“Do you have any resources you recommend for international students trying to get their bearings in constitutional law?”

This great question was recently emailed by Prof. Eileen Pizzurro, Director of Academic Success & Bar Studies at Rutgers Law School to me and to Prof. Daniel Edelson (founder of USLawEssentials and Director of Academic Success at Seton Hall Law School.)

It gets at the challenge many law schools face in supporting international students–particularly those in JD programs as opposed to LLM programs–since those in JD programs need to take Constitutional Law with all the American JD students. And of all the 1L courses, Constitutional Law in the US has a particularly high degree of the kind of background and cultural knowledge that you absorb by growing up and going to school in the US.

And it’s frequently academic support faculty, legal writing faculty, and occasionally legal English faculty who find themselves needing to provide self-guided resources (because who has the time to teach a 1-on-1 Constitutional Law seminar?) to students thrown into the water and trying to learn to swim.

“Do you have any resources you recommend for international students trying to get their bearings in constitutional law?”

After hitting send on my email reply, I realized this should be a blog post so that other instructors out there have something they can easily refer students to when asked this question.

Below is my response. Though I’m happy to add more if others have suggestions:

1. USLawEssentials videos on the Constitution and Fundamentals of the US Legal System

Easily accessible (for free) on YouTube and created by Prof. Daniel Edelson (Director of Academic Success at Seton Hall Law and the founder of USLawEssentials), these often animated videos may be the quickest and easiest way for non-native English speaking lawyers/law students to start getting their head around the US Constitution and related topics in the US legal system.

In particular, there are playlists (i.e., multiple videos on a related topic) relate to Constitutional law on topics such as Constitution: The Federal Government and Important Freedoms (30 videos) and The Constitution: Tests for Constitutionality (18 videos). There are plenty of other helpful explainer videos Daniel has created that might be helpful. But those two playlists are good place to start and will give a learner plenty to do. Notably, Daniel has a great knack for communicating in a way that is intended specifically and very accessible for non-native English speakers.

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2. USLawEssentials self-guided online pre-LLM course

Daniel Edelson and I have created an online self-guided pre-LLM course program based on curriculum we’ve developed and taught in the past. It’s currently being provided on a pro bono basis to Afghan judges and lawyers in connection with the ABA Afghan Legal Professionals Scholarship & Mentoring Pilot Program. Certain course modules focus on the Constitution and fundamentals of the US legal system. (Others focus on Case Reading & Analysis; Fundamentals of Legal Writing; the US Civil Litigation System; and a Law & Language podcast-based study module.) The course has not yet been made generally available. But if anyone has interest–either as an individual or an organization–you can contact Daniel Edleson at daniel@uslawessentials.com.

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3. Georgetown Legal English Blog

The Legal English Resources page lists various books and podcasts, among other items, that may be helpful to learning about US Constitutional Law and related topics.

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4. Civics101 Podcast

An extensive series of podcast episodes, created by New Hampshire Public Radio, which are great explainers on a wide range of relevant topics.

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5. iCivics.org

An online gamified way to let US school students teach themselves about US government and constitution. Many (most?) schools in the US are using this to teach civics to their students. (My 10 year old daughter has been using it a lot lately.)

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6. Khan Academy

Khan Academy has a large library of lessons that might be helpful. I once went through all the offerings that seemed possibly relevant (there’s a lot!) and pulled out ones that might be helpful for my students. Then I organized them into a “course” on the Khan Academy website and titled the course “OLE: US Legal System-Core Concepts & Vocabulary (supp). A fair amount of the lessons I think were intended for AP History/Government students in US high schools. I haven’t used it in a while, but it still exists. So if you don’t feel like looking for all the lessons yourself, feel free to just join my course. Here’s the link for the OLE: US Legal System-Core Concepts & Vocabulary “course.”. And the join code for my “class” is VQ6XUCKW if you need it. 

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7. Street Law: Understanding Law and Legal Issues, Student Edition (Civics & Government) 

Intended for high school students as a practical guide to US law, government, and civics. But great for non-native English speaking lawyers and law students because it is rich in law-related vocabulary and US legal system concepts, it’s easier to read than a law school textbook, and it has a great glossary in the back of the book.

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Do you have ideas and suggestions for other materials that should be included here?Maybe something that has been been helpful to you or someone else you know?

Just email stephen.horowitz@georgetown.edu and let me know. I’m happy to add more to this post. Thanks!

The (mis-)use of “Besides,…..”

Post by Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

I have nothing personal against the conjunctive adverbBesides,….”

However, I’ve frequently noticed that “Besides,…..” is used by some foreign-trained LLM students in lieu of connecting phrases such as “Additionally,….” or “Furthermore,…..” And the students don’t realize that “Besides” has a different feeling and nuance, and is not an equal substitute for other connecting words used to signal that the sentence is adding information related to the previous sentence.

For example:

(Ex. 1) “The US Constitution granted the federal government with certain enumerated powers, while the state governments were granted residual powers. Besides, the federal government and the state governments share some common powers as well.”

(Ex. 2) “In this case, Jason was in his home with two officers sitting across from him at the kitchen table, and the officers’ car’s police lights were flashing for all to see. Besides, Jason’s mother was marking making breakfast in kitchen, which means his mother leave left Jason alone to talk with the officers.”

As a result, I find myself frequently providing corrective written feedback along the following lines:

“Besides,….” is not the connecting word you should use here. A better word would be “Additionally,…” or “Furthermore,…..”

Although we do use “besides” to communicate to the reader that we are adding more information, “besides” also feels less neutral and more informal than a word like “additionally.” It feels kind of pushy, like trying to persuade the other person by appealing to the their sense of personal connection to you.

For example, “Come on, let’s go see the movie tonight. It’s Friday night and you’re assignment isn’t due for a week. Besides, all of our friends are going to be there.”

In the above sentence, “Besides” works well in communicating the intent to persuade. It’s appropriate between friends when one friend is trying to push the other friend into changing their mind. But this informal, pushy feeling undermines your credibility in legal writing when your intention is just to add more information, e.g., one more reason or example, and let the example itself help with the persuading.

In other words, “besides” is saying more to your reader than you probably intend to say. For these reasons, I suggest using “Additionally” or “Furthermore” (among other options) as a connecting phrase in your legal writing rather than using “Besides,….”

I find myself writing this kind of comment so frequently, in fact, that I finally decided it would be more time effective to just write a blog post about it so that I can always share with my students in the future. Besides Additionally, now other legal English and legal writing instructors can use this as well, if it helps make their work a little easier.

In the meantime, if anyone ever figures out what English language textbook or publisher keeps teaching “besides” as an exact synonym for “additionally,” please let me know so I can lead an effort to try and address the problem at the source.

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Bonus: This language (mis-)use example reminds me of when I taught English in a middle school in Japan years ago. From my well-meaning supervisors I would occasionally hear statements like, “You had better sit down now.” Or, “You had better eat the food now.” Each time I wondered why they were threatening me, even though a threat seemed unnecessary in the situation. But then I realized their English classes must have taught them that the phrase “(you) had better” is a synonym for “should.” And it is. Sometimes. But sometimes it can also sound like an organized crime family member making a veiled threat. Thereafter, I told myself, “You had better get to the source of that misinformation before leaving Japan.” But alas, I never did.

Oh well, in both instances it could be a lot worse. Besides, at least it gives me something fun to write about!

Dissents, LLM students and learning to read cases

Post by Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

One of the challenges for many foreign-trained LLM students studying at a US law school, especially if they come from a civil law legal culture rather than a common law legal culture, is getting their brains to buy into the notion that the words and language and arguments that they read in a court opinion have weight. That statutes and statutory language is not the final say in a legal argument, but actually just a first step followed by a search for and review of case law that interprets various parts of a statute.

Click to see the full article.

A subsequent and related challenge for many foreign-trained LLM students (as well as for US-trained JD students) is then training their brains to also understand that, even though what a judge writes in a court opinion may constitute law (at the time and in the jurisdiction of that particular case), it is not infallible and may have major flaws in its arguments. And this is even more so in law school in the US where the goal of study is often not just about determining what the law is, but thinking about what it could or should be. And training one’s brain to analyze arguments in order to be able to construct effective arguments in the future.

In that vein, I recently came across an article about the role of dissenting opinions that may be helpful for foreign-trained LLM students trying to wrap their brain around the US common law legal system. (Or legal English professors trying to help them get there.) Because from the perspective of one trained in a civil law legal system, a dissenting opinion may seem rather extraneous.

Prof. Sherri Lee Keene, Georgetown Law

The article, “Teaching Dissents” (Minnesota Law Review, July 7, 2023) by Prof. Sherri Lee Keene of Georgetown Law, is intended to help law students better understand the significance of dissenting opinions.

The abstract of Prof. Keene’s article notes that, “Court opinions are often written to sound authoritative and sure, making legal decisions seem purely logical and channeling a tone of inevitability…… In contrast to the voice of the majority, which often seeks to draw attention away from conflicts, dissents can show where choices were made in the decision-making process, and where others could have been made.”

Prof. Keene highlights the notion that teaching and studying dissenting opinions is a great way for students to learn to be critical readers and “identify spaces where they can challenge existing precedent and advocate for positive change.”

And from a legal English perspective, I appreciate that Prof. Keene has provided those of us who work with foreign-trained LLM students a very useful tool for helping our students to more deeply understand and get comfortable with the concept the US common law legal system and its culture.

Below is the full abstract and a link to the article:

Continue reading “Dissents, LLM students and learning to read cases”

“How to publish an academic article in the US?” by Sebastian Luengo-Troncoso


Post by Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

A great post (and new blog/website) by Sebastian Luengo-Troncoso, a Chilean lawyer and currently a doctoral (S.J.D.) candidate at Georgetown Law titled, “How to Publish an Academic Article in the US?

Sebastian, who has an Environmental and Energy Law LLM from Georgetown and previously worked for the Chilean Ministry of the Environment, asks on behalf of many international LLM students past, present, and future, “What are the essential things to consider when publishing a law academic article in the US?” And then proceeds to answer the question in very helpful ways.

As a member of The Center for Legal English at Georgetown Law, I teach our yearly workshop to graduate students entitled “From a Seminar Paper to a Publication.” Here are some key takeaways to consider:

Click here to read the full post.

New idea: ChatGPT and LLM interview language prep

Post by Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

“I give too much unnecessary detail when I talk about the work I’ve done.”

That was the complaint and concern of an LLM graduate who recently sought my legal English advice. He’s in the process of applying to jobs, but some native English speaking friends had told him that he doesn’t come across terribly well when he describes his past work experience.

How do you help a non-native English speaking LLM post-graduate in this situation? Is it a language issue? Or some other type of issue?

It’s probably at least in part a language issue, although when I spoke with this student, his spoken English was fairly strong. But it also may be a cultural discourse issue and perhaps even a function of the student’s own personal style as well.

Regardless, the challenge is the same: The student needs to figure out a strategy to absorb and internalize the language and discourse style of the professional community he’s trying to join. I like to think of it as learning to code switch.

My suggested solution to the student: Find examples of the kind of language you want to be able to produce. In this case, the student was looking for jobs in the field of tax law. So that meant finding recorded examples of people talking about their work as tax lawyers, ideally with a transcript or subtitles. YouTube is the obvious place to look, and videos do exist of tax lawyers talking about their work. Though it’s more about giving advice and explaining their job to people who know less about tax law than they do, which is a little bit different than an interview situation, where you’re likely talking to people who have more knowledge and expertise than you do. Interviewers also typically occupy a higher relative status than the interviewee in the context of the interview, and so the interviewee’s ideal language also likely factors in register, i.e., level of formality.

Continue reading “New idea: ChatGPT and LLM interview language prep”

“The Language of Analogy” with Tashkent State University of Law

Post by Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

I want to thank Senior Teacher Munisa Mirgiyazova and her colleagues and students at Tashkent State University of Law for inviting me again to present via Zoom to their law students yesterday. (I presented last December on the topic of the benefits of extensive reading and listening.) This May 11 presentation was titled The Language of Analogy.” (link to Google Slides), and I greatly enjoyed the questions and discussion and look forward to future collaborations with TSUL.

The presentation discussed the role of analogy in US legal writing and argumentation within the US common law legal system. And then it focused on the language patterns and parts of language used in 1) comparison and contrast, and 2) categorization.

Continue reading ““The Language of Analogy” with Tashkent State University of Law”

How do LLM students improve their legal English?

Post by Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

I’m an experienced legal English teacher. Or at least I think I am. But how much do I really know about how LLM students (and other foreign-trained lawyers and law students) learn and improve their legal English? Probably not as much as the students and lawyers themselves.

This post is to try and help gather information directly from real learners about what has helped them learn and improve their legal English.

Questions

For any current, former or future LLM students and/or for any foreign-trained lawyer or law student who has ever tried to improve their legal English

1. What kinds of things have been most helpful to you in improving your legal English? For example, what strategies or tricks or adjustments or approaches? Our courses? Or books or podcasts? Or anything else in particular that you’d like to mention?

2. What, if anything, has not been helpful?

3. Of the helpful things, did they help more with the “legal” or more with the “English”?

4. What advice or suggestions or recommendations would you make for others trying to improve their legal English?

Please post your responses in the comments below. Or, if you prefer, you’re welcome to email your thoughts to me at sh1643@georgetown.edu and I can post them anonymously for you.

Video: “Some new-ish thoughts on post-pandemic Online Legal English (OLE)”

Post by Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

Following up on the recent post “Georgetown Legal English at the 2023 ILEAC Annual Conference,” here is a link to the video of the presentation by Daniel Edelson and me on the topic “Some new-ish thoughts on post-pandemic Online Legal English (OLE.)” In it, we shared some examples of OLE models and content from the Georgetown Online Legal English course as well as from the St. John’s Law OLE course and the USLawEssentials’ OLE courses.

Video Links

Below are three different links to the same video (so you have multiple options in case one doesn’t work for some reason.)

Presentation Summary

Continue reading “Video: “Some new-ish thoughts on post-pandemic Online Legal English (OLE)””

Article: Using ChatGPT in legal writing

Post by Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

Prof. Joe Regalia

Joe Regalia, Associate Professor of Law at the William S. Boyd School of Law at University of Nevada Las Vegas, recently shared on the Legal Writing Institute listserv that he’s been working on a chapter of a book that he will be publishing with Aspen Publishing later this year—tentatively called Leveling Up Your Legal Writing: Techniques and Technology to Create Amazing Documents.

The chapter–still in draft form–aims to be a practical guide for using ChatGPT in legal writing and can be viewed at this link for free in PDF format:

https://ssrn.com/abstract=4371460

Joe noted that even though he hasn’t even added sources yet to the draft chapter, he wanted to share in case any of the ideas are helpful to folks exploring using GPT in their classes.

Continue reading “Article: Using ChatGPT in legal writing”

Analyzing ChatGPT’s ability as a grammar fixer


Post by Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

I recently tried a simple yet potentially helpful ChatGPT activity with my LLM students to (a) build individual grammar awareness, (b) build a better understanding of the benefits and limitations of using ChatGPT to fix one’s grammar, and (c) gain a better understanding of what happens grammatically when ChatGPT is asked to fix grammar.

The Process:

  1. As part of the Legal English II course (which teaches US case reading and analysis via a series of Supreme Court decisions about Miranda rights to students in Georgetown Law’s 2-Year LLM program), my students were required to write an essentially IRAC-style answer in response to a fact pattern under timed conditions.
  2. Afterwards, as an assignment, I asked my students to input their essay into ChatGPT with the instruction to “Please fix any language issues in this essay:
  3. Students then had to compare the two versions of their essay and write a short analysis or commentary on what they noticed, what ChatGPT did/didn’t do well, how they felt about it, etc. I told students to either put the two versions in a table so they could compare the language side by side, or they could do a use the redline/track changes function to show the differences.
  4. I next reviewed the students’ submissions myself. And I then invited two Georgetown Legal English colleagues with PhDs in applied linguistics–Prof. Julie Lake and Prof. Heather Weger–to review the student submissions and then have a group discussion about what we noticed.
  5. Upon additional consideration (and inspired by a suggestion from Jack Kenigsberg, a former Hunter MA TESOL classmate), I took one paragraph from one student’s essay and fed it into ChatGPT with the instruction: “Fix any grammar errors in the quoted text. For each change you make, explain why you made the change.” And after it provided its answer, I clicked “Regenerate response” to create a second response to see what (if anything) came out different a second time.

The Takeaways:

The main takeaways by my students, my colleagues and myself were:

Continue reading “Analyzing ChatGPT’s ability as a grammar fixer”
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