Oral Legal English in action in English-language high courts

Our main task on this blog is to help you, the ESL attorney who already has intermediate or advanced writing skills in English, to improve your written Legal English.

And that’s precisely why we need to spend time on this blog listening to mother-tongue Legal English. To write on legal topics in English with the fluency you want—with the fluency your clients or publishers need—you must develop the “ear for English” that gives mother-tongue written English its smooth transitions between words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs.

An excellent way to develop that ear is to listen to actual mother-tongue attorneys and judges use actual mother-tongue Legal English to argue and decide actual legal disputes in jurisdictions in which English is the predominant language.

We’re fortunate to live in a time when access to recordings of such uses of Legal English is easy to come by. This post takes advantage of that easy access and introduces you to online libraries of audio or audio-visual recordings of actual oral arguments or presentations of judgments in high courts in jurisdictions in which English is the predominant language.

These links give you that access for four such high courts:

Indiana, of course, is in the United States. So why do I list it here as a separate jurisdiction in addition to the United States?

(This list has at least one glaring omission: the Supreme Court of Canada. The site for Canada’s high court requires downloads for Mac users that none of the four sites listed in this post requires. Rather than knowingly impose such hassles on many visitors to this blog, I’m therefore omitting a link to the Canadian site altogether.)

These links give us plenty of material for further discussions of written Legal English. I’m steering you toward courts in multiple countries in which English is the predominant language to help us recall that this blog’s community is global, and that many Englishes have their own established, legitimate places in the world. The range of legal issues covered in these links is immense. Combine those substantive legal issues with cultural issues (differences between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia) and with linguistic issues that are too numerous to list. We have no shortage of topics to cover—and we could say that about the link for any judicial website listed in this post.

Peruse these links to judicial sites at your leisure. Spend time with cases whose parties or case descriptions interest you: an individual against a government probably denotes a criminal case, one company against another probably denotes a civil case, a case caption that has male and female party-opponents who share a last name probably denotes a domestic-relations case, and so on. (Why do I hedge my bets by using “probably” so often here?)

For our purposes, note especially that the U.S. Supreme Court’s page has both audio files and transcripts for its oral arguments. Those transcripts will help you listen to the oral arguments, often clarifying words that might be hard to understand in an attorney’s or judge’s oral delivery on an audio file.

But those transcripts also can be invaluable for your written Legal English itself. At least in American appellate courts, attorneys often (usually? almost always? always?) write out some version of what they want to argue before they present their arguments orally to appellate judges. (As Justice Scalia once pointedly reminded an attorney during oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court, though, simply reading a prepared text at the judges is not the best way to approach oral argument.) The transcripts “solidify” the oral discussions of law in visible words. And seeing oral Legal English, on the page, can help you train your mind to transfer that “slightly conversational” English to your own writing on legal topics in English.

If you’re not used to hearing oral argument in English, what are your first impressions as you listen to these sites’ materials? If you’ve disagreed with my definition of “Legal English,” do you see now why I define “Legal English” as simply writing (or speaking) on legal topics in English (since, of course, you’re an attorney in the first place)? Which of these sites’ materials most interest you—and why do you find them so interesting?

Post your answers, or raise other questions, in the comments section at the end of this post. We’ll save detailed discussions of these sites’ materials for other posts on other days. For now, let me know if you want me to cover any particular oral argument or oral presentation of judgment that you find in the listed sites. The comments section at the end of this post also would be a good place for you to make those requests.

#legalenglish #englishforlaw #eslattorneys #esllawyers

*** Special thanks to the High Court of Australia for its written permission to link to the audio-visual materials on that Court’s site

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