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.
“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.
We love discussing, debating, brainstorming, experimenting and pushing the envelope with regard to what “legal English” could and should be, and what it could and should accomplish. But mostly, we love learning from each other and from others in our community in our efforts to provide high quality education in this still developing field.
In addition, as we have collaborated to grow our program at St. John’s, we became aware that we offer three unique yet integrated perspectives on teaching at the intersection of law and language support.
Stephen Horowitz, Director of Legal English Programs. Stephen is a graduate of Duke Law School and former associate at the Wall St. law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan with a recent M.A. in TESOL from CUNY-Hunter College and several years of experience teaching English and studying law in Japan. He designed the curriculum and teaches in the American Law: Discourse & Analysis (ALDA) program and also co-designed the curriculum for the English for American Law School (EALS) courses and the Bar Exam Language & Strategies (BELS) course which he co-teaches with Kathryn Piper.
Kathryn Piper, a graduate of UC Hastings College of the Law, where she served as the Executive Editor of the Hastings Women’s Law Journal, and Brief Editor for the Traynor California Law Moot Court Team following several years of teaching English in Japan. She teaches the Legal Writing I & II courses and co-teaches Transnational Legal Practice (TLP) I & II for our LL.M. students.
Of all the fields of study that interact with language support and cross-cultural interaction, it is fair to say that law–a field where livelihoods can be ruined based on the placement of a comma or the meaning of “is“–requires the most control and comprehension of the language.
Our goal within this blog is to share our experiences, successes, experiments, challenges, ideas, and anecdotes with the “legal English” community. We want to discuss and learn in our attempts to fuse the challenges and pedagogy associated with the learning of law with the challenges and pedagogy associated with the learning of a second language.
We invite you to join us in our conversation and welcome your thoughts and insights.