Multilingual lawyer perspectives on the LWI’s Biennial Conference at Georgetown Law School

Post by Prof. Paula Klammer, Adjunct Professor of Law

I recently attended the Legal Writing Institute’s Biennial Conference at Georgetown Law School (July 20-23, 2022). As a first-time attendee, I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I wasn’t even sure why I had insisted on going in the first place. I don’t teach legal writing to JD students. Most of my experience teaching has been in my home country, Argentina, to non-native English speaking lawyers either at a tier-one law firm or at a top rated, but relatively small, law school. I was, as we say in my country, “un sapo de otro pozo” (which literally translates as “a frog from another pond”).  

“un sapo de otro pozo”

Although I was happy to find out that I was not the only first-time, first-gen, or rookie attendee, when many a kind colleague warmly pointed out that I was not the only foreigner (there was, after all, one Canadian among us), the irony of that didn’t escape me. So here I am, the new girl in academia from a non-English speaking developing country exposed for the first time to American scholars, the kinds of scholars I’ve long admired from over 5000 miles away. Intimidated and out of place doesn’t begin to describe it… but then the sessions kicked off and things slowly started to change.

There were basically three kinds of sessions: best practices, scholarship, and organization-specific. By best practices I mean sessions in which professors from law schools all over the country talked about the different pedagogical techniques they use in the classroom. Many of them even had the audience experience the exercises themselves so we could get a feel for the technique beyond the purely theoretical. This is a kind of session Americans are famous for and with good reason. They focus on practice rather than theory and give valuable insights into an aspect of American education that I find particularly valuable. I call it teaching people how to fish

As a civil lawyer trained in Argentina, after five years of law school, the first time I saw a case file I didn’t know how to open it. And this is not because there’s anything cognitively wrong with me, but simply because no professor in five years had ever thought to show us a case file or alert us to the fact that the pages are sewn together and new pages go on top, so you don’t open it like an ordinary book. Of course it doesn’t take long to figure that out in practice, but practicing law is stressful enough without anyone ever teaching you how to fish, which is why I value Americans’ emphasis on practical matters in addition to legal theory.

Then there were scholarship sessions. In those sessions, different professors talked about their current research, where they are, their preliminary conclusions, and where they’re headed. I particularly enjoyed two sessions on rhetoric and argumentation but it didn’t take me long to see the limitations of a less multilingual academic culture. Some of the ideas that float around as relatively novel in the United States are not-so-new outside the U.S., particularly in the E.U. where multiculturalism and multilingualism have forced legal scholarship to think about the place of culture and language in the law. So while I loved the work my American colleagues are doing, I couldn’t help but think about how much they could benefit from a more outward-looking perspective. 

With those thoughts going through my mind, I approached a much more seasoned professor who had just given a very interesting talk on culture in legal argumentation. I worked up the courage to talk to this professor about the research coming out of Europe in comparative legal-linguistic studies, where definitions of culture and language are naturally less rigid than what we’re used to on this side of the pond. That led to an incredibly enriching discussion that could only have happened among two people interested in the same topic, where one was fortunate enough to be able to read our French and Italian colleagues and the other receptive enough to want to know more about it. This to me is academia at its best and highlights the importance, not just of dialog among scholars but of the need to translate and publish more foreign scholars in the United States. 

Lastly, there were sessions about the Legal Writing Institute itself, its inner workings and mission. I found those sessions quite interesting in that one can really see how a relatively young area of scholarship is strategically building its own sense of identity. 

All in all, it was a positive and enriching experience. It made me aware of my own strengths and knowledge gaps. But it also left me wondering what the place is for multilingual foreigners in American academia. I’m not aware of any schools outside of Georgetown with a similar program to ours in which linguists, JDs, and LLBs work together to address the specific needs of our international, multilingual, and multicultural LLM students. There’s an obvious gap in American legal education. And, although I was happy to see everything that colleagues in the Global Writing Committee and beyond are doing to address that gap, I wonder what else can be done. 

For one thing, we have a representation and inclusion problem in the global classroom. With rare exceptions, professors are monolingual and monocultural; and although there is nothing wrong with that per se, legal practice is neither monolingual nor restricted to American legal culture for LLMs or the growing constituency of foreign-educated JDs in the U.S. That is where I see a representation problem. International or foreign students aren’t seeing professors who are like them or can relate directly to them in very relevant and important ways. And representation matters. It mattered to me in my first year of law school in Argentina when only 10 of my upcoming 45 professors were women (which I’m proud to say my school reversed while I was a student). And it mattered more than once when I was the only woman in the classroom and was often singled out for it by my professor.  

Prof. Paula Klammer, Georgetown Law

Working as a professor with international Georgetown students over the summer, especially those who, like me, are from developing countries, I’ve seen more than one face light up when I told them I’m from Argentina, worked at a big law firm and found my way to Georgetown non-traditionally. Students need to be able to see themselves in at least some of their professors. More importantly, they need someone who they can see themselves in a few years down the line. Global students experience education differently not just because they come from different backgrounds but because they are exposing themselves to an entirely foreign world. And these differences translate into specific educational needs. 

Inclusion is another story. Inclusion was a big theme at the conference and I was absolutely delighted to meet colleagues doing fantastic work toward a more inclusive classroom. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, “67.3 million residents in the United States now speak a language other than English at home, a number equal to the entire population of France.” With rising numbers of non-native English speakers in JD programs and international LLMs, even more awareness needs to be raised in American legal academia about language inclusion in the classroom; and colleagues who are already making great strides in that direction need our support. 

As for me, the conference started a revolution in my mind. It helped me figure out who I want to be in academia, a question my department director had asked me just a few days earlier and I didn’t quite have a sophisticated answer to yet. As usual, and consistently with everything I ever do in life, I have more questions than answers now. I know for sure that whatever I do will involve global students and turning up the volume of multilingual voices in American legal education. 

Legal English podcast interview with Italian lawyer-linguist Claudia Amato

Post by Prof. Stephen Horowitz, Legal English Lecturer & Adjunct Professor of Law

Claudia Amato, Italian lawyer-linguist

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Italian lawyer-linguist-teacher Claudia Amato, founder of SpeechLex, for the USLawEssentials Law & Language podcast, a podcast intended to help foreign-educated lawyers and law students to improve their legal English.

From USLawEssentials:

“The USLawEssentials Law & Language podcast continues its series of interviews with multilingual lawyers as Stephen Horowitz interviews Claudia Amato.”

“Based in Italy, Claudia is a remarkable attorney, translator, and legal English instructor. Among other things, she is the founder of SpeechLex, where she provides courses in legal English to help prepare attorneys and judges for the TOLES examination. In this episode, she also shares how her experiences working as a translator and teacher inspire her to help others as she explores the “human side” of people’s interaction with the law.
Oh – and as a surprise bonus- you get some helpful travel tips for Japan!”

Beyond Non-JD: The Tax LL.M. Path for Foreign-Educated Lawyers

Post by Prof. Stephen Horowitz, Legal English Lecturer

Another timely post by my friend and former colleague Joshua Alter on his blog Beyond Non-JD, this one titled “The Tax LLM Path for Foreign-Educationed Lawyers” providing advice on those thinking about doing a tax LLM at a US law school rather than a general LLM.

Josh’s advice includes:

–Secure post-LL.B. work experience/education in the field of tax law. This can be working for a law firm, accounting firm, company, government, or a Master’s degree in your home jurisdiction in tax law.

–I’d generally suggest at least 3 years of tax experience in your home jurisdiction if your goal is to work in the U.S. upon graduation.

–Begin building your U.S. tax network in advance of your LL.M. experience.

Click here to read the full post.

Want to hear first-hand from foreign-educated lawyers who have graduated from tax LLM programs at US law schools? Listen to my podcast interviews with foreign-educated Tax LLM grads (below) on the USLawEssentials Law & Language podcast:

Podcast interview with legal translator Paula Arturo

Post by Prof. Stephen Horowitz, Legal English Lecturer

I was very excited this morning to see that Daniel Sebesta of the American Translators Association (ATA) podcast had done a podcast interview with my Georgetown Legal English colleague, Professor Paula Arturo, about her work and career path as a legal translator. Episode and more info from the ATA website below:

From the ATA website:

“This is not another lawyer-turned-translator story which just goes to show you that there’s more one way to become a legal translator! In this episode of Inside Specialization, lawyer-linguist Paula Arturo tells ATA member Daniel Sebesta about the role passion plays in the decision to become a legal translator and why how much you’re willing to learn is key to becoming one of the best. You’ll also discover why “follow the money” is the secret to choosing a subspecialty, how you can compete against machine translation, and a surprising skill you’ll need to climb this career ladder.Comments? Email podcast@atanet.org.”

Book recommendations for foreign-educated Tax LLM students

Georgetown Law Tax Law

Given the increase in foreign-educated attorneys applying for and enrolling in Tax LLM programs in US law schools (including the one at Georgetown Law)–which as I understand it has been further fueled by a strong job market for Tax LLM graduates and the increased likelihood of being able to find a well-paying job that enables you to stay and work int he US–I’ve been thinking about the legal English needs of foreign-educated attorneys planning on starting a Tax LLM program at a US law school.

And one of my first thoughts is the same thing I thought about years ago before I started law school and grad school: What can I read in the months leading up to the start of the program that will help me feel a little better prepared and that I’ll actually enjoy reading?

So here are a couple recommendations. Not tax law books per se, but books that will expose you to the vocabulary and culture of American tax law in an engaging and helpful way. In addition to the legal English benefit of reading either of these books, if you read them you’ll never lack for cocktail conversation topics with American tax LLM students, tax law professors, and tax lawyers.

1. The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans—And How Can We Fix It

Are taxes racist? Author Dorothy Brown on how the tax code makes the wealth  gap worse | Salon.com

By Professor Dorothy A. Brown, presently of Emory Law School but who will soon be joining the faculty of Georgetown Law starting fall 2022.

In the words of Carl Davis on the JusTax Blog, Prof. Brown’s book

uses a mix of data, legal scholarship, interviews, and personal stories to tear down the myth that our tax system is neutral with respect to race. Federal tax laws favoring investment income, homeownership, higher education, retirement savings, and marriage systematically advantage white families at the expense of Black families and other people of color. 

2. A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System

A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax  System - Kindle edition by Reid, T. R.. Politics & Social Sciences Kindle  eBooks @ Amazon.com.

By journalist T.R. Reid, author of many similarly intriguing books (including The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care and Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West among others.)

From the description of the book on Reid’s website:

In A Fine Mess — A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax Code, Reid looks at countries like ours –advanced, high-tech capitalist democracies –and finds that they have made taxation vastly simpler than our convoluted, inequitable system. In the Netherlands, filing your income tax return takes 15 minutes; in Britain and Japan, it takes no time, because the revenue agency fills out the return for you. And many countries spread the tax burden more fairly, with the richest people paying the most tax (unlike the U.S.). 

And by the way, if you are a foreign-educated tax LLM student (or aspiring student) have read either of these books, or ever decide to read them, feel free to get in touch. I’d be happy to start an informal Tax LLM legal English book club for discussing them. You can just email me at sh1643@georgetown.edu

An interview with Georgetown Legal English Professor John Terry Dundon

In the latest episode of the USLawEssentials Law & Language podcast’s series on Multilingual Lawyers, I interview my colleague (and friend) Professor John Terry Dundon, an accomplished attorney and linguist, about his passion for language and teaching legal English. We learn about his career path from some of the most premier law firms in the world to teaching an immersive legal English transactional course at Georgetown Law.

Multilingual Lawyer: John Dundon
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