“Good, Better, Best”

Anthony Leone

The American University in Cairo

 

English for Law in Higher Education Studies.  By Jeremy Walenn. Reading, U.K.: Garnet Publishing Ltd., 2009. 136 pages.

 

 

As a result of my background and experience, I have been asked to review the textbook entitled “English for Law in Higher Education Studies (EFL) published by Garnet Publishing. As a preface, some brief remarks about my background are in order. First, I have been teaching a course in Legal English for AUC’s School of Continuing Education for the past year, after designing that six- course, thirty-six week curriculum. And earlier in my career I practiced law in the United States for a considerable period of time. Therefore, my review should be considered as a derivative of those experiences rather than of an English teaching background. Secondly, this review is actually a comparison with the book used in AUC‘s Legal English course, since that approach proved to be the most insightful (Kroise-Lindner, 2008).  And thirdly, in the final analysis, the book used at AUC, Introduction to International Legal English, (IILE), seems far more complete as a stand-alone resource for the non-lawyer teacher of English for a Special Purpose. However, as will be discussed in some detail, EFL performs very well in some respects and would make an invaluable companion in the classroom.

At first glance, both books appear to be very similar; both books are paperback, come with two CDs, and both are approximately the same length since IILE is 160 pages long and covers ten chapters and EFL is 136 pages in length and covers twelve chapters. Moreover, in the back of each book is a section containing transcriptions of the CD recordings.  And both books contain a word glossary, an invaluable tool for all ESL students. Finally, each book is aimed at students who speak English at the upper intermediate level. But, as the old adage goes, it’s what’s inside that counts.

A closer examination of EFL would support a number of criticisms. First, EFL seems full of pictures. They are all legally related in one way or another, but after viewing what must be a third of the book’s pages covered with pictures of courtrooms and handcuffs, contracts and law books, one is inclined to wonder what has been left out to accommodate this waste of space. And while it is a fact that EFL does contain, at 318 words, a larger glossary, the entries there just refer one back into the book itself. IILE’s smaller 218-word glossary would seem more valuable to students since each word includes its own, more expansive definition.  However, one of EFL’s most glaring omissions is the absence of an answer key to the exercises contained within the book. Any teacher must, therefore, take special care to ensure that all students correctly complete the book’s many matching and fill-in-the-space exercises. IILE, on the other hand, contains an accurate and complete answer key to each of the book’s hundreds of exercises. The result is that IILE remains as a repository resource, while EFL requires constant diligence on the part of both teacher and student to make sure all questions are answered correctly.  Because of these and other failings, EFL is prevented from achieving the success of IILE.

In a closer comparison of the two textbooks, EFL’s failings become even more apparent. The chapter headings in EFL seem to present a less than logical flow through any sort of legal curriculum. The book begins, predictably enough, with a review of the court system in chapter one. However, in later chapters the approach turns more piecemeal since it presents criminal law and torts in the same chapter and then presents the crimes of theft and homicide-- divisions of criminal law-- in separate chapters. This would certainly seem odd to any student of the law. All those who have studied the law, wherever they have studied it, are used to seeing the subject presented in a certain manner, that is with each chapter completely devoted to subjects such as criminal law, the law of torts, the law of property, contracts, and so on. In presenting the subject in this way, IILE would seem to relate better to students who have studied the law and, in the end, this would appear to be a more comprehensive approach.

Before leaving this overview of the chapter layout of both books, some attention should be paid to the way the primary tasks of listening, speaking, and writing are dealt with. These four tasks make up the foundation of teaching English for a special purpose.  IILE seems to understand this, since each chapter includes a segment for listening to the accompanying CD and includes writing, reading, and speaking exercises. EFL, on the other hand, alternates listening and speaking exercises with reading and writing exercises so that in the twelve chapters there are six of each rather than ten of each, as in IILE. This is a major shortcoming, since students must be given plenty of practice in reading, writing, speaking and listening if the course is to be successful. Therefore, in the overview, IILE seems a vastly superior textbook.

However, a closer view of content reveals some surprising inclusions by EFL, albeit after more mention of certain misgivings. First, the authors of EFL seem to miss the point that legal English is frequently taught by non-lawyers in need of background help concerning many legal topics and principles. And so EFL’s chapters seem to jump into the subject matter without taking the time to lay some sort of foundation of knowledge of the law in each particular area. Missing, for example, are the page-long narrative introductions about criminal law or property law included by the authors of IILE. These narratives establish a sort of normative boundary for the discussion of a particular area of law. This structure not only helps to provide students with vocabulary and reading comprehension materials for the upcoming chapter, but it also provides a foundation upon which the non-lawyer teacher may base further examination of the legal topic being discussed in the chapter. However, EFL does include valuable material concerning language pronunciation and writing instruction. No such material is included in IILE.  Accurate pronunciation of complex legal terms is essential for legal English students and so this and other inclusions make EFL a valuable resource to consult.

EFL’s coverage of the law seems inappropriately jurisdictionally-specific in many cases. For example, it is hard to imagine why a discussion of the famous jurist Lord Denning, would be important to anyone practicing law in Egypt or another foreign jurisdiction. Similarly, the inclusion of case cites to cases in courts in the UK seem like a wasted effort. It is inconceivable that any legal English student would benefit from a discussion of “Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co. v Selfridge [195} AC 847 HL” (Walenn, 2009, p.  108). However, in spite of these shortcomings, EFL manages to include very important material that makes the book noteworthy. For example, a surprising inclusion is the chapter on electronic research. Many Egyptian lawyers are not very computer-literate, and to learn the terms in English would aid them in speaking with international clients. There is no comparable material in IILF and this remains as this textbook’s largest shortcoming.

Regarding the improvement of students’ writing skills, both textbooks make important contributions. The authors of IILE are aware that the most important skill for a legal English student to obtain from a course is the ability to speak and correspond with English-speaking clients about the law. IILE is designed to provide students with practice in writing informative and advisory e-mails to clients. The textbook is filled with correspondence writing exercises. Additionally, many of the listening sections are of lawyers speaking with clients. These useful exercises focus directly on the main objective of a course in legal English.  The authors of EFL also focus on good writing skills, but the focus in EFL is on sentence construction and paragraph cohesion. EFL includes many exercises that teach students how to write complex sentences well and how to write paragraphs with topic and concluding sentences that support the thesis of the writing. It seems quite clear that students should receive instruction in both correspondence writing and sentence and paragraph construction. In terms of writing, each textbook omits what the other includes; thus, the best instruction would combine the approaches of each textbook.

In conclusion, it seems that IILE is the better textbook because it serves as a stand-alone resource for students, because it focuses on lawyer-client relations, and because its pedagogical organization is more supportive of the non-lawyer teacher. On the other hand, EFL has some very interesting features, including a chapter on electronic research, pronunciation exercises, and a focus on improving students’ paragraph and sentence construction. Therefore, the teacher of legal English would do well to use IILE as the main textbook and supplement it with exercises from EFL.

 

References

 

Krois-Lindner, A., Firth, M. and First Translegal. (2008). Introduction to International 
            Legal English
. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge.

 

Walenn, J. (2009). English for Law in Higher Education Studies. Reading, U.K.: Garnet 
            Publishing Ltd.

 

 

Dr. Anthony Leone monitors the Legal English program for AUC’s School of Continuing Education and he teaches writing at AUC and Legal English for the US Embassy at the Egyptian Court of Cassation. He holds a Juris Doctorate and a Masters in International Human Rights Law.