Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Why Teach Legal Writing in English?

Growth Sucks!

"We were hoping the college would drop the requirement. That's why we waited so long to take the course."  So said a candid senior student this past week.

I teach Legal Research and Writing 1 at Qatar University College of Law.  Even in the U.S. students find the course challenging.  It forces them to grow in ways they resist.  And, it's a lot of work! No passive learning in this course.  Students produce a Memorandum of Law over the course of the semester. And learn critical thinking skills.

So, the course is hard even for native English speakers.  But here, in Doha, I am teaching Arab students who take the course in English. Some students have very good English language skills, even if they are not so confident about them. Some students read at about a fourth grade level.  My job is to help them engage in very sophisticated legal thinking while they read and write in English.

Why English!  Many of my student evaluations last semester expressed love and respect for me, personally and as a teacher.  But, they also expressed great dismay and concern about having to take the class in English.  They want to be and feel successful in their studies, and this course interjects requirements that can undermine their self-image.  

So, why?!!!!   Over a very long period of time, the administration of Qatar University College of Law have agreed that the next generation of Qatari lawyers, judges, and political leaders must be able to think and write in English.  It is the international language of law.  As Qatar plays an increasingly bigger role in the world, it needs employees and citizens that can interact in that world with great skill and fluency.

So, my little course fits into a broader program design to teach lawyering skills in English. 

I admire my students.  They are bright, beautiful, ambitious, and hard-working.  Even the student with modest English language skills has greater language skills than me.  I can say about 15 words in Arabic at this point.  I can recite a nursery rhyme in Russian.  I can sing along to French pop songs.  I can ask "where is the nearest discotheque" in Italian.  That's really about it.  So, I admire my students for taking on the intellectual work I ask them to do.  I hope they know that I try my best to help them traverse the demands of the course. 

On a more practical level, learning these lawyering skills while improving their English language skills could make them more attractive to future employers.  An article that appeared in The New York Times today  -- Young Saudis See Cushy Jobs Vanish Along with Nation's Oil Wealth -- suggests why this skillset may become critical to finding future employment. While the article focuses on the job prospects for young Saudis, parallels may exist in Qatar. 

Finally, I recently spent the day providing conflict resolution training for professionals working for one of the largest realty companies in the Mideast. The trainees were mostly expats from India, Egypt, Ireland, and other countries.  I was deeply impressed with their English language skills and their critical thinking skills. I wish my students had watched this event. Perhaps it would help them understand that these folks may be their future colleagues. These professionals have high expectations largely because the business world demands it.

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