Hello, ESPers worldwide!
In this ESP Project Leader Profile, we meet Marta Baffy, a lawyer and a linguist at Georgetown Law in the United States. (I love how ESP researchers and practitioners often have expertise in multiple areas.)
Marta’s profile appears below:
Marta Baffy is a lawyer and linguist with over a decade of ESL teaching experience in Hungary and the United States. She obtained a J.D. from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and an M.A. in applied linguistics from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in linguistics from Georgetown University. Marta is the faculty director of the Two-Year Master of Laws (LL.M.) Program at Georgetown Law, where she teaches academic legal English (ALE), a year-long intensive course in the first year of the program that prepares international students for the linguistic and intellectual demands of LL.M. study in the second year of the Program. Marta’s research interests lie at the intersection of law and linguistics, particularly in the courtroom and legal classroom. Her most recent work focuses on how foreign-trained attorneys are socialized into the culture of an American law school during class interactions. Marta lives in Baltimore with her husband and dog.
In Marta’s responses to the following interview questions, we learn about how she created a “legal analysis unit” for academic legal English (ALE). (After her responses, you can see a photo of her dog!)
Director of the Two-Year LL.M. Program
Senior Lecturer in Legal English
(1) Define leadership in your own words.
Leadership to me means collaborating with others and asking for feedback and help from students and colleagues throughout the life of a project. Leadership also means recognizing the unique strengths and expertise of colleagues and harnessing these to make the project a success. Finally, leadership means a willingness to engage in critical self-reflection.
(2) Tell me an ESP project success story. Focus on your communication as a leader in the project. How did you communicate with stakeholders to make that project successful?
Project: Create a legal analysis unit for the ALE class.
Background: When I began teaching in an earlier iteration of the ALE class several years ago, I recognized that students weren’t reading legal cases or working on exam-taking and legal analysis skills in the class. Legal cases typically form the foundation of students’ LL.M. coursework and practically all LL.M. students take timed exams during their studies. Indeed, many students take only exam classes, with grades for these courses based entirely on a single exam administered at the end of the semester. I noticed a gap that needed to be filled.
So a large-scale, long-term project I took on was to create a robust legal analysis unit for the ALE class. Broadly speaking, this has involved gradually incorporating legal cases and multiple timed-writing tasks into the ALE syllabus. Students now read ten torts/negligence cases in the fall semester, which we discuss using the Socratic Method. They “brief” (summarize) each case, for which they receive feedback on content and language. Finally, they complete four timed-writing tasks in which they must identify and resolve legal issues using rules from the cases we’ve read. Students receive individualized feedback on both content and language on each of the timed writing tasks (two 30-minute questions, a one-hour practice exam, and a two-hour final exam). In the spring semester we repeat roughly the same process, with eight cases in the area of criminal procedure/police interrogation law.
To carry out this project, I first had to collaborate with my co-instructors. We employ a team-teaching approach at Georgetown Law: I am a content/language specialist, while my co-instructors are language specialists. Together, we’ve negotiated how much class and out-of-class time we can dedicate to class discussions of the cases and feedback on students’ case briefs and timed writing tasks, as well as who would do what. Though ALE meets for eight hours per week, we have to cover a range of other topics in the class, including paper writing and general writing skills, grammar and style, seminar discussion, and pronunciation.
At first, I was convinced that I could (and should) do the all of the legal analysis unit myself: the planning, teaching, and feedback on both content and language. But with time I learned—through self-reflection and some eye-opening conversations with my co-instructors—that part of being a successful leader is collaborating with others and creating opportunities for colleagues to use their expertise. I’ve learned to ask for help from my colleagues and at times defer to their professional judgment instead of taking everything on myself. So while I read timed-writing tasks for content, they often help me by providing the language feedback. This has decreased feelings of burnout and ensured that our students get better, more useful comments.
To make the legal analysis unit a success, I also communicated extensively with students. We’ve made tweaks to the ALE syllabus every year based on student feedback. We obtain this feedback in the form of anonymous course evaluations (administered twice during the first year of the program) and exit interviews (conducted at the end of the second year of the program). Communicating with students in these ways has been critical for continually refining the ALE syllabus and making sure that we create optimal conditions for students’ linguistic and intellectual development. Recent evaluations indicate that students have learned a great deal from, and even enjoyed, the legal analysis component of the class. Further, students’ grades in their elective law classes suggest that the increased focus on legal cases and timed writing tasks has helped them to do better in their law classes.
Communication with and openness to the ideas of both my colleagues and students has been essential to making the legal analysis unit useful and effective. Having learned this valuable lesson, I now try to use it to inform my approach to other teaching/curricular projects.
When I read Marta’s responses, the following jumped out at me: “Part of being a successful leader is collaborating with others and creating opportunities for colleagues to use their expertise.” I would like to change the word colleagues to stakeholders because of Marta’s extensive communication with students. In a previous blog post, I wrote that “we could say that the creation of the vision (i.e., the training) and how to achieve the vision (i.e., the delivery of the training) continue to be co-constructed (i.e., negotiated) by the various stakeholders over time.” It seems to me that Marta has created opportunities for stakeholders to continually develop the ALE program.
Please feel free to contact Marta directly with any questions about her leadership, program development, and/or her dog, Stanley.
All the best,