Monday, 5 October 2009

Teacher, Student, Learner or Client?

I’m uncomfortable with the pairing ‘teacher – student’. It implies a vertical relationship and such an understanding, in my view at least, can be counterproductive.

In the context of my classes (all with practising lawyers) I’m much more at home with the term ‘client’ than ‘learner’ or ‘student’ because ‘client’ concentrates my mind on certain aspects of our relationship:

a - a client is an equal
- as a service provider, I answer to my clients; if I don’t do a good job, I’ll lose the contract
- a good adviser (which a teacher is - especially an ESP teacher) works together with his/her clients to establish clear goals and expectations

I hesitate to ask you for your thoughts on what I can call myself…

Anonymous law firm

Visit for an excellent spoof of law firm websites.

If you teach practising lawyers (especially senior ones, who deal with marketing issues or at least need to have an awareness of them), they’ll see the funny side, as well as recognizing the language as useful.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Plain English in the legal profession

Lawyers should deliver their advice in plain English. That’s a view which is gaining ground not only among users of legal services but among lawyers themselves.

But it’s by no means a consensus across the legal profession. In jurisdictions where the legal culture is much closer to academia than to business, there’s real resistance to the idea of writing plainly.

To lawyers with a more academic approach (not unknown in Poland, where I work, for instance) use of plain language in the mother tongue is taken as a sign of a lack of intellectual sophistication or even skill as a lawyer. This attitude inevitably spills over into these lawyers' use of and attitudes to English.

My learners often ask, ‘Isn’t there a more sophisticated way of saying this?’ Sometimes there is, but often the answer is ‘Does there need to be?’

At this point it is helpful to distinguish between language learnt to extend range and improve comprehension and language that we suggest our learners use in practice.

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