So how have native professionals learnt legal English in the first place?
It is always a good idea to learn from those we regard as top-end experts in our profession. Knowing how they have learnt legal English may prove an efficient way in our pursuit of learning legal English for ourselves.
According to an Oxford Law Professor:
„Those of us who have learned to express ourselves in legal English gained our knowledge by indirect, accidental means”.
Well, that's not much of a help... But let's give it a bit more thought... It means the learning on-the-go thing: at law school, law students are to read contracts, laws, make assignments, and in learning law they learn the underlying legal language itself. In other words, native English law professionals have learnt legal English in the same way Hungarian law students learn legal Hungarian: as a by-product of learning law itself. How will it help us in our pursuit to develop our command of legal English to native pro level?
Law students having learned law in an English-language law school
Law students in the US and UK gradually develop their expertise in legal English in their law studies of 4-5 years by involuntary learning. Their studies cover topics, for example appeals, finding for and against litigation parties, all the possible outcomes of appeals, and the terms in use in these contexts, also the various forms of ending lawsuits, with their rules, terminology, sentence patters, to name only a very tiny percent of their expertise in civil procedural law only.
"…a decree was entered by the court perpetually enjoining the defendant from making, selling, or offering to sell any liquid medicine or preparation…"
"The court also enjoined the defendant, pending the final hearing of the cause, from taking or instituting any action or proceeding to enforce the penalties and remedies specified in the act ..."
when often read will add to their mental database, and the brain will do its job, reducing these sentences to simplified sentences (like: court + enter + decree + enjoining + person + from verb+ing or court + enjoin + person + from verb+ing), a vast set of them, consisting of the key constituents of these sentences, resulting in sentence patterns, and developing their expertise in legal English itself. It means that over time, this vast amount of reading materials, texts and sentences will boil down to a memory consisting of a large set of sentence patterns.
What are sentence patterns?
The „court + enter + decree + enjoining + person + from verb+ing” kind of thing. These mathematical sybols are not there of course, but these building blocks are surely there, providing flexibly adjustable set routes, to serve as models to create good sentences. Authentic ones, similar to those produced by lawyers and other legal professionals in pursuing their profession.
Further constituents of proficiency in legal English
Their memories also contain the variuos legal terms, the range of verbs, adjectives and complements in use with these terms, enabling these professionals to use these terms in a grammatically proper manner, and to flexibly adjust them to express their message, in accordance with the purpose of their communication.
Knowing the above sentence pattern for example will enable a law student to create sentences like: „The jury found for the plaintiff on her retaliation claim, but found for the defendant on the gender discrimination claim”. Sentence patterns in the above sentences are genuine English, the terms are properly selected, verbs, nouns, adjectives and prepositions are fine. These underlying sentence patterns will then be used later on to creae their own sentences in their career.
What about legal experts having learned law in a non-English law school?
These legal experts are at a disadvantege here: they learn law in another language, in effect learning legal language in their mother tongue. What takes 4-5 years for native English students to learn would take many more years for nonnative legal experts, due to less exposure to legal English. They read less laws, less contracts, less judgments in English. Thus they will be at a loss in creating this mental data base, and the underlying sentence patterns.
Nonnatives on the fast track in learning legal English
To overcome this drawback in a rapid fashion, they may choose to read these sentence patterns themselves in particular topics and subjects of their choice, like appeals. Specific topic, set of relevant sentence patterns, short period of time to cover. Even proactively, right before the nonnative legal professional is to write his/her own text on an appeal for example in a particular lawsuit s/he handles. To brush up or expand his/her current expertise in the subject.
Term usage should also be learnt, as terms should also be included in authentic legal English sentence patterns to make sentences like native professionals do. To avoid
- having properly selected legal terms in not so genuine legal English sentence patterns, or
- having more or less properly selected legal terms in genuine legal English sentence patterns,
each of which would otherwise result in semi-Hunglish (Gerlish, Russlish etc.) sentences. Remember, Hunglish (Gerlish, Russlish etc.) is the language variant where more or less Hungarian (German, Russian, etc.) sentence patterns carry more or less properly selected English words. This should be avoided….
So, native pro-standard legal English texts are characterised by proper English sentence patterns and proper term usage, learnt as a by-product of learning law itself.
To overcome in a rapid fashion any deficiency in legal English a nonnative legal professional may have due to his/her less exposure to legal English, these sentence patterns and such term usage should be learnt at a relatively rapid fashion. Previous less exposure will then be balanced off by more intense involvement in reading native-pro standard texts.
In other words, if you wish to have native pro standard command of legal English, you have to read as many contracts, laws, judgments as native law students did to attain their standard of legal English, then do the reduction work, to create a mental data base of sentence pattern. However, it is a quite time-consuming and tedious work.
Or, you may get the necessary exposure by familiarizing yourself with a large number of sentence patterns right away, nicely grouped in various topics and subjects (like civil procedure, appeals, winning or losing lawsuits, seven practice areas etc.).
And you will get the picture of specific areas of law e.g. appeals or civil procedural law itself by reading adequate quantity of sentence patterns in a matter of minutes in preparation for writing your text in the subject.
8000+ nicely grouped sentence patterns and description of proper usage of 1550 terms should be enough for a jump start...