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Attached hereto is a monkey selfie

This week a group of my students thought I may have gone slightly mad when I showed them a mug shot of a monkey who appeared to be grinning at the camera. I could sense their confusion – what has this got to do with Legal English? Their reaction was just what I’d hoped for – I had succeeded in capturing the attention of a group of International Business students who had previously regarded their compulsory Legal English course as rather dull.

A famous monkey

The monkey in question is actually quite famous; a photographer was taking pictures of a group of monkeys in an Indonesian jungle when one of them grabbed the camera and took a “selfie”. The monkey’s photo went viral leading to a dispute between the photographer and Wikipedia over ownership of copyright. I used the photo to teach my students some of the key vocabulary relating to Intellectual Property law and this lighthearted introduction set the tone for a lesson which I think they all enjoyed.

The following day my students required no such lead-in to engage their attention. They are a group of practicing lawyers whose English is already excellent but who want specialist coaching in legal writing and speaking. They are taking two hours out of their working day for my class so they expect results. The difference between “shall” and “will” in legal writing may not appear to be as interesting as the monkey selfie but we were all stimulated by a lively and at times, heated discussion on the subject.

The life of a Legal English trainer

Quite a contrast from one day to the next. Some people may think that the life of a lawyer is dull and repetitive but the life of a Legal English trainer is definitely neither of those things. My clients range from business students to senior lawyers at international law firms. Their requirements can be very different so I have to be flexible and creative. Each lesson is tailor-made to meet the needs of the students. In that respect Legal English training can be more demanding than general English but, as a lawyer myself, I find it stimulating and rewarding.

Next week, I’m planning to teach when to use words like “hereto” (almost never – it’s very old fashioned) and I’ll also be showing a news clip about the flotation of Alibaba on the New York Stock Exchange. I’m looking forward to it.

Vanessa Allen
Vanessa was born in Northern Ireland and studied Law at Cambridge University. She worked for over 15 years as a lawyer in private practice and industry before moving to Amsterdam with her family. She retrained as an English teacher and now enjoys combining her extensive legal and commercial experience with her teaching skills.

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