“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 →
One challenge of introducing international LL.M. students to legal writing is coaxing them to evaluate and comment on examples of English writing. This is a necessary practice in my writing course; students look at model answers for format and organization, notice cohesive devices and subject headings, and read examples of strong and weak analysis to compare to their own work. Students also conduct peer reviews, and revise and resubmit drafts of their work, incorporating comments from the professor and their
teaching assistants. So, students should start learning to critique, and to respond to critique, early in the course.
Critique is often daunting to international students, I think for two reasons. First, they do not have enough confidence in their English writing and reading skills to believe they can improve upon any example. Second, they might feel uncomfortable finding fault with a classmate’s work, particularly if that classmate is a lawyer, judge, or other professional in their home country.
One of the harder things to do in law school is take good notes. And even harder if English isn’t your first language. Why?
It’s not just about listening comprehension. It’s also about being sufficiently facile with English to write quickly while using note taking strategies such as shorthand, abbreviations, and symbols–all things that we native speakers take for granted.
It’s often assumed that LL.M. students know how to take notes already. Just not in English. Or when note taking is taught explicitly, strategies such as the Cornell note taking system become the focus. While organization strategies are certainly important and valuable, it is also important to not overlook the significant language-related challenges involved in taking notes in another language.