International Legal English

| March 12, 2012

Amy Krois-Lindner and TransLegal.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. 320.

Reviewed by Ruth Breeze
Institute of Modern Languages, Edificio Biblioteca de Ciencias, University of Navarra, Spain
Navarra, Spain

The need for textbooks that equip students with the language skills needed to cope with legal English has been growing considerably over recent years. In a globalized world, lawyers from different legal cultures and language backgrounds are increasingly likely to use the medium of English to communicate professionally. However, the intrinsic problem of the mismatch between national legal systems, on the one hand, and common and civil law systems on the other, has meant that many excellent legal English textbooks are successful because they serve as introductions to English or American law, rather than because they give students a working knowledge of legal language. Teachers involved in teaching legal English know that the problem is a very real one, which is best expressed in two questions: How can we teach legal language without filling in the background about common law systems? And how can we provide the right amount of background information without turning our course into a course on English or US law, rather than language?

International Legal English (ILE), authored by Amy Krois-Lindner and TransLegal, a European legal translation agency, fills this need, by negotiating the delicate balance between legal content knowledge and language skills. With the pragmatic aim of teaching practising lawyers to function in English in international contexts, and the concrete objective of preparing them for Cambridge ESOL’s new ILEC examination, the book focuses on the key area of commercial law. Within this field, a number of major topics are covered, including company and contract law, real estate and intellectual property.

What makes this book uniquely useful is that the authors, who work in a European rather than British or American context, start from the premise that lawyers chiefly need to provide advice about their own legal system in English, rather than gain mastery of US or UK legal concepts. Although abundant background information concerning common-law countries is provided, particularly concerning legal practice and key concepts in company and contract law, the book wisely steers away from teaching students content knowledge, moving forcefully in the direction of enabling students to acquire active language skills.

This means that each of the 15 units of the book provides reading, listening, speaking, and writing activities related to the main theme. For example, the unit on company formation provides a brief introduction to the essential elements in company formation in the UK and USA, giving the main terminology used in each case. It then moves on to listening activities about how companies are formed, which give students an opportunity to practise the vocabulary they have just encountered. After introducing students to the linguistic conventions of the legal letter of advice, the book provides a practical example in which students read about some new legislation and write a letter to a client advising him or her about what type of company to set up. Like all the units in the book, it ends with a “Language focus” section in which new vocabulary is practised in various typical EFL exercise formats. Some of the units then offer “internet research activities” at the book’s website, which provide an interesting option for more open-ended homework. Other units centre on legal practice in the UK and USA; capitalisation issues; mergers and spin-offs; contract formation, remedies and third-party rights; employment law; sale of goods; real property and intellectual property; negotiable instruments; secured transactions; debtors and creditors; and competition law.

One final aspect of ILE which is worthy of mention is the way in which material that tends to be dry and complex is made palatable by the use of examples and situations. The book takes the best of current language teaching methodology and applies it to legal situations, without ever losing the serious professional focus. On the debit side, the eight-page glossary of legal terms provided at the back of the book, and the footnote explanations of key UK and US terminology, might benefit from being lengthened. Some of the brief definitions are definitely somewhat sketchy, and, since lawyers the world over are the kind of people who believe that the small print is important, teachers may find themselves having to fall back on their own resources to provide more detailed explanations.

Category: Book Reviews