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.

EDIT 16 January 2018: the second edition of Legal English Manual is now available at


Common Law Legal English and Grammar – a Review

9781849465762A new monograph on legal English by Alison Riley and Patricia Sours comes from Hart Publishing. As a legal English teacher and a great proponent of plain English I approached the book with enthusiasm and desire to find some inspiration for my legal English classes, as the new academic year is about to begin.

The book is not a traditional legal English coursebook but a university textbook on legal English, explaining the intricacies of this specialist variant of the English language. The book, therefore, is addressed to rather advanced learners – from upper-intermediate to advanced level – and legal English practitioners.

The book provides the reader with a vast and thorough analysis of the legal language; however, we should not be discouraged by the 503 pages of the book, since the authors use plain English and clearly explain the features of the legal jargon.

The textbook is composed of six parts. The first one presents features of the English language used within common law contexts as well as internationally. The remaining five parts cover the language of different areas of law, which include: legal system and the British constitution, international treaties, human rights and European Integration, criminal law, tort law and contract law.

Each part of the book is divided into three chapters: (1) Language and Law, (2) Legal Grammar and (3) Consolidation.

The author of Language and Law chapters, Alison Riley, builds a foundation of legal knowledge for each area of law, explains the basic legal concepts and introduces technical language of the law. The author achieves her aim through the presentation and explanation of the legal concepts in context (e.g. cases, judgments, analysis of authentic excerpts from legal documents, literature, etc.). These chapters offer also lexical tasks through which the readers examine and analyse legal vocabulary in context, interpret the meaning of legal terms and learn how it may change in various contexts (e.g. between civil and criminal law).

Legal Grammar section prepared by Patricia Sours provides the learners with the knowledge on punctuation in legal texts, basic sentence structure, verb forms, word formation, adverbial clauses and nominal structures. The author illustrates her notes with examples extracted from authentic sources and provides opportunities for practice in tasks accompanied with the key which saves teacher preparation time and makes the book a self-study manual.

Each part of the book end with Consolidation usually containing five to six tasks in which the learners can test and expand their knowledge of legal vocabulary, practice defining technical terms, form collocations as well as test reading comprehension skills. Key to consolidation tasks is also provided.

“Common Law Legal English and Grammar” is definitely the title to remember for those interested in not only learning legal English terminology but also understanding the usage of the legal terms of art in context. The authors teach the readers legal terminology but also equip them with legal knowledge. They use brilliant and memorable examples to illustrate the use of language, selecting them from the history of common law but also literature and news satisfying in this way the tastes of both lawyers and linguists.

I will strongly recommend the book to my colleagues – legal English practitioners – as well as my most ambitious and linguistically advanced law students.





Thank You Letter

This year I have received the most touching and memorable thank you letter from my students.
Such moments do not happen often. But when they do happen, you understand that what you on a daily basis and sometimes routinely makes sense.
Thank you my third year group 2 and may all your plans come true.

2014-09-28 15.31.13


We wrześniu w Supraślu odbyły się pierwsze Międzynarodowe Warsztaty Legal English Share&Gain zorganizowane przez Wydział Prawa Uniwersytetu w Białymstoku.

Jak zwykle na Podlasiu, tak i w Supraślu, panowała gościnna i przemiła atmosfera, a spotkanie praktyków zajmujących się nauczaniem angielskiego języka prawniczego pozwoliło na wymianę doświadczeń i powrót do pracy w nowym roku akademickim z nowymi pomysłami.

Poniżej zamieszczam handout, który przygotowałam dla uczestników mojego warsztatu pt. Writing in Plain English, a dodatkowe materiały do wykorzystania na zajęciach można znaleźć w zakładce „Moje materiały”.


New Legal English Handbook from Hart Publishing

Common Law Legal English and Grammar

A Contextual Approach

Alison Riley and Patricia Sours


Lord Denning, an influential but controversial English judge, stated that ‚Words are the lawyer’s tools of trade’. This course book reflects that conviction as it focuses on words, the language of the law – legal terms, expressions, and grammar – introduced systematically with relevant aspects of the law, and examined in context through analytical reading activities based on original legal texts selected for their interest and importance in different branches of the common law system. This book explores constitutional law, criminal law, tort, and contract; yet includes international legal contexts, with a particular focus on human rights and European law.

The presentation of legal concepts and terminology in context in each chapter is graded so that the course progresses, building on the vocabulary and law encountered in earlier chapters. Each chapter, organized thematically, includes a series of activities – tasks – to complete, yet the book does not presuppose previous knowledge of legal English or of the common law: full answer keys and reflective commentary on both legal and linguistic aspects are given and sections marked ‚Advanced’ offer especially challenging materials. Consolidation sections are designed to test students’ global comprehension of the legal texts analysed, including precise usage of legal vocabulary in context, with solutions.

Common Law Legal English and Grammar is addressed to the non-native speaker of English, and in particular, intermediate to advanced students who are studying law, or academics with a professional interest in Anglo-American law. Practising lawyers will also find that the book offers valuable analysis of the language of legal documents.

Please note, this book is not available for purchase in Italy.

The Authors

Alison Riley is Lecturer in Legal English at the University of Ferrara.

Patricia Sours is Lecturer in Legal English at the University of Padua.

Book Details

June 2014   528pp   Pbk   9781849465762  £25 / €32.50


If you would like to place an order you can do so through the Hart Publishing website (link below).

Alternatively please contact Hart Publishing’s Distributor, Macmillan Distribution Ltd by telephone or e-mail

Address: Macmillan Distribution (MDL), Brunel Road, Houndmills, Basingstoke, RG21 6XS, UK

Telephone Number: 01256 32924



Hart Publishing Ltd. is registered in England No. 3307205

Hart Publishing Ltd. is an Imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc

TOLES 2014 Results

Today I have had a chance to briefly analyse the results of TOLES Higher examination conducted in TOLES Examination Centre at Kozminski University in Warsaw in May 2014.

Two groups of students attempted the examination: one group had attended Legal English course leading to the exam for two years and the other for three.

The difference in the course length was due to the change in the curriculum introduced two years ago which limited the time of Legal English instruction offered to Law students from three to two years, i.e. from 36o hours of instruction to 240 hours.

The results which I have received today  prove a significant difference in the passability of the examination. Namely, among third year students there was only 5% of fails, while among second year students – 15%, i.e. three times as much.

The results, unfortunately, seem to confirm the teachers common conviction that the decision of the University authorities was, to put it mildly, not exactly right.

Memrise Project

W październiku 2014 roku rozpoczęłam tworzenie bazy słownictwa z zakresu Legal English potrzebnego do przygotowania się do egzaminu TOLES (Test of Legal English Skills) na poziomie Foundation i Higher. Baza jest wciąż w fazie powstawania, moi studenci biorą czynny udział w przygotowywaniu treści kursów, a wszystko odbywa się w oparciu o podręcznik „The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook”. Baza powstała na stronie, a stworzone przeze mnie i moich studentów kursy są dostępne na moim profilu (

Ponieważ projekt został przyjęty przez moich studentów bardzo entuzjastycznie postanowiłam zbadać jak praca z memrise wpływa na wyniki w nauce osiągane przez studentów w trakcie lektoratowego kursu prawniczego języka angielskiego oraz czy studenci używający aplikacji memrise osiągają lepsze wyniki z testów niż pozostali i czy studenci współtworzący treści kursów osiągają lepsze wyniki od tych, którzy są tylko ich użytkownikami.

Badanie zostało przeprowadzone wśród studentów I, II, i III roku uczestniczących w kursie prawniczego języka angielskiego na poziomie B2+ za pomocą krótkiej ankiety składającej się z siedmiu pytań. W badaniu wzięło udział 32 ankietowanych.

Spośród badanych osób jedna osoba na trzy nie korzystała z kursów memrise przygotowując się do testu i utrwalając materiał. Połowa spośród tych ankietowanych zaliczyła test na poziomie oceny dostatecznej, jedna osoba na poziomie oceny dobrej, a 1/3 respondentów nie zaliczyła testu.

Natomiast w grupie studentów, którzy korzystali z memrise testu nie zaliczyło tylko 17% ankietowanych, niewiele ponad połowa otrzymała oceny dostateczne, a 1/3 oceny dobre.
Większość osób (75%), które nie zaliczyły testu poświęciły pracy z memrise mniej niż jedną godzinę. Jedna z osób w tej grupie poświęciła memrise więcej czasu (1-3 godzin), ale mimo tego uzyskała ocenę niedostateczną.

Studenci, którzy uzyskali najlepsze wyniki poświęcili pracy z memrise bardzo zróżnicowaną ilość czasu. Na siedmioro respondentów, dwoje korzystało z aplikacji poniżej jednej godziny, dwoje spędziło na nauce od jednej do trzech godzin, dwoje od trzech do sześciu godzin, a jedna osoba uczyła się ponad sześć godzin. Dwoje respondentów (28%) brało udział w opracowywaniu treści kursów memrise.

Wśród osób ankietowanych, którzy uzyskali wynik dostateczny większość pracowała z memrise ok. 1-3 godzin, trzy osoby z dziesięciu – ok. 3-6 godzin, a jedna osoba poniżej jednej godziny. Dwie spośród tych osób (20%) brały udział w opracowywaniu treści kursów.

Jeden na ośmiu ankietowanych to studenci-autorzy definicji na kursach memrise. Deklarowali oni, że poświęcili na naukę stosunkowo najwięcej czasu. Większość z nich uczyła się z aplikacją od 3 do 6 godzin, a jedna osoba ponad 6 godzin. Połowa tych osób uzyskała na teście wynik dobry, a połowa dostateczny.

Studenci, którzy nie korzystali z aplikacji w przygotowaniu do testu, jako wyjaśnienia podawali następujące argumenty:
• Preferowanie i większe zaufanie do podręcznika i własnych notatek (50%)
• Przerabianie kursów memrise zajmuje dużo czasu (50%)
• Problemy techniczne (38%)
• Niechęć do nauki przy komputerze (13%)
• Brak informacji, że memrise istnieje (13%).

Zarzut, że praca z memrise jest czasochłonna i męcząca pojawiał się również najczęściej (44%) w komentarzach osób korzystających z tej aplikacji w przygotowaniach do testu. Drugą istotną wadą stworzonych kursów wymienianą przez co czwartą osobę jest nierozpoznawanie synonimów i uznawanie ich za błędne odpowiedzi. Około 15% ankietowanych narzekało na wady techniczne aplikacji, a pojedyncze osoby wspominały o zbyt długich definicjach, zbyt częstych powtórzeniach, nie uwzględnieniu w kursach wszystkich słów wymaganych potem na teście i możliwości powtórzenia raz przerobionego kursu dopiero po 4 godzinach.

Wśród najistotniejszych zalet pracy z kursami memrise ponad połowa ankietowanych studentów wymienia efektywne utrwalenie materiału poprzez częste powtarzanie przerabianego słownictwa. Jedna osoba na trzy ankietowane podkreśla znaczenie faktu, że memrise jest miejscem, gdzie mają dostęp do najważniejszego słownictwa z zajęć. Taka sama liczba respondentów docenia również nowoczesną, elektroniczną formę aplikacji i jej wersję mobilną. Co siódmy ankietowany wspomina o znaczeniu rywalizacji w nauce i podkreśla motywujący wpływ punktacji osiąganej przez wszystkich użytkowników i rankingów pokazujących najaktywniejszych użytkowników na każdym kursie. Wśród mniej istotnych zalet wymieniono profesjonalny i przejrzysty wygląd aplikacji, różnorodność generowanych ćwiczeń i możliwość nauki pisowni przyswajanych słów w ćwiczeniach, w których punktowana jest bezbłędność zapisu.

Garner the Plain English Guru

In Legal Writing in Plain English. A Text with Exercises Garner (2001) draws up a comprehensive list of principles for plain English writing including legal writing, analytical and persuasive writing, legal drafting, document design and continued improvement. The exercises accompanying the book can be accessed on All these exercises are based on authentic excerpts of legal writing which are used as a basis for paraphrasing, redrafting and editing in plain English.

Most of these principles help develop the transferable abilities typical of writing which might constitute the scaffolding for the future development of the writing skill irrespective of the purpose. Plain English is considered the equivalent of good English writing. Therefore, the guidelines for writing in plain English should be included in each writing course, since they comprise the rules for producing well structured, comprehensible and concise texts.

According to Garner (2001) the skills which law students and graduates need to develop if they wish to draft texts in plain English include:

1. Planning:

  • using a nonlinear, whirlybird (i.e. resembling the mind map) approach is recommended for lawyers;
  • arranging the material in a logical sequence, e.g. using chronology when presenting facts;
  • dividing the documents into sections, and sections into smaller parts;
  • adding headings for the sections and subsections.

2. Paragraphing and organizing writing:

  • beginning each paragraph with a topic sentence;
  • linking paragraphs and signposting within paragraphs;
  • limiting the length of paragraphs to 3-8 sentences/150 words;
  • knowing the reader – an ordinary person and not a sophisticated lawyer;
  • applying correct punctuation.

3. Phrasing and paraphrasing (legalese into plain English):

  • avoiding verbosity; reducing the average length of a sentence to 20 words;
  • relying on S-V-O word order;
  • favouring active over passive voice;
  • creating lists with parallel phrasing for parallel ideas;
  • avoiding multiple negatives;
  • understanding legalese but replacing it with plain English alternatives, e.g. “hereinafter Seller” with “the Seller”, “prior to” with “before”, “in the event that” with “if”;
  • minimizing the use of „to be”, e.g. court is in agreement, fines are dependent, judge is of the opinion…;
  • avoiding nouns created from verbs, e.g. conduct an examination of, make provision for, take into consideration…;
  • shortening wordy phrases, e.g. “a number of” to “many”, “at the time when” to “when”, “subsequent to” to “after”, “the majority of” to “most”.

Mad Man on Writing

Since not only law students need writing skills, others following business English courses might find the advice of David Ogilvy – an iconic businessman and original “Mad Man” – convincing:

  1. The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.
  2. Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
  3. Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:
  4. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
  5. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
  6. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  7. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  8. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
  9. Check your quotations.
  10. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
  11. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
  12. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
  13. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

Source: Oglivy, D. (2012). The Unpublished David Ogilvy. London: Profile Books Ltd.

George Orwell

The model for writing that is usually cited by the supporters of the Plain English Movement is George Orwell whose simple style and text structure may serve as an excellent example as in the sample below from 1984 (1949, p. 123):

A Party member lives from birth to death under the eye of the Thought Police. Even when he is alone he can never be sure that he is alone. Wherever he may be, asleep or awake, working or resting, in his bath or in bed, he can be inspected without warning and without knowing that he is being inspected.

Nothing that he does is indifferent. His friendships, his relaxations, his behaviour towards his wife and children, the expression of his face when he is alone, the words he mutters in sleep, even the characteristic movements of his body, are all jealously scrutinized. Not only any actual misdemeanour, but any eccentricity, however small, any change of habits, any nervous mannerism that could possibly be the symptom of an inner struggle, is certain to be detected. He has no freedom of choice in any direction whatever. On the other hand his actions are not regulated by law or by any clearly formulated code of behaviour.

In 1946 in his essay “Why I write” Orwell wrote that good prose is like a window pane and a year earlier he published his manifesto entitled “Politics and the English Language” in which he criticised vague, pretentious, Latinised style used in politics and public speeches and formulated six elementary rules of good writing (2013: 19):

i. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.