Where teachers meet and learn

The Legal English Manual

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 32 No. 1 Winter 2014

Alison Wiebalck, Clemens von Zedwitz, Richard Norman, and Kathrin Weston Walsh

Hebling Lichtenhahn Verlag, Verlag C.H. Bech oHG, MANZ’sche Verlags- und Universitätsbuchhandlung GmbH in cooperation with Lawbility AG (2013)

ISBN 978-3-7190-3423-8

179 pages, paperback

ETAS’s very own valued member and former ESP SIG Coordinator, Alison Wiebalck, has been at it again. This time she has outdone herself by co-writing an ESP title specifically targeted to Legal English in the Swiss market. So, be a pal, and do her and yourself a favour and order this book as soon as possible. Even if you don’t teach Legal English, you can learn a lot from the practical Legal English information and phrases. Who knows, you might find yourself involved in a legal dispute or asked to offer some legal advice, in which case, you will be sufficiently armed with this new book.

The Legal English Manual (LEM) was written to fill a market gap: to provide practical, hands-on tips and phrases Swiss lawyers might need when dealing with English-speaking clients. It is not a coursebook, but I use it in each and every Legal English class that I teach. Having taught with Alison and all three of her co-writers, I can vouch for the legally sound information they provide in the LEM. The authors are all lawyers and Legal English teachers with decades of collective experience teaching Legal English. They, like most of us Legal English teachers, have been teaching primarily using other coursebooks. Those resources, like all other coursebooks on the market, clearly miss the practical mark. The LEM serves therefore two purposes: as a supplement to a Legal English textbook, and as a handy guide to be kept in legal firms throughout Switzerland.

The LEM begins with four pages on How to use this book.  Take a few minutes to read through those suggestions, as they are worthy of your time. There are substantial sections in the manual on Legal Terminology and Legal Practice. Legal Terminology covers 14 specific areas of law including criminal law and civil procedure, which most Legal English textbooks ignore. Legal Practice offers legal writing and oral communication templates and set phrases, including formal and informal register, the layout of documents, etc. Surprisingly, in contrast to other dry Legal English resources, there are cartoons in the oral communication section.

The entire manual has many US vs UK explanations and compares those two to the Swiss standard where applicable. For instance, in the Company/Corporate Law chapter, the authors point out that in Switzerland both a corporation and a limited liability company (LLC) can be established with limited liability under certain conditions. The book is additionally compact, colourful, well laid out, easy to use, and offers ample note taking areas. The target students are B2+ or IELTS 5.0+, according to my assessment of the material.

The book ends with Alison’s famous and beautifully written Plain English guide. If you are teaching any ESP courses, you will find these pages useful. They walk the reader through the development of Legal English and promote the KISS (‘Keep it simple, stupid’) and plain English movement within Legal English. If you are teaching a class on Monday and don’t know what to do, read that to your students, have them take notes, and discuss. Voilà!

If any of you want to have practical ideas as to how to use this manual in your Legal English teaching, just send me an email (amydjost@gmail.com) and I’d be happy to share with you how I’ve used it. My sincere thanks go out to Alison and her co-authors for breathing life back into my at times dull Legal English lessons. Happy teaching!

Amy Jost