Why does legal English need to be separated from other types of English, such as business English and scientific English? The case is clear for anyone who has had dealings with a lawyer and the law. The language used by trained legal professionals, such as solicitors or barristers or by paralegals, such as legal secretaries and law professors, is very distinct from everyday professional English (commonly referred to as ‘business English’). For this reason there now exist specific legal English examinations: TOLES (Test of Legal English Skills) and the Cambridge ILEC (International Legal English Certificate).
In order to understand these differences, one needs to understand that both Latin and French were used as legal languages before English became the official language of law in Britain in the 17th Century. By this time, a substantial amount of earlier vocabulary had already become part of legal usage and is used today (Latin phrases such as ‘mens’ and ‘rea’ and French loanwords such as ‘lien’, plaintiff’ and ‘tort’). Learning the vocabulary of legal English is not enough, however, as the style of legal writing refers back to these complex origins as well. Sentences are often long and contain very complex grammatical structures, which are not used in any other form of English. All of this language needs to be practised in context so that the learner is sure of how to communicate appropriately in different situations.
The complexities of this style of writing are most pertinently conveyed by a qualified legal professional; not only for these purely grammatical and lexical considerations but also because there are such things to consider that go above and beyond the spheres of vocabulary and grammar. Examples of these areas are: the varying levels of formality to use when addressing different audiences and the need to write documents that are ‘airtight’. There also exists the overriding concern that this writing should be, in spite of its technical complexity, clear, simple and direct. In addition to satisfying linguistic requirements, a qualified legal professional would also be able to give the delegate more of a feel for the culture of the legal profession in question. Anecdotes and advice are an invaluable source of knowledge.
A legal English course is therefore best delivered by a professional with qualifications in the legal field. This, however, does not necessarily lead to a well-structured, pedagogically-sound course. The second requirement would be that this professional person needs to be a qualified trainer as well. Knowing your subject and knowing how to train it are not the same. How to adapt to the delegate’s exact needs and his/her learning style, how to create easy to understand, interesting, rounded training sessions and how to create delegate-friendly material are some of the additional concerns that a qualified trainer would bring to the training course.
It is therefore essential that a potential delegate does his research before deciding upon a legal English training course and makes sure that his future trainer is dual-qualified. An example of a training organisation which only employs dual-qualified legal English trainers, lawyers as well as qualified English language trainers, is the Culture and Skills Consultancy Communicaid. If the training organisation you make enquiries to does not clearly state this fact and can not provide credentials, then it is highly probable that the training course will be lacking in several of the above-mentioned key areas.
© Communicaid Group Ltd.2010