Needs Analysis in ELP

Each teaching situation, even within the context of tertiary English for Legal Purposes, is different. In the process of course design many other constraints should be taken in to consideration apart from the results of the needs analysis. Course design is always a negotiation process which should consider not only the needs or wishes of all the stakeholders but also other limitations such as available resources, e.g. the length of the course, the number of teaching hours, teaching materials; potential and experience of the learners, the expected outcome of the course, the form of the final assessment, etc.

However, in each case the options are manifold. Law students, i.e. lawyers to be, need to obtain comprehensive education in terms of foreign language skills. Above all they need to achieve at least intermediate level of General English skills to be able to communicate freely with clients or other lawyers in their future workplace. Consequently they will need to develop their overall knowledge of the foreign language in order to attain at least CEFR B2 level as required by the Council of Higher Education.

Students and school authorities wishes as regards international certificates are also justifiable. Preparation for a certificate examination has been proven to act as a very important motivator for university students who usually are not very highly motivated to study foreign languages. Above all, it provides them with a internationally recognized document which confirms their knowledge of specialist variety of English at a certain level. For university graduates who usually do not possess much professional experience to include in their CVs, foreign language certificates are documents which they are usually very proud of.

All in all, the most important aspects which course designers and teachers modelling Legal English courses must take into consideration are very practical skills which lawyers-to-be will need in their future jobs. Even though the today’s students might protest, their foreign language instructors must remember that the weakest point reported by international law firms commenting on their expectations towards law graduates is the writing skill. The core of Legal English course should constitute the development of legal drafting and accuracy (i.e. prepositions, collocations, articles) as it accounts for the quality of a written text.

Needs analysis results show that students usually identify speaking as their weakest point and most essential problem. Speaking activities have a great potential and the part of the syllabus which can enliven the classes and increase the students’ satisfaction. In the case of Legal English lessons, however, speaking activities should be localized, i.e. based on the context of local law. Namely, Polish students will most probably work in the context of Polish or European Union law. They do not really feel the need to discuss the aspects of common law. It is the teachers’ task to create opportunities for communication based on local law which often will demand creating their own teaching materials/incentives for meaningful communication.

Legal English classroom is a place of numerous opportunities and challenges both for the students and the teachers. On the other hand, it is probably one of the most complex ESP contexts which requires a lot of engagement and experience on the part of the teachers and hard work and stamina on the part of the students. Structuring such courses to the best advantage of the students is a constant negotiation process between the constraints imposed by the teaching institution and the needs of the students which mature and emerge along the course. Experienced teachers will be able to combine the sometimes mutually exclusive needs of the stakeholders and prepare the lawyers-to-be for the challenges of the job market.

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