Helping international JD students improve their background knowledge of US history, legal system, etc.

Post by Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

On the Academic Support Professionals listserv the other day, a great question popped up:

“Can anyone recommend resources for international JD students looking to improve their baseline knowledge of the US legal/political systems and/or US history? A faculty member teaching [course name] is looking for recommendations for a student who attended high school and college outside of the US. The faculty member believes this student would benefit from resources that explain the US government at a more basic level than what is covered in the course. Thanks in advance for any resources or leads!”

I really appreciated this question for a few reasons:

  • (1) International JD students (i.e., students who didn’t grow up in the US education system) are a growing segment of the law school community, yet they generally don’t get the same level of legal English support that international LLM students may receive. Plus their needs are often different from both regular JD students and international LLM students.
  • (2) Background and cultural knowledge is such a significant component of comprehension in US law school, yet it’s difficult to acquire if you didn’t grow up with it. And if you did grow up in the US, it’s hard to notice or be aware of the challenges of functioning effectively in US law school without it (or with less of it.)

I’ve been keeping my eyes open for years for resources that can help international LLM students with this, and that’s part of the reason I created the Legal English Resources page on this blog.

But until I saw the question above, I’d never organized my thoughts specifically with international JD students in mind. Yet the answers poured forth quickly and enthusiastically in my email response to the listserv. And so I figured this information might be helpful for others as well.

One of the key qualities of these resources, by the way, is that they generally don’t require much extra work on the part of the professor or student advisor. You can pretty much hand any of these off to students and let them run with it. Or, if they require a little preparation, once you’ve done it once, you don’t have to think about it again after that.

Resources to help International JD students learn important background information about US history, the US political system, and the US legal system.

1. Civics101 Podcast (produced by New Hampshire public radio) – lots of short episodes on a wide range of topics. In their own words, “What’s the difference between the House and the Senate? How do landmark Supreme Court decisions affect our lives? What does the 2nd Amendment really say? Civics 101 is the podcast about how our democracy works…or is supposed to work, anyway.”

2. Street Law: A Course in Practical Law textbook – used primarily for high school students, but great for international students too. Plus a glossary in the back! I’ve used parts of the book with LLM students in the past and also pointed a colleague to it who used several chapters to develop an entire legal English criminal law course for international LLM students.

3. iCivics – an online ed company that creates materials to teach civics to US students. I haven’t had occasion to use any of their materials yet, but an intriguing option worth checking out. Here’s a description of who they are in their own words: “iCivics champions equitable, non-partisan civic education so that the practice of democracy is learned by each new generation. We work to inspire life-long civic engagement by providing high quality and engaging civics resources to teachers and students across our nation.”

4. Newsela.com – It’s a huge extensive reading library of real news and other articles written at 5 different levels of difficulty (or ease.) And it’s accessible for free with registration. While most of it is news articles, there’s also a whole section on civics/US history and a number of articles that might be helpful. For example, I remember they have the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, Brown v Board & Plessy v Ferguson all written and re-written at 5 different levels of difficulty. Also profiles of famous Americans including some presidents, Supreme Court justices, civil rights leaders, etc. But you have to sift through to find some of this stuff. Also, they may have put a paywall up on some of the materials other than the news articles since I last used it.

5. Khan Academy has a slew of video lessons on history and civics. The key is narrowing it down. During the pandemic, I created a Khan Academy “course” for Georgetown LLM students to use by just adding the units and lessons that seemed relevant and told students to register and use it if they want to learn more beyond my actual class with them. In total, I found about 35 different lessons/items that felt relevant and appropriate to include in my “class.” There’s a screenshot below to give you a sense of some of the topics. But feel free to contact me directly if you want to know which ones they are so you can create your own class. Happy to share.

6. The Scrambled States of America (the game)

This game is based on a clever children’s book of the same name. My kids (5, 7 and 11 at the time) got into it during the pandemic, and in addition to being super fun and super easy, within a few weeks they had all absorbed every state, state capital, and state nickname in addition to having a sense of where the states are located. I’ve learned over the years that my international students often have little sense of US geography outside of New York and Los Angeles. US geography is important background knowledge to have in US law school as it often provides vital context. Yet US geography is rarely ever taught to international law students. And when it is, it’s hard to do as effectively as this game does. Let international JD students spend a couple hours playing this and they’ll be all set with their geography. And you’ll have a great time if you play with them!

7. Legal English Resources page on the Georgetown Legal English Blog: In addition to all the items listed above, there are many more on the Legal English Resources page. So I encourage you to take a look. Maybe you’ll find something else there that fits the needs of your students. (Or maybe you’ll have a suggestion for a helpful resource that I didn’t know about!)

Christmas movie legal analysis!

Post by Prof. Stephen Horowitz, Professor of Legal English

This fun video titled “Wet Bandits v. McCallister? Law Professor Prosecutes the Case Against Home Alone’s Kevin McCallister” was originally published on the Georgetown Law School website’s News page on December 20, 2022.

In it, Georgetown Law’s Jonah Perlin (associate professor of law, legal practice and creator of the HowILawyer podcast) re-examines the classic Christmas comedy Home Alone (starring Macaulay Culkin) and delves into what legal case the house robbers Marv and Harry might have against their 8-year-old foe, who goes to very creative lengths to foil their robbery attempts.

A fun way to work on one’s legal English over the holiday break, especially since the video has captions and Jonah provides very clear yet simple explanations!

Thank you to Tashkent State University of Law!

I want to take a moment to thank Senior Teacher Munisa Mirgiyazova and her colleagues and students at Tashkent State University of Law for inviting me to give an online webinar earlier this week on “The Benefits of Extensive Reading and Listening in Studying Law in English.” I greatly enjoyed the discussion and getting to meet everyone, and I look forward to future collaborations.

Reflecting on the presentation afterwards, I also realized that the collaborative opportunity came about because I posted something on LinkedIn (a new podcast episode maybe? I can’t remember now.) And Munisa saw it and sent me a LinkedIn connection request. I accepted and asked her how teaching was going in Tashkent. She replied and asked me how my teaching was going at Georgetown Law, and the subsequent conversation led to a discussion of ways to collaborate. A reminder that it’s often a good idea to leave conversational doors open and ask people about themselves.

I plan to share a recorded version of the presentation on this site after I make some edits to the original presentation and create the recording. Stay tuned!

Here’s the flyer for the event created by Tashkent State University of Law:

New sections in the Legal English Resources Page: Vocabulary Resources and Legal English Articles!

Post by Prof. Stephen Horowitz, Legal English Lecturer

I recently added two new sections to the Legal English Resources page: 1) Vocabulary Resources and 2) Legal English Articles. See below.

Continue reading “New sections in the Legal English Resources Page: Vocabulary Resources and Legal English Articles!”

Johnny Depp and bar prep on the USLawEssentials Law & Language podcast


Post by Prof. Stephen Horowitz, Legal English Lecturer

Just sharing a few potentially interesting, engaging and short(!) legal English podcast episodes from the USLawEssentials Law & Language podcast, for which I’m a co-host.

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp & Amber Heard

If you’ve been paying attention to the news at all over the past month, then you’ve probably heard about the celebrity defamation trial between Johnny Depp and his former wife Amber Heard.

The USLawEssentials Law & Language podcast has not been covering every minute of the trial. But it does have two episodes to help foreign-educated attorneys and law students better understand the legal English concepts of “hearsay” and “forum shopping.”

And bar prep

The USLawEssentials Law & Language podcast also recently launched the first episode on a continuing series of short episodes focused on exam-tested topics. And the first episode is on sources of contract law.

So if you want to get a head start on the legal English of bar exam preparation, this episode and future episodes will be helpful and relatively painless ways to improve your legal English vocabulary and fluency that will benefit you down the road.

The USLawEssentials Law & Language Podcast is available on Apple, Spotify, Sticher, Himalaya, Overcast, and anywhere else you get your podcasts.

LLMs and JD students: Creating opportunities for interaction

Post by Prof. Stephen Horowitz, Legal English Lecturer

Question: Aside from class integration and language partners, have you done any programs at your respective schools that have been particularly effective at bringing these groups together?

I recently saw the above question (on a listserv for LLM program administrators) about ways to foster connections between LLM students and JD students, as this type of integration is something greatly appreciated by LLM students and can make a program more appealing and provide a richer and fuller experience for LLM students.

For JD students, on the other hand, this is not necessarily something many of them are seeking as they often have their own priorities and pressure-filled law school lives. So how do you flush out the JD students who might be interested in connecting with LLM students? Or create opportunities for connection and interaction that are genuinely engaging and don’t feel forced?

Here are some previous ideas and experiences I shared for building LLM-JD connections and interaction that are a little outside the usual ideas and which I thought may be helpful or inspire new ideas:

Continue reading “LLMs and JD students: Creating opportunities for interaction”

Legal English accessibility in China

Internet in China: Prices and Providers for Your House and Cellphone

I just learned yesterday (thanks to my friend Eileen who is based in Shanghai) that this Georgetown Legal English blog is not accessible in China (at least not without a VPN.) I think it might be that fact that the URL is .domains and not .com or .org. But I really don’t know.

If anyone is aware of any way to view this site in China (aside from using a VPN), please don’t hesitate to get in touch at sh1643@georgetown.edu.

I also learned that the USLawEssentials Law & Language podcast and website, which is listed on the Legal English Resources page of this blog, is not accessible in China (at least not without a VPN) via the main website or via the Apple podcast app. However, I did figure out that the podcast episodes can be accessed in China via two other podcast platform links: this link or this link.

If anyone becomes aware of any other links on the Legal English Resources page that don’t work in China–along with any alternative links that do work–please don’t hesitate to let me know at sh1643@georgetown.edu or in the comment section below.

I’m aware, of course, that anything Google/YouTube among other sources will not be accessible. But after the big players, I’m much less clear on what is and isn’t accessible.

Wow! Over 500 views in the last 24 hrs

Since the posting of the Legal English Resources page, the Georgetown Legal English Blog has had over 500 views and almost 300 visitors. Wow, I figured it would be a helpful resource. But I didn’t realize there would be this much interest in it. Maybe everyone ran out of Netflix shows to watch?

Now I’m really curious to know more about all these people are who are so interested in legal English. From the WordPress stats I can see geographically where visitors are from. But of course it doesn’t say anything about why visitors are interested or what is viewed as helpful or interesting about the page.

It also got me thinking–these are legal English resources I consider helpful from my narrow perspective as a US-based, English-speaking law school teacher of primarily international students. But if you’re a student or learner coming from other countries:

What resources or strategies for learning legal English are popular or particularly helpful for you?

I realized that’s a big blind spot on the Legal English Resources page. So any input or suggestions from learners of legal English are extremely welcome.

As always, you can post in the comments below or email me at sh1643@georgetown.edu. You’re also welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn and/or WeChat (@stevenwaseda) and message me there.

Legal English Resources for All

What is arbitration? - YouTube

Here is a link to the Legal English Resources page I recently created on the Georgetown Legal English Blog. (You can also get to it by clicking on the Legal English Resources tab at the top of the page on this site.)

I’d been gathering resources in a Google Doc and sharing it that way. But I finally got around to actually putting it onto a more easily accessible web page.

Hope it’s helpful!

Pronouncing Dictionary of the Supreme Court of the United States

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

How do you pronounce the names in Supreme Court cases like D’Oench, Duhme & Co. v. FDIC, The Ship Virgin v. Vyfhuis, or Ylst v. Nunnemaker?

Well, thanks to a diligent group of Yale Law students, there now exists the Pronouncing Dictionary of United States Supreme Court cases.

According to the website, “The purpose of the Pronouncing Dictionary of United States Supreme Court cases is to help conscientious lawyers, judges, teachers, students, and journalists correctly pronounce often-perplexing case names.”

For each case, there are two or three phoneticized spellings to help with pronunciation. Plus, if you click on the phoneticized pronunciation, you get an audio clip of the tricky name being pronounced.

Now if they could just teach us how to pronounce certiorari. 😉

https://documents.law.yale.edu/pronouncing-dictionary

Special thanks to Kirsten Schaetzel, English Language Specialist at Emory Law School, for bringing this great resource to my attention.

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