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Aleksandra Łuczak (Ph.D)
Koźmiński University, Warsaw, Poland
DESIGNING ENGLISH FOR LEGAL PURPOSES COURSES:
A NEGOTIATION PROCESS
This paper is a report on experiences gained and examples of good practice implemented by the author during her teaching practice with law students of a leading private business university in Poland.
Each student should graduate from our university with an international certificate in specialist English - the vision of the Rector of a leading Polish business university was the “order” for its Foreign Language Centre teachers and their supervisor. Therefore, two examination centres were set up. One for English for Business LCCI (London Chamber of Commerce and Industry) Exam which is recommended as the final exam for management, finance, European studies, psychology, administration and sociology students and the other for TOLES (Test of English Legal Skills) Exam which is sat by law students.
TOLES can be taken at three proficiency levels. The lowest TOLES Foundation assesses the knowledge of Legal English at CEFR A2/B1 levels by the means of a test composed of ten tasks which check the understanding of specialist vocabulary, reading comprehension and to limited extent – writing. Students who intend to sit this examination should be familiarized with the legal terminology of the following areas of law: contract law, employment law, business law, company law, banking and finance, tort law, intellectual property law, European Union law. TOLES Higher which stresses the knowledge of the language of contracts and legal correspondence is a natural choice for more advanced students whose Legal English can be assessed as CEFR B1/B2 levels.
While the highest level of TOLES – the Advanced level is realistic only for a very limited number of candidates (usually about 10 students out of 200 candidates).
The perfect tool which allows to prepare students for TOLES Foundation and Higher examinations is “The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook” published by Global Legal English in 2007. It is composed of nine chapters which deal with the most important areas of law required by the TOLES examination syllabus on Foundation level in version A of each chapter and on Higher level – in version B.
Polish students, especially those who study at private universities, have very high expectations of foreign language courses. PhD thesis research conducted by the author of this article has shown that on the one hand students are interested in taking certificate examinations, as these will give them an advantage on the job market. On the other hand, they want to participate in attractive classes during which they will take a breather after specialist classes and lectures. According to the students English course at university should be a combination of General and Specific English with the special emphasis put on the development of the speaking skill.
The research subjects who completed a three-year English course at a private university in Poland, felt that there was not enough time devoted to developing the knowledge of grammar. This statement was in contradiction with the results of the needs analysis conducted among first year students who considered grammar as the least important aspect of the language.
However, the analysis of the comments provided by the leading international law firms from the so called “Magic Circle” stress that the weakest point of law graduates who begin to work for them is the inability to draft documents and legal advice in English. This point was emphasized many times by Catherine Mason of Global Legal English in her presentation: The Problem Is: They Can’t Draft delivered at 3rd International Legal English Conference in Warsaw on 14 November 2009.
The dilemma which course designers and Legal English teachers face is the decision WHOSE NEEDS they should satisfy.
If they make an effort to satisfy the Rector’s expectations and include the preparation for the TOLES Foundation examination in the syllabus, they will concentrate mostly on developing the reading skill and building legal vocabulary. Students preparing for TOLES Higher will also develop writing and listening skill, since this level of the examination consists not only of Reading and Writing but also of Listening component.
However, the preparation for the written part of the examination does not necessarily allow to develop the kind of writing which law firms recruiting law graduates expect. They expect the lawyers-to-be to be able to draft legal advice in English but dealing with the aspects of Polish or European Union law and not common law which is binding in the UK.
In order to satisfy the present students’ needs, their wishes and to make up for their lacks, communicative activities should be included in the syllabus, since they will prepare students for the effective functioning on the everyday basis in the work environment and outside. Grammar cannot be ignored, even though students insist they dislike it. A lawyer representing an international or Polish law firm can under no circumstances produce texts with mistakes.
Legal English teachers face the task of combining the needs, visions and wishes of all the stakeholders of the Legal English course including the students, the Rector representing the university offering the course as well as the law firms which constitute future employers of the course participants. Moreover, the teachers must remember that the outcomes of the teaching process will be evaluated by the results of the international certificate examination. The easiest solution would be to fulfil the Rector’s dreams and prepare the students for TOLES exam with the help of the very good ‘The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook’. Unfortunately, using only this coursebook may turn out to be monotonous and boring from the students’ perspective.
A collection of techniques and tasks which can help make Legal English classes more attractive and develop all language skills, specialist vocabulary and functions that facilitate effective communication in the work place will be presented below. They will also introduce the element of intercultural knowledge of Anglophone countries.
At the introductory stage of Legal English course at university the teachers deal with inexperienced students who have got very limited knowledge of the subject matter. Therefore, it is important to relate the linguistic content of the course to the subject matter covered by the studies curriculum. One of the most important courses students participate in at the beginning of their studies is Constitutional Law. Therefore, it is worth beginning the Legal English course with the topic of American, British and Polish legal and government systems. At the presentation stage Legal English classes very often resemble lectures delivered by the teacher. However, with most advanced learners this task can be delegated to students. Such solution can also serve as the incentive to develop the students’ presentation skills. Here is a sample of the presentation prepared by Damian Budzis the first year student10 which served as the introduction to the class on Polish System of Government.
The aim of the classes on ‘Polish System of Government’ was to acquaint the students with the language and the provisions of the Polish Constitution. Below you can find a collection of activities prepared by the author of this article which were meant to give students more practice in developing vocabulary and order their knowledge. All the activities contain the element of fun, game, puzzle and were prepared with the help of the Teacher’s Pet software which is available for free on http://www.teachers-pet.org. The software can be used to create various lexical and grammatical exercises. The answers follow the activities.
The Polish System of Government