Bilingual Legal Education for Spanish-English Speakers

A few years ago, I wrote a piece for the Journal of Legal Education asking whether it was time to think about providing bilingual education in the United States (see S.I. Strong, Review Essay – Bilingual Education in the United States: An Idea Whose Time Has Come, 64 J. Legal Educ. 354 (2014),  In that piece, I noted that although the longstanding connection between law, language and the state traditionally led law schools to provide legal education in a single language, contemporary lawyers are increasingly likely to need foreign language skills in both domestic and international settings. As a result, I suggested that U.S. law schools might consider taking steps to improve U.S. lawyers’ ability to operate in multiple languages, as is routinely done in a number of European nations.

This is not to say that U.S. law schools do not offer courses meant to help students achieve fluency in the legal language of other jurisdictions. Some do.  However, U.S. law schools lag far behind their European counterparts in this regard.  Furthermore, U.S. legal educators suffer from a lack of resources for instructors of foreign legal language courses and from the absence of any discussion about what constitutes best practices in the field.

Some help in this regard may be forthcoming as the result of the work of the International Academy of Comparative Law, which will be considering bilingual education in 2018 at its upcoming World Congress in Japan (see  Various members of the American Society of Comparative Law will be in attendance at that meeting and will hopefully be able to bring back some ideas about how U.S. law schools can improve their curricular offerings.

In the meantime, however, there is a resource already available to those teaching across the Spanish-English linguistic divide that provides a new, potentially revolutionary approach to bilingual legal education. Comparative Law for Spanish-English Lawyers: Legal Cultures, Legal Terms and Legal Practices / Derecho comparado para abogados anglo- e hispanoparlantes: Culturas jurídicas, términos jurídicos y prácticas jurídicas (Edward Elgar Publishing, Ltd., 2016) (see is an entirely bilingual text that goes “both ways,” as it were, so as to help those involved in teaching legal Spanish to native English speakers (as would be the case with many J.D. candidates) as well as those involved in teaching legal English to native Spanish speakers (as would be the case with certain foreign LL.M.s).

The goal of the book is to help those who are conversationally fluent in a second language achieve legal fluency in that language while also contextualizing the analysis in a comparative paradigm.  The text was co-written by Professor S.I. Strong of the University of Missouri, Professor Katia Fach Gómez of the University of Zaragoza and Professor Laura Carballo Piñeiro of the University of Santiago de Compostela to offer practical, doctrinal and linguistic insights into a variety of English- and Spanish-speaking jurisdictions, thereby providing comparisons not only across the Spanish-English divide but also within each language.  Given the nature of this particular language pairing, the book necessarily addresses various issues resulting from the differences between the common law and civil law, although the discussion is not limited to that type of binary analysis. The book is suitable for both group and individual study, and provides useful tips for academics, practitioners and law students.

Hopefully books like this will not only help those who are currently interested in Spanish-English bilingual legal education, they will also trigger a larger discussion about both the need for and the shape of bilingual legal education in the United States and elsewhere. Indeed, that sort of conversation seems long overdue.


3 Responses

  1. Hi Professor, I agree with you that bilingual legal education should be explored in the US! We don’t even need to look so far to Europe because McGill’s Law program (in Montreal, Canada) is bilingual (English / French) and covers both common law and civil law. This gives students a lot more career options post-graduation.

  2. Dear Wela

    Many thanks for your note. I completely agree that McGill’s program is excellent, not only because it is bilingual but also because it is bicultural, meaning that students learn about the common law and the civil law in tandem. Louisiana State University in the US also provides bicultural learning opportunities, though it is monolingual in its approach.

  3. […] may also like to read a post on the blog Best Practices for Legal Education by the book’s co-author, S. I. Strong, which […]

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