I have been working with my new international LL.M. students on summarizing and paraphrasing skills, to get them ready for a first research memorandum assignment. I decided to spend some time on this because I have noticed that even when writing a single case brief exercise, some students do not feel free to depart from the court’s words. As a result, students can spend hours wrestling 6 pages of case law into a 3-page summary that really only needs to be a few ordered dots of thought the size of an index card. So we have been working to condense information into different styles of case briefs, using the same legal text until they feel comfortable putting the case aside and writing main points from memory.
Stephen spied one of my latest worksheets, and we started an email discussion about how to distinguish the two concepts in a meaningful way, to make students aware of how we expect them to manipulate source material in writing assignments. Finally, I arrived at this, which I think will work. I am interested in learning how other instructors introduce and practice these ideas with the class. Continue reading →
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
The 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.)
The 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.
For 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.
This 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.
We recently decided to set up a Reading Support program for our LLM students. This was in response to a recent conversation I had with a student I had taught in our summer course who is now full swing into our LLM coursework. Her comment echoed the challenges that a number of her classmates have voiced: It’s hard to keep up with and comprehend all the reading.
Over the last few years, a list of key vocabulary–with definitions–has been developed for the Transnational Legal Practice course that all of our LLM students in the TLP Program take. These are key words, terms, and phrases that all LLM students in the program need to become comfortable with, and it is a work in progress as my colleague Professor Katy Piper continues to add words to the list as appropriate each semester.
The list has over 50 items and includes basic legal terms such as “torts” and “judicial review” as well as specifically transnational legal practice terms such as “letter of credit” and “INCOTERMS”.
A great resource for my ALDA students preparing for the TLP Program! But what to do with it? Just tell them to go home and memorize and then have a test on it?
Today marked the last day of writing class for second-semester Transnational Legal Practice students. They have worked tremendously hard, diligently outlining, revising and editing memoranda and short motions. They have practiced and produced a lot of writing in a few short weeks. I wanted to end the semester on a thoughtful note, to put these exercises in some kind of context. I chose pens.
My civil procedure professor once advised our class that each of us should keep a nice pen on our desk just for the purpose of signing our name, as a reminder that our signatures as lawyers have power and value. I remember telling myself that if I ever taught legal writing, I would pass on that advice. Today, I got to do that. Continue reading →
Urban law schools present rich opportunities for learning outside the classroom. Our ALDA and TLPLLM students recently had a wonderful class trip to the United Nations Headquarters, located just across the East River in Manhattan. In addition to the standard tour of the building, meeting rooms and General Assembly, we arranged a private briefing by a United Nations legal officer on the topic of the Court of International Justice.
In the briefing room.
Future UN delegates in the General Assembly.
Professor Piper and I knew that once we were at the U.N. we would have little control over the flow of the program. So we prepared in our respective classes the day before the trip by first having our students talk about what they do know about the United Nations as a way to aggregate shared knowledge and build background knowledge for the tour and briefing. Professor Piper had her writing class research the different U.N. bodies, and the briefing topic. Following their research, students predicted things they would see and learn during their tour, and composed a list of questions they wanted answered on the trip. ALDA students also developed questions they had about the U.N. that they might like to ask. I then turned the list into a checklist which I handed to ALDA students on the day of the tour. The students’ task was to check off any questions or topics that were answered or addressed during the course of the tour.
This type of prediction/question activity can function as Continue reading →
Each class of students was sub-divided into groups of two or three, and students were given background facts and instructions which they read in advance. My ALDA students were each provided a detailed backstory in which they were business partners with a legal problem. For example, one ALDA group were Continue reading →
“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.