New Legal English Book: “Practical English Language Skills for Lawyers”

Post by Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

I had a great time yesterday moderating the well-attended pre-book launch webinar for a new legal English book published by Routledge titled Practical English Language Skills for Lawyers by co-authors Natasha Costello and Louise Kulbicki, both UK-trained, Europe-based legal English professionals who are active members of EULETA and widely respected in the field.

I also was fortunate to be one of the reviewers for the book and had an opportunity to see how well they incorporate authentic materials and tasks as well as highlight differences in British and American legal English throughout.

Listen to the recording of the webinar below to learn more about the book and get a sneak peak as well as hear the questions from attendees .

Here’s a brief description of the book:

“This book shows non-native, English speaking lawyers how to apply their English language skills to everyday legal situations and contexts, providing essential guidance to ensure they can work confidently in different settings and mediums.

Including activities based on real-life scenarios, the book will allow lawyers and law students to practise their English in key areas of working life, from networking and client meetings, to telephone and conference calls, contract drafting and contract negotiations, presentations and using social media. Written by two highly experienced legal English language tutors, both former legal professionals, it also features online support material that includes listening exercises to complement those based on writing and reading comprehension.”

Tip of the day: How to use ChatGPT to figure out if a text was written by ChatGPT

Post by Prof. Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

I had a thought about a week ago that perhaps the best way to check and see if a text written by a student was in fact written by ChatGPT or other AI. And it turns out there is a way to do it, but it’s not the way I thought it might work.

I had already tested ChatGPT by giving it the same final exam fact pattern/question I had given to my LLM students. And ChatGPT was able to provide a pretty decent response.

So next, I took that response and fed it back to ChatGPT asking it if ChatGPT had written this text. But ChatGPT responded by explaining that it has no memory, etc. So I figured that was the end of it.

However, I learned today from a commenter on LinkedIn that, as in law school, it’s really about asking the right questions. And in this case, the right questions is:

“Is this text AI-generated?”

This led to a very definite response that, yes, this text was indeed AI-generated. Problem solved!

Update: I learned after publishing this post that this is not exactly “problem solved.” A colleague at another law school shared that he followed a process similar to mine, but ChatGPT believe that the text was in fact written by a human. So the “tip” is far from foolproof.

But I wasn’t satisfied, so I asked it how it knew. And it very quickly and confidently listed off several factors:

“As an AI language model, I can recognize patterns and characteristics in text that are typical of machine-generated text. In this particular case, the text is characterized by a high level of technical language, a formal tone, and a logical structure that is typical of texts written by AI. In addition, the text does not contain any errors or irregularities that would be expected if it had been written by a human. All of these features suggest that the text was generated by AI.”

Wonderful! But wait a second….Lots of people, including most law students at Georgetown and other law schools, are trained to write with these very same characteristics. So I asked, “Can you be more specific?”

And it essentially listed the same characteristics, but this time in a numbered format which made it appear much more specific and persuasive. Even though it wasn’t.

So then I asked it specifically, “What kinds of differences might distinguish a text written by a highly skilled writer and a text generated by AI?” But it listed qualities that might distinguish a human’s writing from AI, such as style, creativity, context and human touch. As a representative of the human race, I guess I’ll take those as compliments. But it still doesn’t provide any concrete examples as to how it can distinguish between a highly-skilled human writer and an AI app like ChatGPT.

In other words, ChatGPT was essentially borrowing from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who famously said in his decision on obscenity, “I know it when I see it.” (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964))

Updates from Georgetown Legal English Faculty

Craig Hoffman

  • In November, Professor Hoffman traveled with Georgetown Law Dean William Treanor to visit Georgetown Law LLM alumni in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
  • During the Spring 2023 semester Prof. Hoffman will teach a law and linguistics course in which students will examine originalism from a linguistic perspective.
Prof. Hoffman with Abdulaziz Altuwarijri (Georgetown 2-Yr LLM), Dean of Prince Sultan University

Yi Song

  • Professor Song’s essay Lawyering While Chinese will be published in the book Fostering First Gen Success and Inclusion: A Guide for Law School by Carolina Academic Press forthcoming February 2023.

John Dundon

Julie Lake & Heather Weger

Prof. Lake and Prof. Weger have been invited to co-present at the following conferences:

Paula Klammer

Stephen Horowitz

  • Co-presented with Prof. Daniel Edelson (Seton Hall Law) to the NY Bar Association’s Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar (“NYCLEAB“) on the topic “Online education for foreign-educated LLM students” (Nov. 16, 2022)
  • Presented online webinar for Tashkent State University of Law on the topic “The Benefits of Extensive Reading & Listening in Studying Law in English”
  • Organized a “Legal English Book Club” discussion with guest Alissa Hartig, Professor of Linguistics at Portland State University, on her use of Jeffrey P. Kaplan’s book Linguistics and Law in her course on linguistics and law titled, You Have the Right to Remain Silent: Language and the Law. (Dec. 7, 2022)
  • Interviewed Georgetown Law professors of legal writing Eun Hee Han and Jonah Perlin for the Multilingual Lawyer series for the USLawEssentials Law & Language Podcast. The episode (to be published in January) focused on international students in legal writing courses.
  • Completed co-teaching (with Prof. Daniel Edelson, Seton Hall Law) a 10-week online legal English course titled “Reading US Cases” for Ukrainian graduate law students at Yuriy Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University. (The course was part of a larger initiative born by collaboration between USAID and the Global Legal Skills community through which a number of US law professors have been teaching courses, giving guest lectures, and supporting English language law publication for law schools in Ukraine.)

Legal English II: Final Case Assignment – Criminal Procedure

Happy April Fool’s Day!

As you hopefully now realize, there is no “Final Case Assignment” for the Legal English II class. This is all part of a semi-elaborate April Fool’s Day prank. 🙂

For readers not in my Legal English II class, here’s the email that was sent to my students today:

Hi everyone,

Our sincere apologies but there’s one additional Crim Pro case assignment we neglected to include in the syllabus and which needs to be completed before Monday.

Here’s a link to the:

1. Final case assignment instructions

2. Final case

Again, our apologies for the late notice.

Professor Horowitz

ps Have fun with it!

BONUS Part 1: My own greatest and worst April Fool’s Day prank was my senior year in college. I was taking a large-lecture European History class. And in addition to the weekly lecture, we also met once a week in small sections with a Teaching Assistant. For one assignment, we had to write a 3 to 5 page paper, and I realized it was due on April 1.

So after I finished writing my paper, I also wrote an alternative version of my paper. Except it was just 4 pages of the text “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeated over and over again. And if you’re not familiar with the horror movie The Shining, there’s a climactic scene where an author is going mad and his wife goes into his office and looks at all of the pages he’s been typing for weeks, and she realizes they all have that phrase over and over and over. Very chilling!

barbara on Twitter: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work  and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull

Anyway, back to the story, I went in to the history department office, found my Teaching Assistant’s in-box (amidst a wall of many Teaching Assistant in-boxes), and then put the alternative paper at the top of the pile and my real paper at the bottom.

The following week in our small section, I brought a couple extra copies of the real paper just in case anything went wrong. And it definitely did.

At the end of class, my Teaching Assistant approached me tentatively and said, “Um…Professor Hunt would like to meet with you.” I said, “Is this about the paper?” And he said, “Um…you better just go talk with Professor Hunt.”

I walked across campus to Professor Hunt’s office, and the Teaching Assistant followed behind me. I went into Professor Hunt’s office, and I asked, “Is this about the paper?” And she said, “Yes.” I said, “You know that’s from The Shining, right?” And she said, “Yes. That’s why everyone was worried. We had a big meeting about this and discussed whether this was a threat.”

I said, “It was meant to be an April Fool’s joke. I put my real paper in the TA’s in-box.” And I looked at my TA and he uncomfortably shook his head and replied, “I didn’t see it there.” And I thought, “Oh crap. This isn’t going well.”

I then pulled out one of my extra copies of the paper and said, “See, I really did write the paper. Here’s a copy!” And Professor Hunt replied, “Oh, you just happen to have a copy of the paper now?” And I thought, “This is really not going well.”

But somehow I was able to persuade her and the Teaching Assistant that I did not create this elaborate prank just to buy extra time to write the paper. I was a senior, I wasn’t worried about my grade, and I this was not a difficult paper to write. So there was no bigger agenda.

Finally they decided they could trust me and I walked out of the office and across campus picturing what the meeting and discussion with the professor and all the Teaching Assistants must have been like. I felt terrible. But then I also thought, “Well, at least they’ll always remember me!: 🙂

BONUS Part 2: One of the greatest April Fool’s Day jokes ever in American modern history was in 1985 when Sports Illustrated magazine published an article about an amazing baseball player named Sidd Finch who no one had really heard of but who could throw faster than any player ever had. This was pre-internet and most people didn’t realize for at least a week or two that it was an April Fool’s joke.

And the only real clue was in the sub-heading of the article–“He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga—and his future in baseball.” The first letter of each word in that sub-heading spells out: “Happy April Fool’s Day — a(h) fib.”

Sidd Finch: A pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. - Sports Illustrated
The immortal–and completely fictional–Sidd Finch.

EAP Essentials: “Should we teach grammar? Yes but no but!”

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law.

The below blog post from EAP Essentials–“Should we teach grammar? Yes but no but!” by Olwyn Alexander is a thoughtful and healthy reaction to the shift away from “teaching grammar,” which itself has been a reaction to the perceived flaws in the traditional ways of teaching grammar. However, there’s been a shift back towards the teaching of grammar–conditioned on the premise that it’s “done right”–as more thought and research has gone into better ways to help students acquire grammar. 

What the “right” or “best” way to teach grammar is is still up for debate. But overall there is a recognition that grammar is not sufficiently acquired just by exposure (e.g., Krashen and the “natural method”), particularly when it comes to academic English (or legal English for that matter.) Intentional effort and guidance is needed to help learners acquire the grammar they need to communicate effectively at the academic English level.

But from that starting point of recognition, there is still a wide divergence on understanding and belief as to what “done right” ultimately means. I definitely don’t have all the answers. But I do have a few beliefs on the topic:

1. Form should follow function: The grammar that is studied should hue as closely to the content being studied and the communicative needs associated with that content. In this regard, a field like legal English is ideal from a teaching perspective because we have ready-made content and communicative purposes. It’s just a matter of scaffolding the content and then mining it for the grammar needed.

2. Grammar Fluency: It’s not enough just to learn and practice an aspect of grammar. There need to be repeated, natural exposures. And ideally in the regular course of studying the content. It’s hard to contrive natural ways to encounter grammar structures. But it’s a lot easier if you start with the content, work backwards to identify the grammar needs associated with it, and then develop grammar focus and curriculum based on those materials. And that allows for repeated exposures. Additional thought on repeated exposures: One of the advantages kids have is that they like repetition. As evidence, I cite the number of times my kids have watched and sung the songs from “Frozen” and other Disney movies as well as the number of times children like to read the same book over and over. Adults, on the other hand, are prone to getting bored. And that’s significant because motivation is a significant component of language learning. So creativity is key in figuring out how to generate repeated exposures for adult learners.

3. Ear Training: I think this aspect of grammar learning is vastly underrepresented in discussions of how to teach grammar. Especially since so much of grammar comes down to having a sense of what “sounds right.”

As native speakers of English, not only do we spend very little time thinking about the rules of the grammar we use, for the most part we never thought about them when we learned the appropriate grammar. This is particularly true of articles, prepositions, and -s endings (e.g., 3rd person and plurals.)

These are grammar points that so many of our LLM students struggle with. And these also happen to be parts of speech that are harder to hear, especially if your ear is not used to hearing them. In other words, if you can train your ear to hear those sounds, then you’ll hear them more and you’ll develop a sense of what sounds right and start using them more accurately in your own speech and writing. 

There is of course much more to learning and teaching grammar than my above points. But Alexander’s blog post got me thinking about what drives much of my focus and decision-making in teaching grammar to my students, so I thought I would try to add to the conversation. Feel free to share your own thoughts. 

Here are the first few paragraphs of Alexander’s blog post from EAP Essentials along with a “Continue reading” link at the end.

Should we teach grammar? Yes but no but!

Students need grammar but they don’t need grammar classes.

Olwyn Alexander

I was asked recently by a head of pathways programmes at an international college whether we should teach grammar in EAP. This manager was under pressure from some teachers to introduce a more structured approach to teaching and testing grammar. Some years previously, prompted by feedback from an external moderator, they had developed a bespoke grammar workbook, which was ‘aligned with the topics taught in the course, [covering] the language features which are considered to be salient in scholarly English [and targeting] areas where students show weaknesses when it comes to academic writing’. The workbook covers language patterns, such as noun phrases, active and passive voice, conditionals and modal verbs. However, teachers on the programmes have a number of issues with the resource:

  1. There is little time to teach grammar in the course
  2. It feels artificial to teach grammar this way (grammar rules and explanations, followed by practice)
  3. It does not address all issues that students have when it comes to grammar
  4. It’s dry and students do not engage with it

Continue reading

Things I’m trying in our first-ever self-paced, asynchronous legal English course

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Online Legal English Programs at Georgetown Law.

Since I started my new position at Georgetown Law in January, 2020 (just a couple months before the COVID-19 pandemic descended upon us), my primary focus has been developing a self-paced, asynchronous online legal English course. It’s been an exciting learning and creative experience, and the course now happily exists!

It’s called OLE: Orientation to the U.S. Legal System (though we have also created another iteration with the perhaps more literally descriptive title OLE: U.S. Legal System – Core Concepts & Vocabulary), and though it felt like this day would never arrive, I’ve now actually begun teaching it. (Note: OLE = Online Legal English)

Of course, I’m not teaching in the traditional sense. I’m not in a classroom and I don’t even have any lesson plans. All of that is embedded into the self-paced, do-it-yourself course. The course is set up so that students essentially work through it on their own, with various activities due each day and a final graded writing assignment due at the end of each week. The only synchronous component is are one or two Zoom office hour sessions each week that provide a chance for students to ask questions and discuss anything they want, and for all of us to get to know each other better. It’s this sort of “flipped classroom” model in an online, asynchronous set-up that I’ve never done before. And that I think has not yet been done in the legal English world. (And by the way, if I’m wrong, please don’t hesitate to let me know.)

Continue reading “Things I’m trying in our first-ever self-paced, asynchronous legal English course”

Welcome to the Georgetown Legal English Blog!

Hi everyone! We started this blog to be able to:

  • Share who we are, what we do, and what we’ve been doing to help LL.M. and other learners learn more about law while improving their law-related English.
  • Connect and share ideas with others in the global community of those teaching legal English.

Stay tuned. There’s more to come. But while you’re waiting you can meet the Georgetown Legal English Faculty.

Georgetown Law Legal English Faculty

Professor Craig Hoffman

  • Director, Legal English Programs
  • Professor of U.S. Legal Discourse
  • JD, University of Texas
  • PhD, Linguistics, University of Connecticut
  • BA, William & Mary 

Professor Marta Baffy

  • Director, 2-Year LLM Program
  • Professor of Legal English
  • JD, Cardozo Law School
  • PhD, Applied Linguistics, Georgetown
  • Masters, Applied Linguistics, Columbia University
  • BA, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Classes:
  • Foreign Languages: Hungarian, French, Italian, Croatian

Professor Michelle Ueland

  • Director, Center for Legal English
  • Professor of Legal English
  • PhD, Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies, University of New Mexico
  • MA, Applied Linguistics, Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica
  • BA, English Literature and Women’s Studies, Minnesota State University
  • Classes: Advanced Scholarly Writing; Oral Communication in the Law; Foundations of Legal Writing (Two Year LLM) 
  • Foreign Languages: Spanish

Professor Stephen Horowitz

  • Director, Online Legal English Programs
  • Professor of Legal English
  • JD, Duke University School of Law
  • Masters in TESOL, CUNY-Hunter College
  • BA, University of Pennsylvania
  • Classes: Orientation to the U.S. Legal System
  • Foreign Languages: Japanese, Spanish, and a little bit of Chinese, Hebrew, and Portuguese
  • Connect with Prof. Horowitz on LinkedIn

Professor Mari Sakai

  • Professor of Legal English
  • PhD, Applied Linguistics, Georgetown
  • MAT, University of South Florida
  • BA, University of North Carolina
  • Classes:
  • Foreign Languages: Japanese

Professor Andrew Kerr

  • Professor of Legal English
  • SJD, Georgetown
  • JD, Columbia University
  • BA, Wesleyan University
  • Classes:
  • Foreign Languages: A little bit of Vietnamese

Professor Julie Lake

  • Director, JD Legal English Programming
  • Professor of Legal English
  • PhD, Applied Linguistics, Georgetown 
  • MS, Linguistics, Georgetown
  • BA, Oberlin College
  • Classes: 
  • Foreign Languages: German, French, Hebrew, and a little bit of Hindi

Professor Heather Weger

  • Professor of Legal English
  • PhD, Applied Linguistics, Georgetown
  • MAT, TESOL & Bilingual Education, Georgetown
  • MA, Adult & Higher Education, University of Oklahoma
  • BA, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Classes: Fundamentals of Legal Writing I & II
  • Foreign Languages: German, Spanish, and a little bit of French, Korean, and Japanese

Professor Almas Khan

  • Professor of Legal English
  • JD, University of Chicago
  • PhD, English, University of Virginia
  • MA, University of California Irvine
  • BA, Stanford
  • Classes:
  • Foreign Languages: Urdu and a little bit of French and Arabic

Professor Benjamin Cheng

  • Professor of Legal English
  • JD, University of Pennsylvania
  • AB, Harvard
  • Classes:
  • Foreign Languages: Chinese (Mandarin) and a little Japanese

Professor John Dundon

  • Professor of Legal English
  • JD, George Washington University
  • MA, Applied Linguistics, Columbia University
  • BA, University of Virginia
  • Classes:
  • Foreign Languages: French, Russian, Farsi, Tajik and Rushani