Learning Legal English

Can you still do the ILEC (International Legal English Certificate) exam?

Does the ILEC exam still exist?

I understand why you might be confused. After all, you can still buy brand new ILEC textbooks on the internet or in bookshops (even directly from Cambridge). Some language schools are still using ILEC as the coursebook in their legal English classes. So, it’s not an unreasonable question to have, ‘can I still sit the ILEC exam?’

However, I’m afraid you cannot take the ILEC exam as it no longer exists. Cambridge English (who organised the ILEC test) decided to discontinue the exam in 2016. You can find the information on the Cambridge English website here.

The ILEC coursebooks.

Cambridge Press published a number of coursebooks to help legal English students get ready for the ILEC exam.

  • The main ILEC coursebook (2006) for advanced C1/C2 students,
  • An intermediate-level ILEC book (2008) for (surprise, surprise) intermediate B1/B2 students, and
  • A second edition of the main ILEC coursebook (2011) for advanced C1/C2 students.

These coursebooks remain a good resource to help you develop your legal vocabulary skills, and practice your reading and listening skills. So even though the exam is not available anymore, theses books still remain a good resource.

The same can be said for the numerous legal English coursebooks which were produced by other publishers to support the ILEC exam. These are also good books which play an important role in learning legal English vocab etc.

Why was the exam discontinued?

The idea of a legal English certificate was something students liked; however, ILEC was a difficult course to teach as the coursebook wasn’t the most inspiring, and from my point of view, it didn’t really play a part in preparing a young lawyer for the workplace (some would say otherwise).

The decision to drop the exam was controversial, but I suspect the real reason for it was one of pure economics – maybe there wasn’t enough demand for the exam to cover the costs of producing several exams a year?

So, what legal English exam can I take?

If you’re set on getting a legal English exam, the only internationally recognised legal English exam is the TOLES exam which has exams at three different levels:

  • Foundation
  • Higher
  • Advanced

Foundation and Higher are the easier exams to sit (Foundation being easier than Higher), and there is a coursebook to help you get ready for the exam.

The Advanced exam is a different exam entirely. Here, a large part of the exam is a test of your ability to write and meet the criteria of the exam (there is some writing in the Higher exam, but not much). There is no one coursebook for the Advanced course. The TOLES coursebook for Foundation and Higher is helpful in terms of vocab, but to learn the drafting skills you need, you’ll need to read much more widely and become familiar with ‘plain English’ and different writing styles. You’ll also need to find a legal English teacher that understands ‘plain English’, and can teach this.

In conclusion, the only option for you – if you want an internationally recognised legal English exam – is one of the TOLES exams. There might be other local legal English certifications in cities and town around the world, but the question you’ll have to ask yourself is ‘why do I want the exam?’ and ‘what will it give me?’ For this, you’ll have to see if a legal English exam counts towards any university courses, bar application courses, lawyer training etc. Of course, it might be the case that you want to do it for your own advancement, and that’s fine, but it’s always good to know why you’re doing a legal English exam, and maybe, what it’ll give you.

In any case, I’ll be going into detail about the TOLES exam and the questions you should ask yourself before doing a legal English course in later posts.

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