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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Linguistic Versatility (or is it Hegemony?) and the Law

There's been much hub-bub the last few years in the US re: legal education and innovation. Assume for a moment that an American law school wanted to offer a degree program leading to an American JD that would be wholly instructed in Spanish or Chinese or Hebrew. Would anyone reasonably object on cultural grounds or is this purely the kind of program that should be allowed to unfold so long as it otherwise maintained a strong bar passage rate?

Israel's facing interesting issues along this front. A few academic institutions are trying to offer law degree programs in English only, and are seeing opposition. 

When I teach in Israel, which I do with some frequency and affection, I do so in English, as part of the increased expectation that Israeli lawyers should be fluent with English language as well as international/comparative approaches to law.  Yet, I fully accept the argument made by one of the stakeholders that fluency in Hebrew is essential to representing one's clients well in Israel. I certainly think my competence with English is critical to my being a tolerably decent scholar -- in English. But if Chinese-speaking professors were in the US to teach American law in Chinese, I don't think I'd have much basis for objection. Let the market sort it out seems roughly right.

The fear about this seems that if the Israeli law schools started teaching in English, there'd be a decline in Hebrew language competence and that could affect lawyer performance for clients. I don't really see that as a threat realistically, because if you're going to practice in Israel, you'll want to speak Hebrew; what's more,  if there's a bar passage requirement that occurs in Hebrew, then that would probably provide a check, along with malpractice claims.

To my mind, what I think of as the French linguistic protectionist approach seems here kind of ... pathetic. But maybe I'm missing something.

 

Posted by Dan Markel on April 3, 2014 at 01:54 PM in Article Spotlight, Dan Markel, Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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Comments

I totally agree! It's worth noting that the French themselves have largely abandoned the protectionist approach in higher education. When I teach in Paris, which I do "with some frequency and affection" as you put it so well, I'm encouraged to do so in English so that the students accustom themselves to conversing about the law in English. I do find, however, that it's much more fun to teach at least partly in French because the students come alive and engage with the material far more when they can use some French and some English.

Posted by: Darren Rosenblum | Apr 3, 2014 11:22:41 PM

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