Not many legal English books have the privilege of having a preface written by an Oxford Law Professor. The book 'A Practical Guide to English for Law' is one of them.
This preface to the book is as follows:
"a MASTERLY WORK"
"To an English lawyer, the written word matters, and it matters far more than anything else. And it follows that accuracy in the use of English as lawyers understand it, that is, in the use of English for lawyers, is central to the success of any lawyer who seeks to express himself or herself, or a client’s intentions, in writing. Inaccuracy in the use of legal English is always unfortunate, usually expensive, and sometimes disastrous.
So how does one learn legal English? What are its rules, its usual constructions, its familiar forms of expression? The sad truth is that one cannot easily learn these things from an English lawyer. Those of us who have learned to express ourselves in legal English gained our knowledge by indirect, accidental, means: experience tends to help us to recognise what is right and to have a feel for what it wrong: but why? The formal rules which provide the framework for this usage and for these decisions, and which would allow us to explain them to others, are more problematic: we may know how to use legal English, but may not be very successful in explaining how we do it.
It may require someone who is not English by birth or by language to decode the rules by which native speakers guide themselves without really realising what they are doing. In this astonishing work of reference and instruction, Szabó László has produced an account of the rules, principles, usages and understandings of legal English which has no equivalent, certainly in England, and in all probability anywhere else in the world. It will be of great use to people needing to express themselves (or their client’s instructions, intentions and agreements) in legal English and who wish to understand how these things are usually done. For the most successful draftsman, or translator, is the person whose use of the English language attracts no attention at all. As soon as lawyers start to puzzle over or find problems with the English, trouble cannot be far away. Assured use and accurate translation is what one needs; nothing else will do. If the English is good, no-one will notice that it is there.
Although it may appear to be daunting, because of its size and seriousness of purpose, this book is reassuring in its thoroughness, in its organisation, and in its many, many illustrations of the way in which the pieces of the language of legal English are put together. It is amazing to think that, in this frantic world, anyone would have the patience, the rigour, or the skill, to compile a compendium of this kind. But Szabó László has shown that he has all of these, and all those who have the need or the opportunity to learn from, and to be reassured by, this most remarkable book, will be in his debt. It is a great honour, as well an immense pleasure, to commend this masterly work to all who may come across it."
Professor of Private International Law
Preface by a U.S. lawyer and linguist
Preface by Janile Hill, with a degree in Law (J.D. from Yale) and in Linguistics (Northeastern Illinois University)
"a complete guide ... with exceptional specificity"
A Practical Guide to English for Law takes on a very ambitious goal, namely to provide nonnative English speakers with a thorough guide to moving from thought to paper when putting complex legal concepts into words, or, in the opposite direction, from written words to some understanding of their function within the context. In legal texts, both linguistic precision and grammatical accuracy are paramount. If a precise meaning is to be conveyed within a prescribed form, the required terms must be employed within the proper grammatical framework. Relatedly, it is usually the case that accepted terms are placed within the appropriate grammatical context to convey one (and only one) legal meaning. Those attempting to comprehend legal texts must be sure to draw the intended meaning from the given terms and context.
Placing, or understanding the meaning of, particular terms within circumscribed grammar is the bedrock of legal text. Anyone needing to draft, translate, comprehend or comply with legal documents requires guidance in one or both of vocabulary or grammar from time to time. Nonnative speakers of English are sure to regularly need guidance in both. A Practical Guide to English for Law can serve as one dependable source of such guidance.
Audience and Purposes
Students for whom English is not a first language and who are pursuing a JD, LLM, MBA or any other business degree should find A Practical Guide to English for Law extremely useful.For example, a law student who is presented with case to brief or a brief to write could turn to this book often for reference in placing the proper terms in the proper context. As these students move on to become lawyers getting started in legal practice or practicing within a new area of law at any point in their careers, they could still turn to the book for guidance in drafting discrete parts of whichever legal text is at hand.
Translators who are often called upon to translate legal documents into English, or from English into another language, could also turn to this book often. Translators attempting to find the right terms within a discrete concept such as ranking (Chapter 38) or any dozens of other concepts covered in Parts 2 and 3 can use this book as a guide. The sentence templates and charts throughout the book can be used as models for phrasing within sentences. Those looking to employ a variety of expressions within the legal field of property (Chapter 49) or any of the other legal fields in Part 4 can also put this book to use while translating.
Entrepreneurs, other business people, or almost anyone working in a corporate or nonprofit context who needs a working knowledge of English legal terminology might also benefit from referring to this book. Due to time and budget constraints, not all contracts are put to legal review or can even be negotiated (for example, standard agreements for renting office space or office equipment). When contracts such as these present themselves, one possible question might be: I generally understand what I’ve agreed to, but what does “assignment” mean in line X of paragraph Y? Finding “assignment” in the index of this book would lead to sentence templates and example sentences that could shed light on the meaning.
Those teaching or training the above students, translators or business people could use the book to help them refine already advanced English grammar, as well as the ability to use legal terms and decode and draft legal texts. Thus, confidence in using legal terms correctly and understanding them clearly would grow.
Users should not quickly outgrow the need for this book because, owing to its ample scope and exceptional specificity, the situations in which it can be called upon are almost innumerable.
Depth and Breadth
A Practical Guide to English for Law is impressive in both its depth and its breadth. A look at the thoughtful and thorough introduction will confirm this. The book is divided into four Parts, which proceed through various aspects of legal English in a logical fashion from general to specific, moving from grammar, through legal and nonlegal terms often found in legal documents, to the language of certain legal fields.
Breadth - The book’s breadth lies in the sheer number of sentence templates and example sentences extracted from actual legal texts, all of which are logically organized under a considerable number of concepts and legal practice areas. In any given session with the book, a reader will choose an approach based on their needs, but with what is sure to be repeated use, they will be able to use the book to both burrow into narrow legal concepts and to survey broad areas of the law.
Part 1 of the book grounds the reader in English grammar. It covers the grammar of the sentence and its basic elements, including the noun phrase and the verb phrase. Part 1 also discusses other topics in sentence-level grammar, such as negation and the semantic consequences of different word order patterns within sentences.
Parts 2 and Part 3 of the book contain a range of legal and nonlegal terms in sentence templates and in real-world context. For most terms, context is examined from different areas of focus. Sentence templates, charts and example sentences show the reader how the word order and grammar of the sentence should change if the focus of the sentence is to be placed, for example, on the subject, on the term itself or on the object of the verb.
Part 2 guides the reader through the use of nonlegal terms and expressions (e.g. prohibiting, restricting, etc.) that appear frequently in legal texts. Part 3 details legal terms and expressions, such as indemnification and redress. By using Part 3, readers can select legal expressions they have encountered such as amend or sanction and study the sentence patterns and example sentences in order to learn to use them correctly. Together, Parts 2 and 3 contain a far-reaching array of terms essential to those hoping to draft, translate or interpret legal texts accurately.
Part 4 guides readers through language that is key to seven important legal practice areas. Some legal terms might have a very different meaning in one field of law versus another. For example, the term service will have a very different meaning in the law of civil procedure, which is covered in Chapter 44, than it would in the law of contracts, which is covered in Chapter 46. Regular use of Part 4 will help readers to see such differences and to gain other insights into the use of a wide variety of terms within the seven fields of law covered in this section.
Depth - Within each Part, terms are meticulously examined in an overview, as well as in sentence patterns and example sentences. Some chapters even contain a portion demonstrating patterns of negating many of the terms within that chapter. It should take a reader very little time to realize that the sentence templates and example sentences are the shining stars of the book. They show language in use, which nonnative speakers can never have too much of. All of the various Parts of the book work together to provide an in-depth analysis of the vocabulary and structure of legal English, from various points of view.
Part 1 provides guidance for the types of grammar questions that nonnative English speakers attempting to write for a demanding legal audience are sure to have. If the question is “Can I say that?” or “How do I say that?” the sentence templates and example sentences under the relevant concept should provide the answer.
It goes without saying that the legal field prizes accuracy, but savvy and sophisticated English-learners still desire to write with near-native variety and complexity. Doing this requires that they know the limits of vocabulary and grammar within which they must operate. They must express themselves precisely, while, whenever possible, injecting some liveliness and preserving their own voice, all while staying within the tacitly agreed-upon linguistic lines because stepping outside of them will be noticed by native speakers.
Parts 2-4 focus on the terms, both legal and nonlegal, that are often found in legal texts. Depending on the situation, readers can turn to one of these Parts to find the concept that they’d like to know more about. For terms that aren’t strictly legal, such as prohibitions, restrictions and injunctions (Chapter 23), a reader would turn to Part 2. A reader looking for legal terms, such as amending or modifying (Chapter 28) would go instead in Part 3 when the field of law is not at issue. Those readers who need to learn how to use or understand legal terms as they are used within a specific field would start with Part 4.
English language learners who draft legal texts might wonder how to get from a vague idea of what needs to be said to the exact language that should be used. Expert guidance for such a journey is available throughout Parts 2 to 4 of this book. Taking Chapter 4: Cause and reason as an example, a reader might be vaguely familiar with the word attributable, but they could use Chapter 4 to find, among other information, the following sentence templates and example sentences, which would prove useful in understanding what attributable means and placing it within the correct grammatical structure:
cause + is attributable + for consequence
The lenient safety policy of the company is directly attributable for the injuries of the employees.
consequence + is attributable + to cause
The alleged misconduct is primarily attributable to the respondent's failure to employ sound management procedures.
By studying these sentence patterns and examples, the reader has gone from knowing that the word attributable exists, to seeing it within authentic context. Thus, the reader has gained insight into the grammar that should surround the word and the meaning that the word has within a legal context. After such a review, an entrepreneur seeking to interpret a contract in order to comply with it, a translator seeking an understanding of the term in order to employ it in translation and a student needing to use the term in an assignment would all be armed with valuable information that would have been hard to come by in any other way.
Nonnative English speakers who regularly grapple with legal text will find themselves turning to A Practical Guide to English for Law often and lingering within it at length as they work their way through drafting, interpreting or comprehending unfamiliar legal terms. Over time, this book will become a well-worn and dog-eared companion in these pursuits.