Interview with a Company Lawyer on our Specialist English for Legal Industry Course

Interview with a company lawyer

Case Study with Ricardo – Company Lawyer

As the world becomes smaller, the need to be able to communicate with other nations becomes more important. This need covers all areas, whether tourism and travel, business or law. At LSI/IH Portsmouth we regularly have executive students who deal in the world of law who feel less than confident in their ability to communicate their point in English. Ricardo recently visited us and had Richard S as his teacher.  We asked him if he would talk to us about his course and how it has helped him. We are very grateful to Ricardo for the following:

LSI/IH Portsmouth: Hello, who are you and what do you do?

Ricardo: My name is Ricardo and I work as a company lawyer for a power company in Berne, Switzerland. My name is Italian, of course, as I grew up in the canton of Ticino. Speaking several languages and working across cultures is a huge advantage in my work, especially in a multicultural country like Switzerland.  You see, although Switzerland is not part of the EU, power lines pass through Switzerland, from Germany to Italy, as well as France.  It is very important that we can negotiate with each other and understand the EU guidelines regarding power distribution to and from our neighbours. 

LSI/IH Portsmouth: How long have you worked there?

Ricardo: Although I am not so young, I have only been working in company law for about 15 years. Previously, I was a tutor for legal studies, but I eventually got bored and looked for a new challenge. That is, partly, why I am here, at LSI/IH Portsmouth!  I want to challenge myself, grow and take more responsibility in the company.  To achieve the kind of promotion I want, I have to speak English well – particularly, legal English!  Some of my colleagues, who are younger and who do not have as much project management experience as me, have been given more duties than me.  Why?  They’re legal English was better and so they could understand and talk about EU guidelines more readily.

LSI/IH Portsmouth: What kind of things do you do in your job?

Ricardo: My role is to draft, revise and negotiate contracts for power production and distribution across the cantons of Switzerland, and internationally as well, of course. So, my job is involved from the start to the end of the grid and beyond our borders. In Switzerland, we have very large dams, five nuclear plants and so on; at the other end, we have the end users – domestic users, I mean – and, in between we have the various distributors and suppliers across different cantons, some with ownership of the power lines themselves and some, not.  So, my job can be quite complex and I must be aware of legal differences and requirements in these different jurisdictions.

LSI/IH Portsmouth: Why do you need English?

Ricardo: Well, as I said before, understanding legal English is really significant if you want more responsibility or a promotion in my industry. Basically, I must have the confidence to read and understand government policies, written in very formal English by Germans, Italians etc. Of course, their English may not be perfect.  I need to understand the vocabulary very well to understand the context and maybe make suggestions to improve a contract clause or whatever.

Negotiating contracts with English-speakers from various backgrounds is very important too; just understanding the names of the various clauses in a typical contract makes all the difference when you need to look professional.  Can I say force majeure? What is the difference between a warranty and a guarantee?  What are boilerplate clauses and why don’t you just call them standard clauses?  How can I argue either passively or aggressively over the damages, the jurisdiction, the termination triggers?  Knowing the vocabulary is good, but knowing when to use it makes you great at your job.  Moreover, I must report on all of this in very simple English to my bosses and between the different departments of the company.  So, I need formal and informal legal English phrases and to understand how to, for example, format my emails, depending on whether I am talking to a client, my superior, the other party, a third party and so on.

LSI/IH Portsmouth: How has this course helped you?

Ricardo. I feel so much more confident.  When I first came to LSI/IH Portsmouth, I had a set of guidelines in my hand; these had been drafted in my canton to comply with the EU guidelines of our neighbours in Germany.  I felt very (what can I say?) anxious when I read this.  I didn’t understand everything, so how could I implement the policies or report on exactly what is required of our company in very simple words to all the staff?  Now, when I look at the guidelines, it’s simple.

To answer your question, my legal vocabulary is much better, not just for drafting commercial contracts, but for legal English in general; we even looked at some Latin phrases which are still used in some commercial contracts; most of this was actually new for me.
Now, I understand the typical wording of each clause, I can tell what type of clause it is when I see the first two or three lines.  Of course, now I have the confidence to see if a clause is good for our company or not and how I can politely negotiate any changes, or sometimes to make demands without being rude or unprofessional!
My listening and speaking have improved a lot too.  I can discuss the effects of a policy or contract, whether informally or formally, in an email, by telephone, with the other party, a client and so on.   I know my main boss is going to see the difference straight away.
So, if I must make a list, I have learned the importance of grammar in legal English – your tone and attitude; the right context for vocabulary and the history of these words so that I really understand the meaning; how to format different letters and emails to different parties; negotiation and persuasion; and most importantly confidence.  For a European commercial lawyer, your legal English ability gives you the power to control the situation and to intimidate the other party; now, I feel I can assert myself.  I will explain the situation to them in the future.

LSI/IH Portsmouth: Would you recommend this course to others?

Ricardo: I highly recommend this course for commercial lawyers who want to improve their legal English.  Not just commercial lawyers, all lawyers who use legal English!

We would like to thank Ricardo and Richard for this interview.

(**Please note we have changed the students’ names due to their companies’ privacy policies.**)

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