The Complete Series for Legal Writersby Alexa Z. Chew and Katie Rose Guest Pryal
Border-Crossing: Genre Discovery and the Portability of Legal Writing Instruction
Alexa Z. Chew, J.D., and Craig T. Smith, J.D.
Professors who teach legal writing in the United States seek to prepare students to write effectively within the legal profession. It’s a simply stated goal. Attaining that goal, however, is tremendously challenging. Understanding law is a dauntingly complex endeavor. Writing legal analysis is likewise a daunting endeavor for students. Teaching law students to write well is thus no simple task. The task’s complexity grows with globalization. Some J.D. and LL.M. students in the United States have already crossed borders. They may have received education outside the United States, be fluent in non-English languages, have dual citizenship, or have personal or professional ties to other countries. Some of these students will cross borders again and take lessons from our legal writing classrooms to law practice outside the United States.
Law professors in the United States likewise increasingly cross borders as we teach, coach, present, and consult abroad. We should expect invitations to teach legal writing in English abroad to increase because of the importance of legal English globally and the strong reputation of U.S. legal writing instruction. Also relevant are the international outreach efforts of U.S. law schools and organizations such as the American Bar Association, plus border-crossing conferences like Global Legal Skills. Thus professors should ask how to teach optimally in a world of border-crossing by students, lawyers, and writing professors. Ideally, instruction should cross borders well, meaning that it should empower students to adapt their English-language legal writing skills to the countries and cultures in which they practice.
Unfortunately, much traditional legal writing instruction does not cross borders very well. It teaches document types (or “genres”) that are standard in U.S. law practice and serve what we deem to be standard reader expectations. While experts can perhaps see how such lessons transfer across borders to novel situations, nonexperts probably cannot. Transference of learning is a notoriously thorny problem, even in familiar domestic contexts. Transference is even harder when the learners are taking lessons across national borders and into different legal systems and cultures. Fortunately, legal writing professors can increase the cross-border portability of their English-language instruction. We argue that a “genre discovery” approach does just that. To support that claim, we will very briefly describe traditional legal writing instruction, then define genre discovery as an alternative, and finally explain how genre discovery can help teach students and lawyers to write well in English, even in foreign jurisdictions, where the legal writing professor is not an expert in local law.