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Legal English books

An overview of legal English books

In this essay, we take a look at types of legal English books currently available in the market.

  • 1st group: Dictionaries (monolingual and bilingual). This group includes books with bilingual texts and word lists, as well as books describing differences between various legal systems on the word level. Examples include Black’s Law Dictionary and Heidinger-Hubalek: Angol-amerikai jogi nyelv.
  • 2nd group: Descriptive approach, essays on particular characteristics of legal texts: E.g. Tiersma: The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law
  • 3rd group: Focus on grammar of legal texts, linguistic approach: E.g. Bázlik: The grammatical system of legal English
  • 4th group: developing learners’ legal English skills by exercises, exam preparation (IELTS, TOLES) E.g. Lindner-Firth: Introduction to International Legal English
  • 5th group: Terminology, grouped in categories of their practice areas: E.g. Dr. iur Petz: Terminology of Civil Law
  • 6th group: historical issues, development of legal English, with or without description of legalese E.g. Melinkoff: The Language of Law, Tiersma: Legal Language
  • 7th group: Focus on legalese and plain legal English, developing writer’s skills to write in plain legal English. E.g. Garner: Legal Writing in Plain English, Wydick: Plain English for Lawyers

What can we learn from these books?

  • source and corresponding target terms (dictionaries)
  • history of legal language (inclusion of French and Latin words into legal English)
  • simplification of legal language (how to word legal sentences to avoid their being legalese – plain legal English movement)
  • development of writing skills (based on the then current knowledge of learner)
  • bit of grammar of legal language (for example: herein, shall and similar terms, etc.,)
  • description of legal language, from the perspective of linguistics, containing chiefly essays on particular issues characteristic of legal texts
  • focus on terminology, terms grouped in categories of their practice areas, and explaining differences in meaning of these terms.

In summary, these books are largely independent from one another, largely un-interrelated, covering same content (like the peculiarities of legal English, e.g. “shall”, “hereinafter” kind of things), leaving a number of issues uncovered, for example full description of practice areas, with their terminology and term usage. They do not constitute a comprehensive guidelines, and they surely do not serve as a compendium of the subject even in the aggregate.

Now let us see what is necessary for expert level command of legal English?

A systematic and comprehensive approach to legal language, including:

  • systematic knowledge of grammar of legal language
  • systematic knowledge of terms, how they are to be used in sentences
  • systematic knowledge of practice areas, with general information and a description of terms as well as documents within these practice areas
  • description of terms with their near-synonyms, so that the writer can choose the most appropriate one, also with a description on how to use these terms.

In other words, anyone wishing to excel in legal English, s/he should know a very large number of terms in target and source language, have excellent command of legal English: should have expertise in several practice areas in source and target language jurisdictions, should be familiar with a large number of terms in these practice areas, also knowing alternative terms, knowing how to use them, and should have an experience with a large number of document types in these practice areas.