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February 27, 2024

Global Legal English Skills Community Expands Support for Ukrainian Law Schools

Stephen Horowitz

While Ukraine has not dominated headlines as it previously did amidst its struggle for survival against Russia, a growing community of U.S. and other non-Ukrainian law school faculty, set in motion almost two years ago by the Global Legal Skills Conference leaders and the Legal Writing Institute’s Global Legal Writing Skills Committee in collaboration with the USAID Justice for All Activity in Ukraine, have continued expanding their efforts to help Ukraine’s law schools, faculty, and students lay the foundation for a more westward-facing, English language-influenced, and rule-of-law-oriented legal education system. 

I’ve been extremely fortunate to be part of that community and to see the wide range of legal professionals not only stepping up and getting involved in grassroots efforts to build connections with Ukraine, its law schools, and its faculty and students, but also getting more of their colleagues involved in these efforts.

Since Fall 2022, nearly 50 law professors and professionals from the US and elsewhere have provided more than 70 online courses or guest lectures at fourteen different Ukrainian universities. A number of others have been providing support to Ukrainian law faculty with academic journals and publications in English.

What’s it like teaching Ukrainian law students? According to William Yeago, an American legal English professional based in Paris who taught courses this past year, "In my 25+ years of teaching—a first for me—I never had to cancel a class because of an incoming drone missile alert which happened recently. The students told me that they didn't get much sleep the prior weekend as they had to go to basements or bomb shelters during the night. We discussed the war sometimes. I was surprised at their interest and knowledge of American pop culture—watching Jimmy Fallon on YouTube or telling me the names of hip-hop artists of which I know nothing. One of my students actually was doing the course from Lithuania, and she was happy to be safe but felt guilty about her family still in Ukraine."

Additionally, from these interactions sprung new forms of support. For example, after teaching a Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 online legal English course for law students at Yuriy Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University, Indiana University Law School Professor Catherine Beck was approached by Chernivtsi law professor Oksana Kiriiak with a proposal to collaborate for the next semester. Ukrainian law professors are expected to be able to teach their law courses in English in the next year or two, and Kiriiak wanted to take a thoughtful pedagogical approach to re-thinking her “Obligations in International Private Law” curriculum. So, she and Beck spent the Fall 2023 semester re-designing the curriculum, discussing pedagogy, and experimenting with different ways to teach and present the course content for Ukrainian students who themselves have varying levels of English ability.

According to Beck, “After teaching three Legal English classes for Ukrainian law students in the Fall of 2022 and Spring of 2023, I also wanted to do something for Ukrainian law faculty to teach them how to add legal English to their courses. [Professor Kiriiak] sent me a message asking me to collaborate with her in converting a law course from Ukrainian to English just as I was wondering how I could help.”

Kiriiak added, “The process involved bi-monthly meetings, one-on-one sessions fostering discussions on optimizing the educational experience for students with varying levels of legal English proficiency, and collective gatherings with representatives from other Ukrainian law schools.”

This in turn led to a suggestion from Beck that other Ukrainian law faculty would likely be interested in and benefit from legal English training as well. So, we collaborated with Artem Shaipov of the USAID Justice for All Activity in Ukraine to identify several more law and legal English faculty who could offer and benefit from trainings. The result was a cohort of about 40 Ukrainian law faculty interested in the legal English trainings. Topics focused on curriculum design, assessment, differentiation, teaching of speaking, pronunciation and presentation, and legal English conversation topics. Beck and Kiriiak also offered several Zoom sessions to share their observations and insights from their unique collaboration.

The impact on Kiriiak and other Ukrainian law faculty was significant. “This collaborative venture not only enriched me with invaluable professional guidance and profound life wisdom from Professor Beck but also created a treasure trove of delightful moments, including shared life stories, engaging lecturing scenarios, and more. Initiating such endeavors propelled me from a passive state, akin to a victim of war, to an active role as the architect of my own agenda. In Ukraine, we all navigate the constraints imposed by the ongoing aggression, often interrupting our plans (like we need to seek shelter during alarms no matter what was really planned on that moment). However, these initiatives with our American and European counterparts reinstated a sense of influence, allowing us to reclaim control over our lives, pursuing our pre-war way of academic mindset and research passion.”

“These trainings were extremely helpful,” said Liudmyla Balykina-Halanets of KROK University in Kyiv. “Workshops with [Portland State University linguistics professor] Dr. Alissa Hartig helped me better understand how to prepare material for legal courses in English for students with different English levels. [Hartig] provided us with linguistic tools and showed us how to incorporate them into our curriculum so that Ukrainian students would be able to better understand the form and meaning of authentic documents in English.”

Professor Svitlana Zadorozhna of Yuri Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University shared that the trainings were “an important step for me in improving my teaching and technical communication skills in English, in terms of pronunciation, grammar, idioms, presentations, methodology, and skills specific to American law studies and practices.”

And Professor Olena Zhygadlo of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv added, “Being a participant of Legal English Conversation training and Assessment and Feedback sessions made it possible to find out what practical tasks Legal English teachers in the USA deal within their courses. For example, reading and analyzing cases, encouraging their students to assess their own and their peers' writing. As a result, I have developed a much clearer vision of what Ukrainian law students might need to improve their legal English and to acquire some practical skills to become more competitive in the international labor market. In addition, I am grateful for the insightful materials and links which have been generously shared by the American legal English and law professors during and between the meetings.”

In addition to all of the information sharing, one of the key benefits for many participants was simply gaining confidence in their ability to communicate in English. According to Linda Pope, one of the legal English trainers, there was one Ukrainian law professor who joined the first training session yet seemed like she may not continue. So, Pope followed up with an encouraging email, and the faculty member continued to participate, letting her guard down little by little. By the last session, the Ukrainian faculty member exclaimed to Pope, “Wow, you can really understand me!”

The nine-week Legal English Conversation sessions, which I led, helped identify general areas of interest for Ukrainian faculty. First, we became aware of the existence of and need to distinguish between Ukrainian law faculty and Ukrainian legal English faculty. Second, we determined that some participants valued the opportunity to practice presenting in English on their areas of expertise, while others were interested in comparing aspects of the Ukrainian and the U.S. legal systems, particularly with regard to federalism and the U.S. election process.

To effectively conduct Legal English Conversations via Zoom with 10 to 15 participants in each session, I realized it was also necessary to recruit more law faculty so I could pair Ukrainian faculty up for a 1-to-1 or 2-to-1 ratio. In response to the call I put out for conversation partners for Ukrainian law faculty, I received over 20 responses, which worked out well since most could only join some days and not others. But the positive response confirmed that people in our Global Legal Skills community are eager to help once they’re aware of ways to do so.

Nadiia Maksimentseva of Dnipro National University, who teaches a course on election law, mentioned that thanks to her Legal English Conversation sessions where she was able to interact with Georgetown Legal English Professor John Dundon and University of Miami Legal Writing Professor Katherine Renee Schimkat she gained a much deeper understanding of the history, traditions, and intricacies of the modern U.S. election system and the complicated interaction of state and federal law in the U.S. common law legal system.

Another unique offshoot from the initial grassroots efforts has been Alan Blakely, a former law professor and practicing lawyer. Not only did he teach online courses on U.S. Civil Procedure and Comparative Law for National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (KMA), but he ended up being added to the KMA faculty as a guest professor, continuing to teach online and also moderate the KMA faculty English club. Blakely also set up a Ukraine Resources Clearinghouse page on Facebook to assist others in the Global Legal Skills community in supporting Ukrainian legal education. [https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61554687966499]

There’s also University of Arkansas law professor Christopher Kelley who in 2023 taught courses on legal writing in English and negotiation skills to students and faculty at several Ukrainian law schools in Ukraine in addition to teaching a transnational Rule of Law Colloquium at University of Arkansas Law School in which about 50 Ukrainian law students participated remotely. Kelley has also been involved in other ways, reviewing law student and law professor applications for Fulbright grants as well as writing letters of recommendations for Ukrainians applying to universities outside of Ukraine.

Also stemming from KMA has been a peer-to-peer writing program, pairing KMA law students with U.S. law students for a six-week legal memo writing assignment. Organized by University of Illinois College of Law professor Taisa Markus together with KMA’s Nataliya Maksymchuk, the program launched as a pilot in Fall 2023 and, in response to its success, is continuing in 2024 with more law students from both sides. My own involvement began when Prof. Alan Blakely reached out to me to try and find more U.S. law students to meet the demand from Ukrainian students, and so I rounded up three Georgetown JD students. But as I put out the word for more students for additional sessions in 2024, many more responses came rolling in. And according to the program organizers, the demand on the Ukrainian side is such that all of these U.S. law students will be needed.

Capturing the larger spirit of this expanding grassroots effort was the impromptu involvement of UCLA Law professor Eugene Volokh. Midway through the fall he learned of the Legal English Conversation sessions via Tessa Dysart, Assistant Director of Legal Writing at University of Arizona Law. It turns out Prof Volokh was born in Kyiv before moving to the U.S. at a young age. Though he was limited by timing in the extent to which he could participate during Fall 2023, he has expressed interest in guest lecturing or providing other forms of support for Ukrainian law schools in 2024.

As 2024 gets underway, the number of law faculty, law students, and legal professionals in the U.S. and elsewhere who are interested in helping has continued to grow, further demonstrating the desire of the U.S. legal community to support the transition of Ukraine’s legal education system. The only shortage at this point are ways to help people engage.

If interested in getting involved, feel free to contact [email protected] and/or Artem Shaipov at [email protected].

A special thank you to all who volunteered:

Legal English Trainers:

  1. Dr. Alissa Hartig, Associate Professor, Applied Linguistics, Portland State University
  2. Prof. Catherine Beck, Legal English Specialist, University of Indiana Robert H. McKinney School of Law
  3. Prof. Susan Dudley, Applied Linguistics Specialist, University of Richmond Law School
  4. Linda Pope, JD-MA TESOL, Adjunct Professor of Law, Mitchell Hamline School of Law
  5. Prof. Stephen Horowitz, Legal English Professor, Georgetown Law

Legal English Conversation Helpers

  1. Prof. John Dundon, Legal English Professor, Georgetown Law
  2. Katherine Renee Schimkat, Legal Writing Professor, University of Miami Law School
  3. Tessa Dysart, Assistant Director of Legal Writing, University of Arizona Law School
  4. Prof. Carrie Sanford, Director of Academic Success, University of Washington School of Law
  5. Prof. Susan Dudley, Applied Linguistics Specialist, University of Richmond Law School
  6. Natasha Costello, Legal English Teacher & Lecturer in Law, and co-author of Practical English Language Skills for Lawyers: Improving Your Legal English
  7. Louise Kulbicki, Founder of StudyLegalEnglish.com and and co-author of Practical English Language Skills for Lawyers: Improving Your Legal English
  8. Prof. Johann Morri, Associate Director of International Programs-Lecturer, UC Davis School of Law
  9. Prof. Roberta Ward, Legal English Professor, University of Maryland
  10. Prof. Joe Regalia, founder of Write.Law and Legal Writing Professor, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law
  11. Prof. Eugene Volokh, UCLA School of Law
  12. Prof. Anne Himes, Legal English Professor, St. John’s Law
  13. Anne Dorfman, Lawyer and Legal English Teacher
  14. Prof. Nina Farber, Legal Writing Professor, Brooklyn Law School
  15. Susan Kornetsky, Instructor and Coach in Legal English, Business English & ESOL

    Stephen Horowitz

    Georgetown Law

    Stephen Horowitz (JD/MA TESOL) is a Lecturer in Legal English for Georgetown Law's 2-Year LLM Program. He is also editor of the Georgetown Legal English Blog, runs the ETLEP Google Group for the legal English community, and co-hosts the USLawEssentials Law & Language podcast.

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