in contract drafting. Guberman backs this up with a review of 25 contracts arbitrarily pulled from the SEC website all on the same recent April day.

The reason this post caught our attention is 1) we are currently developing a contract drafting curriculum for a new course (Drafting: Litigation Documents & Contracts) intended for non-native English speaking LLM students, and 2) descriptivist vs. prescritivist is a big theme in the world of applied linguistics and grammar, a theme that ran throughout my MA TESOL studies.

In case you’re not up on things in the linguistics/grammar world, professionals in the field have increasingly Continue reading

Article: “Conceptual blending in legal writing: Linking definitions to facts”

Professor Alissa J. Hartig of the Portland State University’s Department of Applied Linguistics

Conceptual blending in legal writing: Linking definitions to facts” is a recent article published by Alissa Hartig in the English for Specific Purposes journal based on a textual analysis of the “question presented” in legal memoranda.

Hartig is an Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics at Portland State University. She is the author of a forthcoming book titled Connecting language and content in English for Specific Purposes: Case studies in law. (Publisher: Multilingual Matters) Her previous
research and writing on the intersection of law and linguistics includes a 2014 article published in English for ESPJournalSpecific Purposes titled “Plain English and legal writing: Comparing expert and novice writers.”

The Issue of Questions

 

hercules and hydra“Professor, for question number one, I actually see two questions here!”  My student leans over my desk and frowns over his writing prompt, seemingly worried he is hallucinating.

Later, during an in-class critical thinking exercise, there is a kerfuffle about framing the issue presented: “Professor, the question on the paper asks whether the cyclist broke the park’s rule, but she [another student] says that the issue is whether her [hybrid] bicycle was a motor vehicle.  Which one of us is right?”

The object of this week’s lessons was supposed to be about using the facts: weeding out irrelevant information, and using relevant information in support of a legal conclusion. But the conversation has evolved into the issue of questions. They are grappling with the idea that one question can yield one or more sub-questions, and they wonder whether to choose one or harmonize both.  In return they get more questions from me: “How did you see that second question? Do you need to answer it to get an answer to the original question? How does your answer to that second question help you to answer the original question? OK, so now that you have an answer to the first question, and an answer to the second question, can you write a two-sentence conclusion that answers both? How about a one-sentence conclusion?”  Some chuckle, as though this is a game we’re playing. Others wrinkle their brows, looking very unsatisfied. I think this is a struggle worth having. Continue reading

Language and a Lesson at Orientation

 

Orientation BJTU

Class Picture After Orientation, Beijing Jiaotong Legal English Course, December 4, 2015

For visiting professors overseas, the realities of a short course include the lack of time between classes for students to complete assessments, difficulty getting to know students in the class and a lack of opportunities to incorporate feedback and knowledge into future assignments. With most visiting professors coming to China for one-week or two-week courses, there is simply not enough time to treat the classes as a long-term course. Through my position at St. John’s Law School, I have the opportunity to teach at partner schools for between one month and two months. This affords me some excellent opportunities that help me achieve my course objectives, including:

  • Weekly assessments, formal and informal, to gauge how the class is handling the material;
  • Dedicated office hours each week where students can come to ask questions about difficult material in class (and interact with me outside the classroom); and
  • At least 72 hours after class to complete assignments, and receive heavily critiqued feedback with at least 48 hours to incorporate those changes.

Continue reading