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What is “Legal English” and how does it facilitate business?

We all know that English is the language of global business. But what is “Legal English” and how does it facilitate business?

Legal English is the style of English used by lawyers and other legal professionals. It includes the specialized vocabulary, turns of phrase and particular drafting techniques used in legal documents such as contracts, court pleadings and legislation. Legal English is used in a variety of contexts; between native English speakers, native and non-native English speakers, and between non-native English speakers. For example, even though a French lawyer and an Italian lawyer both speak a Latin language, it is likely that they will communicate in English to negotiate a contract or settle a dispute.

As companies expand their markets globally, strong skills in Legal English are vital.

As companies expand their markets globally, strong skills in Legal English are vital. The success or failure of a business transaction depends upon communication. The lawyer needs to understand the client’s wishes and be able to carry out the transaction using the correct Legal English terminology. If the lawyer makes a mistake it could cost the client money and lost opportunity. For example, a French lawyer may use the term “caution” in a lease agreement when she is describing a promise by a third-party to pay for the debt of the tenant if the tenant fails to perform under the lease. However, in Legal English the
correct term is “guaranty”. If the contract is litigated in the US, the term “caution” has no meaning and no relevance. As a result, the client loses money and the lawyer loses the client. The result: lost business.

Competency in Legal English generates business opportunities. A client is more likely to hire a lawyer who communicates proper Legal English. A law firm can increase its value by having lawyers who are competent in Legal English. A reflection of their knowledge and abilities builds the law firm’s reputation. Also, an international company will choose a jurist who has local law knowledge but can apply it in a worldwide context by using Legal English.

Business schools are leading the way.

Today, it is estimated that over one billion people are learning English. Business schools are leading the way by offering many of their courses in English. ESSEC currently offers 25% of its courses in English and plans to increase the number to 50% over the next three years. At EMLV, 100% of the third year is in English and certain
majors and courses in the 4th and 5th years continue in English. ESC-Dijon offers its business law courses in English. Law schools are slowly following suit. At the University of Paris II (Assas), for example, a foreign language is required for Licence 2 and 3 and Masters 1. A majority of the students take English. The University of Cergy-Pontoise offers LL.M.’s in Business & Taxation Law and in Law & Business Ethics taught exclusively in English.

There are other opportunities to improve Legal English skills.

For legal professionals already out of school there are other opportunities to improve Legal English skills. Many companies and law firms hire Legal English trainers to provide on-site Legal English training. Others send their lawyers to Legal English training programs such as the International Legal English Certificate training program offered by France and Legal Lingua. Prospective students are advised to make certain that the Legal English trainer has sufficient knowledge about law so that the student can effectively apply the classroom activities to her own legal work.

There may be different laws and different legal systems, but for business, there is a single language for law and that is Legal English.

What is “Legal English” and how does it facilitate business?


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