Learning Legal English, Teaching Legal English

What are the best legal English books to develop your writing or vocabulary?

Legal English Book Reviews

If you are struggling to find a good legal English book, then hopefully this post will be able to help you. There aren’t many legal English coursebooks out on the market, but even still, it can be difficult to choose the best coursebook for your specific needs. In this post, I’ll be reviewing the coursebooks that I’ve worked with, and recommending which ones you should buy if you need some advice.

If you’re not sure what kind of legal English coursebook you need, check out my guide to choosing the best coursebook, then come back to this post and choose the best legal English book for you.

**Please note: this page does use affiliate links to amazon.co.uk. These links are clearly marked. Please consider using these links to help support me and this website.**

My top picks

If you’re looking for some quick recommendations, these are the books I would recommend for the following categories. The links will take you straight to my review for that book.

Best Legal English vocabulary book for IntermediateThe Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook
Best Legal English vocabulary book for AdvancedAdvanced Legal English
Best legal English vocabulary book on a budgetCheck your English Vocabulary for Law
Best legal English vocabulary book for non-legal English students / lay peopleProfessional English in Use Law
Best legal English writing bookRichard Wydick: Plain English for Lawyers

Here is the full list of books that I’ve reviewed. Of course, as I review more legal English books, then I’ll add them to this list. If there is a book that I haven’t reviewed yet, let me know by sending me a message.

Please click on the link to go straight to my review of a book.

Who are these reviews for?

I am writing these reviews for both legal English students and legal English teachers. As you read through the reviews, you’ll see that a lot of the time I’m talking to teachers, but students should also be able to understand if the book is for them. However, if you are at any point confused about what I’m saying or who I’m saying it to – get in touch, and I’ll amend the review!

Legal English writing books

 

Richard Wydick: Plain English for Lawyers

 

Type of legal English coursebook:Legal English writing book
Is there feedback in the book?Full feedback: answers given to all questions
English level:Upper-intermediate & Advanced
Plain English for LawyersPlain English for Lawyers is a fantastic introduction to the main principles of good legal writing and plain English. Getting any edition of this book will help you to improve your legal English writing – I have the 5th edition, although the newest version is the 6th edition.

The book is short and concise, containing 9 chapters that go through the fundamentals of learning how to write in plain English.

This book is also a perfect example of what it is trying to teach – that it is possible to communicate a number of complex messages by writing in plain English and not hide your message behind complex language structures. And it is because this book is written in plain English that makes it suitable for upper-intermediate students (B2).

Each chapter introduces different plain English points, and after reading through the context that introduces those points, there are questions for you to apply that knowledge and test yourself. The great thing about each chapter is how the teaching points are organised – there is a teaching point, and after that, questions on that teaching point. Another teaching point, another set of questions. This avoids the situation where you have to read through pages and pages of different pieces of information before you get to the questions. You learn something, you do questions on that issue – simple, but effective.

Plain English for Lawyers also has many references to other books and materials, so if you want to find out more about plain English, it is easy to do so.

The reason why I recommended this book over Legal Writing in Plain English (see my recommendations above), is because for beginners, everything in this book is important. There isn’t a wasted page. Moreover, at just over 100 pages, this is an easy, quick read. The book presents the most important plain English rules concisely and persuasively, and gives you a chance to put the newly acquired knowledge into practice.

Even now, this is now my go-to book for the fundamentals of plain English and helped me to develop the third version of my course. I cannot recommend this book enough.

You can buy the 4th, 5th and 6th editions of this book on Amazon. I have the 5th edition and from what I understand, there isn’t a huge change between the 5th and 6th editions. To buy the:

Bryan Garner: Legal Writing in Plain English – A Text with Exercises

Type of legal English coursebook:Legal English writing book
Is there feedback in the book?Partial feedback: answers given to some questions
English level:Advanced
Legal Writing in Plain English

Now in its second edition, many people – including native lawyers and law students – think this is the best resource available to help you improve your legal English writing skills. Unsurprisingly, the reviews at amazon and other places rate this book very highly. This book alone formed the basis for my first written legal English course back in 2014.

This book is 50 units long. At over 200 pages, over 100 more than Plain English for Lawyers, it discusses the most important plain English writing points, and also has a much wider discussion about how to approach legal English writing. As such it is split into three sections:

1) Principles for all legal writing

2) Principles mainly for analytical and persuasive writing

3) Principles mainly for legal drafting

Nearly all of the units have questions and those questions are divided into basic, intermediate and advanced.

I’m not going to say anything more about the high-quality content of this book – its reviews and reputation already tells us everything we need to know. This is an excellent book. The question now becomes why buy this book and not Plain English for Laywers (see above).

While Plain English for Lawyers is the book to choose if you’re beginning to improve your writing, it does have narrow focus just on the guidelines on how to improve your language skills. On the other hand, I would suggest that Legal Writing in Plain English is the book to have once you’re familiar with the basic rules and concepts of plain English. The discussions in the units go into more detail, and there is a wider range of units to help a native or non-native lawyer improve their writing skills. This book also goes into a lot more detail re: why you’re writing, the planning process for your writing, more about persuasiveness, drafting particular legal documents and more.

Having a more in-depth knowledge of plain English will also help you deal with the book’s disadvantages for self-studying; namely, the answer key only has answers to the basic questions. The intermediate and advanced questions are ideally suited to class discussion with a teacher that has experience teaching plain English.

The problem this causes for non-native students is that they then have to find a legal English teacher who is familiar with plain English and who can teach it. In my experience, most legal English teachers are happy to specialise in teaching legal English vocabulary, or simply don’t have the scope (if they are working for a language school) to spend that much time in the semester looking at legal English writing.

However, despite the lack of a full answer key, I would say the feedback you get from the basic questions alone would be enough to dramatically your legal English writing. But, it is a pity that the intermediate and advanced questions are largely based on learning in a classroom.

In summary, this book definitely deserves some space on your bookshelf if you already are comfortable with some concepts of plain English, but for beginners who are self-studying, Plain English for Lawyers would be a better place to start.

You can buy the 1st and 2nd editions on amazon. Once again, there really isn’t a huge difference between the two books. To buy the:

Legal vocabulary books

Catherine Mason: The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook

Type of legal English coursebook:Vocabulary and grammar
Is there feedback in the book?Full feedback: answers given to all questions
English level:Lower to upper-intermediate
The Lawyers English Language CoursebookThis is the best legal English vocabulary book for intermediate students – it’s as simple as that. The book has been cleverly designed to teach new vocabulary step by step, and there are multiple exercises to help you remember that vocabulary and use it. If you want a gentle introduction into legal English, you really shouldn’t look anywhere else.

The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook prepares you for both the Foundation (intermediate) and Higher (upper-intermediate) TOLES exams. The book contains 10 units that cover the main areas of legal English, and each unit is split into A (for the Foundation paper) or B (for the Higher paper). The only exception is unit 7 which is about letter writing and is for both papers.

The best way to study this book would be to do all of the A units first, and then go try the B units next. My experience tells me this is a better approach than doing 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B etc.

This book has a full answer key and listening scripts (the listening tasks are only for the Higher paper).

I’ve used this book for years, and I only have positive experiences with it. However, you have to make sure that the people that will use this book are the correct group. Nearly all of the people that I’ve taught using this book are either new to English, or new to law. If you try to use this book with confident speakers of English and practicing lawyers – or if you are self-studying and are a confident speaker of English and practicing lawyer, this will be a miserable experience.

Further to that, if you are new to teaching legal English, you might have trouble supplementing the book (the book is exercise, exercise, exercise) and bringing it to life.

In summary, despite the caveats above, there is no better book for this level, it is written so that intermediate students can understand it, and it uses a lot of legal English within realistic contexts.

Because this coursebook has a full answer key, it is perfect for self-study; however, if you can work with an experienced legal English teacher, it will make the coursebook come alive.

The disadvantages are that this book is that it is quite expensive and will not help you develop your legal writing skills. But please remember, the book is effectively two coursebooks in one (you can prepare for two exams) and the aim of the book is to teach you legal English vocabulary, not improve your writing skills.

To see a comparison between this book and its direct competitor, please see my review for The Introduction to International Legal English.

To buy this book on amazon, please click here.

Amy Krois-Lindner: International Legal English

Type of legal English coursebook:Vocabulary and grammar
Is there feedback in the book?Full feedback: answers given to all questions
English level:Advanced
International Legal EnglishInternational Legal English was published to help students prepare for the old ILEC exam, and it allowed many language schools to open “Legal English” courses for advanced students; however, the exam was discontinued in 2016. Despite this, many language schools still run “legal English” courses based on the 2nd edition of this book (which you can see in the picture, but which I’ll review separately).

The ILEC exam was run by Cambridge and it followed the same format as many Cambridge exams i.e. testing your writing, speaking, reading, writing, and vocabulary and grammar. Therefore, International Legal English also had to cover all of these skillsets. There is one major problem with this: it is too much to ask for one legal English coursebook to practice all these skillsets well.

In my opinion, International Legal English is:

·         very good at vocabulary and grammar,

·         good at listening and reading, although for advanced level, the criticism was that these were too easy,

·         OK at the speaking exercises, but

·         not good at developing legal writing skills – very little writing guidance was given, and no guidance was given about specific legal English or plain English writing skills.

As a result, if you’re using this coursebook to prepare for the TOLES Advanced exam, I don’t think it will do a very good job given that legal writing is a substantial part of the exam.

This book does have a full answer key, so this is a good book for self-study. However, the answer key gives you model answers for legal writing exercises with no discussion about why it is a model answer. From the point of developing your writing skills, this is not much use. Also, the answer key is not going to help you develop your speaking skills nor any of the pair/group tasks you are asked to do.

To buy this book on amazon, please click here.

Amy Krois-Lindner: Introduction to International Legal English

Type of legal English coursebook:Vocabulary and grammar
Is there feedback in the book?Full feedback: answers given to all questions
English level:Upper-intermediate
Introduction to International Legal EnglishThe Introduction to International Legal English was published in 2008 and was aimed at intermediate-level learners. This was one of the first coursebooks to make legal English available to lower levels, but how good is it, and is it better than The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook?

The coursebook has 10 units, and each unit deals with basic areas of law, from the introductory unit, through tort law and contract law, to comparative law. From that point of view, everything is OK. The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook covers similar ground.

However, this is where we can see differences between the books. Although there was no exam for this book, this book followed the same format as International Legal English and aimed to develop multiple skillsets: writing, speaking, reading, writing, and vocabulary and grammar. And just like its sister book, it has the same strengths and weaknesses i.e. its:

·         good at vocabulary and grammar,

·         good at listening and reading,

·         OK at the speaking exercises, but

·         not good at developing legal writing skills – very little writing guidance was given, and no guidance was given about specific legal English or plain English writing skills.

In contrast, The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook only focuses on reading, vocabulary, listening (for the Higher paper only), and to a small extent on writing.

In The Introduction to International Legal English, each unit has vocabulary relevant for the legal topic in each unit – tort law, contract law etc. Unfortunately, the vocabulary exercises do not test all of the presented vocabulary. For example, you’ll see about 20 terms that are highlighted in a reading, but the vocabulary exercises will only test you on half of those words. This will mean that the student will simply have to memorize the rest of the words. The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook does a much better job of presenting and teaching this vocabualry.

The book also introduces other vocabulary (adverbs, linkers, etc) and grammar within the context of legal language, but mostly this is only a brief overview with a few exercises to test your knowledge. Other vocabulary or grammar books do a better job. Further, the grammar is not presented within the context of legal writing or plain English e.g. the problems of misusing the passive in legal writing.

However, there are positives, the reading and listening exercises definitely help with context and do help to develop those skill sets, and arguably are more of a challenge than The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook.

The main problem with this book is the language used in the book. It says it is aimed at ‘intermediate’, but the language used in the book will give lower-intermediate and intermediate students a lot of difficulties. I would argue that its target audience is really upper-intermediate. Students with intermediate (or even lower-intermediate) language skills should think about The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook for TOLES instead.

Just like International Legal English, this book does have a full answer key, so this is a good book for self-study. However, once again, the answer key gives you model answers for legal writing exercises with no discussion about why it is a model answer. From the point of developing your writing skills, this is not much use. Also, because of the speaking questions in the book, there’s no adequate way for someone to self-study this at home or benefit from those questions. From a self-study point of view, probably 60% of the book is helpful.

In conclusion, the Introduction to International Legal English is OK, but there are better resources for intermediate-level students.

To buy this book on amazon, please click here.

Rawdon Wyatt: Check your English Vocabulary for Law

Type of legal English coursebook:Vocabulary
Is there feedback in the book?Full feedback: answers given to all questions
English level:Advanced
Check your English Vocabulary for LawThis book aims to test your vocabulary skills, and that’s all it does! If you’re thinking about improving any other language skillset other than vocabulary, this book is not for you!

However, if you’re thinking about improving your vocabulary skills, this book is one of the best.

There are 38 units in this book that cover a wide area of law. Some units are grouped together to talk about a particular area e.g. contracts, corporate responsibility, crime, but other than that, there is no particular focus on particular areas of law. This makes the book quite general, and for many people, this might be a good thing as it tests your wider knowledge of law.

Each unit has lots of questions – up to 30 in many cases. If you’re used to doing exercises with only 10 questions, this will come as a surprise. Therefore, each unit will take some time to do, and that means you’ll be working on this coursebook for quite a while.

Having used this coursebook in law firms, each unit does present a challenge – these are not simple exercises. The hardest unit is the unit on legal Latin that tests your knowledge of legal Latin terms of art. Doing this exercise often takes the whole 60 minute class.

If you are a confident legal English teacher, you can use each unit as a basis for a lesson as it is not that difficult to find supporting materials based on the vocabulary that is presented.

The other good thing about this book is that there is a lot of variation between the exercises. This keeps you from getting bored; however, some explanations of the exercises can be quite hard to follow.

The 3rd edition of the book was published in 2006; therefore, some of the information in the book is dated e.g. the House of Lords is now the Supreme Court. But, as you would expect, most of the legal vocabulary you’re being tested on hasn’t changed.

Because it is a vocabulary book, the full answer key will allow you to self-study. One thing you might not expect and is great to see is an occasional discussion about some of the answers in the answer key. This means you don’t just see if you’re right or wrong, but you can find out a little bit more information about the answer as well.

This is a great vocabulary book, and one that will keep you busy for a long time. I highly recommend this book.

To buy this book on amazon, please click here.

Rupert Haigh: Legal English

Type of legal English coursebook:Vocabulary
Is there feedback in the book?Partial / limited feedback
English level:Advanced
Haigh: Legal EnglishThis book is a difficult book to summarize, even in a short review. This book tries to cover the whole area of legal English that you might meet at work from accuracy in legal language to teaching legal vocabulary, grammar, business soft skills and soft skill techniques e.g how to negotiate. In that respect, it is nothing like any other legal English book in this list.

The books that would be closest to this are the coursebooks for the TOLES or ILEC exam as they also cover numerous areas of law and aim to develop different skillsets. But, the good thing about those books is that there is an exam that is used as a focus for the book. Here, with no exam to aim for, this is much more a reference book about legal English in general with 35 exercises across 258 pages of information.

Further, the exercises are short and don’t cover all the material that is presented. Further, the writing questions are simply answered with a model answer; however, there is no discussion as to why the modal answer is correct.

Therefore, this book is more useful as a reference book than a legal English coursebook, and its usefulness as a ‘self-study’ book is debatable. As a reference book though, there’s nothing like it. If you’re thinking of buying this book, then just think about the reasons for buying it carefully.

One of the good things about this book is the glossaries section which contains: obscure (i) words and (ii) phrases used in business contracts, phrasal verbs used in legal English, legal terminology, and more. This is a fantastic resource that you can use to ‘translate’ legal language into plain English.

In conclusion, I can’t recommend this book for self-study, but as a handy reference book about how to prepare for certain situations, some rules of punctuation and setting out information on a page, and ideas for language in certain contexts, it might be worth buying.

To buy this book on amazon, please click here. You might notice that the photo on the cover of the book is different – don’t worry, it is still the same book.

Gillian Brown, Sally Rice: Professional English in Use Law

Type of legal English coursebook:Vocabulary and grammar
Is there feedback in the book?Full feedback
English level:Upper-intermediate / Advanced
Professional English in Use LawPart of the ‘Professional English in Use’ series, this book offers a quick way to learn and practice legal English vocabulary in many different areas. 45 units are divided into 4 sections and the format of the book is simple and clear. Each unit is presented on two pages – on the left-hand page, the context and relevant vocabulary are introduced; on the right-hand page, you’ll see the exercises that test your knowledge of that vocabulary. Therefore, as well as vocab, your reading comprehension skills are tested and developed as well.

My experience with this book is mixed as it’s not seen as particularly lawyerly, rather as a coursebook that is used for lay-people who might be interested in law. This is due to the fact that once at university, a law student knows most of the vocab in the book. At best, I’ve used this book as a ‘hole-filler’ for vocabulary that a lawyer doesn’t know, not as a source of information that can be constantly used.

However, general English students really like this book and like its simplicity – you can go through a lot of information in a short period of time. Also, the reading tasks in each unit are a good length and not too challenging, and it’s easy to think of supplementary materials for each unit.

In summary, despite the number of units, a student who is already knowledgeable about law will get tired of this book quickly. However, if you know little about law, or want a quick general overview of legal English vocabulary, or language structures used in law, then this book might be a good fit for you.

To buy this book on amazon, please click here.

Nick Brieger: Test your Professional English Law

Type of legal English coursebook:Vocabulary and grammar
Is there feedback in the book?Full feedback
English level:Upper-intermediate / Advanced
Test your Professional English LawThere is a lot of information in this book – 60 units that cover 8 different sections. If you’re familiar with the Test your Professional English series, you’ll know what the format of this book is: excellently designed, self-explanatory vocabulary questions which you can do quickly – much quicker than Professional English in Law. Saying that, there is nothing else in the book apart from vocab questions, so although there is some reading to be done, all reading is part of the respective question. This format might suit some, but might not suit others.

For self-studying, this is a simple way to pick up lots of legal English vocabulary quickly. For teaching, these units can be used as warm-ups, time fillers, or a fun way to end a lesson.

For these reasons, just like Professional English in Law, it is not seen as very lawyerly but rather for people who want a brief introduction into legal vocabulary.

Natalie Canham, Catherine Mason: Advanced Legal English

Type of legal English coursebook:Vocabulary
Is there feedback in the book?Full feedback
English level:Advanced
Advanced Legal EnglishReleased only recently, this is the coursebook to help you get ready for the TOLES Advanced exam. I’ve written more about that here, but for this review I’m going to concentrate on how effective this book is as a legal English vocabulary book.

I haven’t had the chance to teach anyone using this book yet, but I have gone through this book quite closely and what follows are my observations on what I think the book will be like to use as a self-study book.

The first thing to say is that the content of the book is unparalleled. No other self-study legal English vocabulary book covers this much material – 60 units cover many different areas of law, and each unit introduces many pieces of vocabulary. In terms of format, this coursebook follows the same format as Professional English in Law in that each unit has two pages. The left-hand page has the reading text, the right-hand page has the questions for you to consider.

Whilst this quantity of information and format is good for some, for others this means some disadvantages as well. The main one is that the questions that you are asked to do cannot test all the new vocabulary you are asked to learn. For self-study, this might mean that a student would spend a lot of time with a dictionary or legal dictionary to work out what everything means.

The balance between material and questions is obviously a trade-off, and overall, I think the final result is a good balance. We have to remember that the audience for this book are advanced speakers of English or (potential) practicing lawyers. Therefore, an advanced student who has some exposure to legal terminology would not need a dictionary for every word, and one of the important skillsets for a student at this level is to learn how to handle difficult texts.

Other disadvantages to this book would be the price, and if your aim is to do the TOLES advanced exam, will it prepare you enough (see my post here)?

However, if we think about this as a self-study advanced legal English vocabulary book, it is probably the best.

To buy this book on amazon, please click here.

Catherine Mason: An Essential A-Z of Business Law

Catherine Mason: The Vocabulary of Commercial Contracts

Catherine Mason: The Vocabulary of Employment Contracts and Employment Law

Type of legal English coursebook:Vocabulary
Is there feedback in the book?Full feedback
English level:Advanced
If you’re looking to improve your vocabulary skills within the specific areas of law as suggested by the titles to these books, then look no further. The vocabulary in these books is taught in alphabetical units (vocab beginning with A first, B second, C third etc) and each unit teaches you 14 pieces of vocab at a time. The only exception is the book on Business Law that also has some units that are crosswords.

As such, the books have one specific aim – To teach you area-specific vocab, and a lot of it. All you have to do is study a page (or pages) of vocab and definitions, then complete some gap-fill questions will those definitions.

From a teacher’s point of view, this isn’t the most exciting way to teach vocabulary; I would argue that it’s not the most exciting way for students to learn either, but these books do put a lot of area-specific vocab at your fingertips.

The books are authored by C Mason who also authored the TOLES textbooks reviewed above: The Lawyer’s English Language Coursebook, and Advanced Legal English. Therefore, you might think that these vocabulary books are also published to help you prepare for TOLES. However, the books don’t specifically say they are for TOLES preparation.

Even so, this ‘is-it-or-isn’t it?’ question is in the back of mind as I see how the book is written and questions chosen. For example, the definitions are well explained in plain English; however, the gap-fill questions themselves contain numerous plain English errors – uses of ‘shall’, the passive voice, nominalisations etc.

One positive of this is that you learn the vocab in a ‘real-life’ context if you’re being taught legal English writing errors at the same time. But, if you are self-studying these books or unaware of the legal English writing errors or both, and are preparing for the TOLES exam, these books will not build the necessary writing or language-awareness skills you need.

If you think of these books as stand-alone vocab books, then there are no-other focused area-specific books on the market like these. So, if you are new to the fields of Employment, Contracts and Business Law, and need to learn lots of vocab in those areas quickly, then the appropriate book from the three titles is well worth buying.

To buy An Essential A-Z of Business Law on amazon, please click here.
To buy The Vocabulary of Commercial Contracts on amazon, please click here.
To buy The Vocabulary of Employment Contracts and Employment Law on amazon, please click here.

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4 thoughts on “What are the best legal English books to develop your writing or vocabulary?

  1. ปั้มไลค์ says:

    Like!! Thank you for publishing this awesome article.

    1. Simon Porter says:

      Thank you for your kind words 🙂

  2. Penny Ward says:

    I cannot thank you enough. I am scheduled to teach the president of a regional court in a Baltic country and have been getting anxious about what exactly I should be doing but now I have a much clearer idea thanks to your guidance on focus and resources. The input has been invaluable

    1. Simon Porter says:

      Thank you very much for the kind words – I’d be interested to know how you’re getting on!

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