Jens Drolshammer/Nedim VogtEnglish as the Language of Law?

2.3 / 2.54    Jens Drolshammer/Nedim Vogt, English as the Language of Law?, An Essay on the Legal Lingua Franca of a Shrinking World, Zürich, Basle, Geneva, 2003, p. 1 – 59, with an extensive bibliography, further reading and references, p. 61 – 95

a) Background

The text at hand is an essay in the form of a short book. It contains an extensive bibliography for further references. In the introduction the authors state that for years there has been an intriguing tendency in many aspects of today’s worldwide legal profession towards an ever-increasing Anglo-Saxon influence as well as a growing trend of Americanization. This is of course particularly the case concerning European legal professionals and academics. However, it is not just this un-European process of “Anglification”, but also the growing American dominance and pre-eminence of the Anglo-American culture that lawyers in the international practice of law have to deal with, exposed as they are to the challenges of these new realities and the internationalization of the practice of law in their day-to-day professional lives.

The function of professional legal English has fundamentally changed in recent years: English has become the legal field’s lingua franca. This new reality has not only had a great impact on all legal professionals within a particular jurisdiction but also on the jurisdiction of its legal system itself. Very little is known about the “travels” and the mechanics and the wide impact of these new realities, particularly if one considers its enormous significance. In a changing world, there will be a need for new awareness and new strategies in the area of legal education, legal research, legal scholarship and the international legal professions. The ever-growing importance of the English language increasingly affects our society. This of course must also be seen in the context of many initiatives to deal with the larger issues of the function of the English language in our society, our daily life and the education of our children – English being presently the strongest network of the “brave new world” of Americanization as well as of Globalization.

The authors make the following suggestions and proposals for the multidimensional task of coping with the new realities of legal English. The authors favour an issue-driven and topical approach. The authors do not claim to have embarked on an academic adventure in the traditional sense. Many of the statements are based on observations and experiences, not on survey and research. The essay is meant to serve as a quarry to provide building blocks, gravel and sand for further discourse or analysis. It is inspired by the following working hypothesis: Law follows language and language often carries the law: Now is the age of Anglo-American Law and of English as the language of law.

Jens Drolshammer is an emeritus Professor of Law at the University of St. Gallen and a former founding and senior partner of an international commercial law firm in Zurich. He practiced internationally for many years dealing with issues of American law and legal culture. He has co-created at the University of St. Gallen a post-graduate masters program in European and international business law. In the past 15 years, he has focused his research activities and writing on the effects of globalization and americanization on law and – in particular – on legal professions. He has worked in that context from 1999 to 2008 seven times in the fall term as a Swiss visiting research professor at the Center for European Law Research at Harvard Law School, developing a new personalistic approach in analyzing effects of globalization, which lead to the publication of twenty essays in A Timely Turn to the Lawyer? – Globalization and the Americanization of Law and Legal Professions – Essays (2009).

Nedim Vogt has been a senior partner of a large commercial law firm in Zurich until 2010. He has an international education: he studied at Harvard Law School and worked for two years as a lawyer in a law firm in New York. He has been a well-known teacher of law at the University of Zurich from 1989 to 2011. He is the author, co-author and editor of numerous books and articles on trusts and inheritance law as well as on contracts and civil procedure. He is also the co-editor of a new series of commentaries on Swiss law.

Vogt and Drolshammer have been professional and personal friends for many years. They have embarked on several projects on the internationalization of the legal profession as well as on the role of language in law and on legal professions in general such as Swiss Law Bibliography, English Language Materials on Swiss Law (2005) and the text at hand, English as the Language of Law, an Essay on the Lingua Franca of a Shrinking World (2003). This essay was volume one of a once-planned series called Transatlantica – culture, language and law in a Transatlantic Context. This project, despite its prominent international advisory board for commercial reasons, did not succeed.

b) Summary

The text situates the issue in the Internationalization of Practice of Law as an example and highlights the importance of English as a legal language. The text analyses the current use of the English legal language by the legal professions. It particularly highlights the international impact of Swiss law as well. It describes the relevance of legal English for Switzerland as a reality for the legal professions and identifies “potentials” and “constraints” of the use of English as a legal language in Switzerland. The text postulates elements of a strategy to deal with English as a language of law in general as well as the particular needs for a strategy in the area of legal education and legal research, legal professions and legal professional associations. The text then turns to further challenges in an age of globalization behind the lines, in view of the under researched issues of law of the interdependence and interlinking of the dimension of law and the dimension of communication in a globalised legal world in the information age.

The text deals with issues such as: Defending Europe: The Necessity of Communication in English, which states that it will become increasingly important for non-English speakers and for non-Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions to be able to communicate their own values and concepts of legal systems, professions and education in English in order to make themselves heard and understood by the English-speaking community. The form of international oriented self-defence or self-assurance will be an important and considerable challenge in the near future. The text ends with a call for further action from a trans-Atlantic perspective.

The book cites a quotation of George Steiner from his seminal essay: “After Babel, Aspects of Language and Translation” at the very end, which strikes yet a more subtle chord: “Both in 1975 and 1992, I sought to conjecture as to the polyglot future in the face of the global detergence by an Anglo-American Esperanto, itself splitting into more local though cognate forms. Thus one is tempted to suppose that the triumphalism of science, of technocracy, of international finance and the mass-market media will assure the long-term hegemony of Anglo-American (computer languages reflect and enforce this prepotence). Reality, however, is always subtler and more ironic than our suppositions. It may well be that the Tower of Babel will continue to cast its creative shadow.”

c) Text

You can find a scan (PDF) of the original text here:
A_2.54_DROLSHAMMER_English as the Language of Law

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