So you want to study legal English?
Great news! But, choosing a legal English coursebook that is suitable for you and that meets your needs as a learner can be difficult. In this post, I’m going to highlight some questions you should ask yourself to help you choose which legal English coursebook will best suit you. Once you answer these questions, you’ll be in a better position to choose the coursebook(s) you need, and hopefully save you some time and money in not making the wrong choices.
If you already know what kind of legal English coursebook you need, in this post: What are the best legal English books to develop your writing or vocabulary? [link coming soon], I’ll review some legal English coursebooks which will give you more help in choosing the best legal English coursebook for you.
Questions to ask yourself to choose the best legal English coursebook for you.
To choose the best legal English coursebook, you’ll need to ask yourself the following questions.
- Do I want to self-study, take part in a course, or work individually with a legal English teacher?
- Do I want to learn legal English as a non-native student, or as a native wanting to study law? How good is my English?
- What skillset do I want to improve – my vocabulary and grammar, my writing, my soft skills (or other wider business-related skill sets)
- Do I want feedback? Do I want yes/no feedback, do I want detailed feedback, do I want feedback at all i.e. do I just want to read about a topic and not practice that skill set.
Let’s have a look at these questions in more detail.
Do I want to self-study, take part in a course or work individually with a legal English teacher?
This might not be the first question you would expect to answer, but it is important. Here, I’m asking you to think about how you want to learn. If you:
- are not very good at self-studying,
- lack the discipline to study regularly, or
- need feedback from a teacher,
then a legal English language course, or working with a legal English teacher would be a good solution. Also, if you’re going to take part in a course or work with a teacher, the coursebook or teaching materials will (more than likely) be given to you, so you won’t need to look further for coursebooks.
The question then becomes ‘which course or teacher would be best for me?’. Re: courses, the main problem here is that the choice of legal English courses is a lot smaller – it might be the case that in your area, there isn’t one. You would also have to be sure that the person teaching legal English actually knows the subject. Also, most legal English courses are essentially vocabulary courses; there are very few legal English writing courses due to the specialist nature of teaching English legal writing (of course, you’re welcome to try my online courses).
Re: teachers, there are more legal English teachers, and now that online teaching is more popular, you’ve got a lot more choice about who you can work with. The questions you have to ask a prospective legal English teacher could be: questions of experience/background, previous success in teaching the ILEC (when it was available)/TOLES exams, materials they use, price, availability, manner of feedback, and even tech they use i.e. google docs, OBS, etc.
However, if you are comfortable with the idea of self-studying (or you have no choice), then please go onto the next question.
Do I want to learn legal English as a native or non-native speaker?
> As a native
If you are looking for a legal English book for natives, there is plenty of choice. However, these legal English books will be area-specific and will not think about you as a learner of legal English. Rather, the coursebook will assume that you are studying for a particular area of law or particular exam, and the book will be written for native speakers.
Given that the legal English in coursebooks can be really difficult to read (high-level English and legal English vocabulary), if you are not C1 or above, this will be a challenge for you. You won’t see many definitions, but you’ll see a discussion of that particular area of law. In short, unless you have a very good basic understanding of law, English, and legal English vocabulary, these books might not be suitable for you.
Also, here I can’t recommend a particular book as there are so many titles for each area of law.
> As a non-native
For non-natives, legal English coursebooks are written specifically for English-language learners. These coursebooks will deal with legal English language basics like vocab and grammar at various levels (intermediate-advanced). However, these books do not offer in-depth analysis into particular areas of law, but will cover a wide range of legal areas or the most popular areas of law.
> The exception – both as a native and non-native
The one exception here are coursebooks that aim to improve your legal English writing skills. These can benefit both natives and non-natives, but please remember that the intended audience for these books are natives. Saying that, due to the topics of these coursebooks – vocab, sentence structure, and grammar i.e. a discussion based on language issues, these coursebooks are also suited to higher-level non-native speakers of English.
How good is my English?
As much as you can, please try to take an objective assessment of your English skills. There is little point in getting a legal English coursebook for advanced learners if you are intermediate. You’ll quickly lose interest and give up (maybe time to think about a legal English course?). However, saying that, there are very few legal English coursebooks at elementary or intermediate levels.
Generally speaking, you will need to have B2 or C1 English skills to study legal English (most language schools will require C1). In conclusion, if you have intermediate language skills, it would be better to invest in improving your general English skills before coming back to legal English.
In my review of legal English coursebooks, I do my best to identify which coursebook would be better for elementary or intermediate learners. But please understand there aren’t many coursebooks at these levels.
What skillset do I want to improve?
Answer this wrongly, and you’ll waste money on a coursebook that won’t help you. You will need to be honest about what your end goals are.
Are your end goals to improve your:
A legal English vocabulary book will help you to learn more vocabulary. It is a bad idea to buy a legal English vocabulary book to improve your English writing skills. So, if your goal is to improve legal English vocabulary, buy one of those books.
There is no such thing as ‘legal English’ grammar. There is just English grammar and how it is used in legal writing or communication – just as there is English grammar within a business context. You will use the same grammar with different vocabulary in many different Englishes. Therefore, if your aim is to improve your grammar skills, buy a good grammar book (or use the many resources on the internet).
There are some legal English coursebooks that cover both vocabulary and grammar, so if you’re interested in improving these two areas at the same time, it is possible.
> legal English writing?
I’m sure you are getting the general gist now – there are specific legal English coursebooks that look at how you can improve your legal English writing. Nearly all of these writing skills will help you with all forms of written English – business, engineering, medical. So improving your legal English writing skills will help you improve your writing in general. That being said, it is worth buying a legal English writing coursebook as dealing with this particular area of writing (legal) requires you to understand the background specific to law. General writing coursebooks don’t cover this, so while they are useful, they won’t cover all areas.
> soft skills (e.g. negotiation, presentations, small talk, etc)?
If these are your end goals, be aware that these are not specific legal English skills. There are other coursebooks (either in business English or specific soft-skill titles) that look at this in more detail and would be better at improving your English skills in these areas. Whatever legal English coursebooks might say, there is no specific ‘legal English’ way of presenting or negotiating, nor should you think there is. Articles that say “legal English ways to agree or disagree” are just “English ways to agree or disagree”.
> reading or listening?
Yup, you guessed it, there are coursebooks out there that will help you to improve your skill sets in these areas. There might be skill-specific books or you might find exercises to improve these skills in general English language coursebooks.
Some legal English coursebooks – particularly those produced for ILEC and TOLES – will help you to work on other skill sets e.g. reading and listening. But, don’t expect these coursebooks to go into any great depth on those areas e.g. discussing in detail how to improve a particular skill set.
Do you want feedback?
Learning is a process that involves feedback. Someone has to tell you if you have learned something and applied your knowledge well. If you don’t get feedback, you have learned knowledge, but you cannot be sure if you are applying it correctly. For some learners, that’s not a problem. For other learners, they need to know if they are right or wrong, or at least going in the right direction.
Some coursebooks have a full answer key, some have a partial answer key, some coursebooks don’t have a key at all. This is something you have to think about when choosing a coursebook. If you think you’ll need feedback (legal English writing is one example where this is important – please feel free to check out my courses), then this is something that you’ll need to be certain you’re getting. If it is a vital issue, then a coursebook might not be the right solution – a legal English language course/individual teacher would be the other option.
If you’ve thought about those questions carefully, your answers will help you to choose the best book to help develop your legal English skills. In that case, please visit my reviews of legal English books: What are the best legal English books to develop your writing or vocabulary? [link coming soon] and choose the best coursebook to help you develop your legal English skills!