The Legal English Manual – a Review

The Legal English Manual

by Alison Wiebalck, Clemens von Zedtwitz,

Richard Norman and Kathrin Weston Walsh

Manz, C.H. Beck, Helbing Lichtenhahn 2013

A new manual on legal English, by four authors all of whom are qualified legal professional with either British, American or Swiss background, comes from C.H.Beck in cooperation with Manz and Helbing Lichtenhahn.

The manual is not a traditional legal English coursebook. The first and the main part of the manual is a glossary book which presents legal terminology for fourteen areas of law in a form of short texts which explain the most important topics of the law and present the legal terms of art in context, usually Anglo-American but with some references made to Swiss law.

The practice areas include: contract law, tort law, company law, employment law, family law, inheritance law, insurance law, intellectual property law, competition law, civil procedure, arbitration, bankruptcy, tax law and criminal law. This cross-sectional approach makes the manual a useful tool for legal English learners who wish to quickly grasp the legal terms in a nutshell, revise material they have already covered in a legal English course or prepare for legal English examinations since the content of the manual corresponds with the syllabi of the most recognizable legal English examinations  (e.g. TOLES).

Each of the fourteen areas of law is organized in the same pattern. First the key legal terms are presented and used in a text clarifying various legal issues. Then the use of the most important terms is illustrated with some authentic samples of texts showing how the terms are used by lawyers. Later three or four definitions of the most representative terms in each area are provided and finally at the end of each section there is a collocations corner.

From the methodological point of view such organization of the book content has certain advantages, since it:

  • presents the most important legal English vocabulary in context in one book
  • uses plain English which reflects the current trends in linguistics and law
  • clearly explains the intricacies of the law in short notes loaded with the terms of art
  • shows how to clearly define sometimes complex legal terms
  • stresses the importance of collocations.

The texts contained in the manual can be of help not only for legal English learners but also for teachers who can use the them in a variety of ways to revise the language already taught for example in a form of short dictoglosses (i.e. classroom dictations in which students are asked to reconstruct a text after they listening and noting down key words only).

The only drawback which I have spotted so far is the lack of alphabetical index at the end of the manual which could help the users find a specific term in the book faster and without much effort.

The consecutive two parts of the book concentrate on the development of writing and speaking skills, while the last part is an overview of plain English and contains a short history of this linguistic phenomenon and the rules for writing plain which I myself strongly promote.

The second, legal writing part is definitely useful, since not many coursebooks teach legal writing. The manual clarifies the issue of register transfer by opposing informal and formal language for correspondence. Besides it contains a vast collection of standard phrases and templates for a legal memorandum, a letter to opposing counsel, a letter to a client and a reply letter agreeing and declining a request for documents or information.

The part of the manual for oral communication contains an incredibly rich collection of phrases and expressions for oral advocacy, oral negotiation, client interview and job interview.

I recommend the manual as a self-study book for all learners of legal English and as a supplementary material for any legal English course to be used in the class for presentation or revision of legal vocabulary, teaching paraphrasing, defining and collocations, for developing writing skill and preparation for speaking tasks.

 

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