Using legal humor in class can be an extremely potent tool. It can also be a minefield as humor often does not travel well across cultures. When not well employed in a classroom, it can devolve into a painful over-explanation of a joke to blank and unsympathetic faces. (I speak from experience.)
But when done right, it can provide a high level of student engagement as well as unique opportunities for vocabulary improvement, language teaching, reading and speaking fluency, paraphrasing, and building of background knowledge and cultural awareness.
Friendly faces for sure. But also a great resource for building legal background knowledge and English language communication skills.
One of the great things about running and teaching the American Law: Discourse & Analysis (ALDA) Program is that it operates completely within St. John’s Law School. And working within the law school means access to resources that can be used creatively to enhance legal learning and also build important background knowledge in engaging ways while developing a strong sense of connection with the school.
Here are a few examples I’ve used. It would be great to hear of examples from other law schools.
Engaging in a Four-Star Assignment with a student in my TLP Legal Writing I course, focused on the art of crafting counterarguments. Fall 2015, St. John’s Law School.
One of challenges for legal English educators is handling students’ frustration with the difficulties inherent in improving skills that may come naturally to American-born JDs. So at the beginning of my course, I tell my students that there are four skills relating to legal English that they need to develop over the course of our studies. I then ask them to rank the four skills below (listed alphabetically), based on how comfortable they already feel using each one.
It can be very challenging for international LLM students to find ways to integrate into the law school community. It reminds me of a lesson I learned when I took salsa lessons about ten years ago. I was great in class. But being a man–the one generally responsible for leading–and being a beginner made it difficult to attract dancing partners on a live dance floor. It was a classic Catch-22. And sad to say, my name has never been associated with the great salsa dancers. (Or even the mediocre or poor ones.)
Turning back to law school, many of us in the “legal English” community like to contemplate how we can better help our students–particularly ones who require more language support–create more opportunities to interact with native-English speaking members of the law school community outside of the classroom.
Here are a few ideas that my colleagues and I have used or experimented with so far: Continue reading →
When I first introduce my students to the concepts of reading and briefing a case, of Socratic Method, and after they’ve had a chance to watch the clip from The Paper Chase where Professor Kingsfield asks Mr. Hart for the facts of the case, I like to share with them a helpful and humorous piece of advice from my Civil Procedure professor on my first day of law school many years ago.
The advice was: If you’re ever asked for the facts of a case and you’re not quite prepared or need an extra moment, you can always says, “Well, Professor, the plaintiff sued the defendant.”
While offering a nice chuckle and a good strategy in a pinch, it also gives students a useful lexical chunk to solidify in their brains. More importantly, it helps demonstrate to international students the expectation that a more detailed answer needs be provided when a professor asks for the facts of a case. And, if you’re so inclined, it also provides an opportunity to make the distinction between civil law (plaintiff + defendant) and criminal law (government/prosecutor + defendant) cases.