ESP Project Leader Profile: Stephen Horowitz

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

At the 2017 Annual TESOL International Convention & English Language Expo in Seattle in March, I met Stephen Horowitz in person. In the 31st ESP Project Leader Profile, we will all learn more about this former Wall Street lawyer and ESP program director. Here’s his bio:

Stephen Horowitz is the Director of Legal English Programs at St. John’s University School of Law, where he began working in 2014. He is a graduate of Duke Law School and former associate at the Wall St. law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, with an M.A. in TESOL from CUNY-Hunter College. He also previously taught English in Japan on the JET Program and subsequently spent time studying law and interning for Japanese lawyers. Now overseas, Stephen designs curriculum for, and teaches in, the American Law: Discourse & Analysis (ALDA) program as well as the summer intensive English for American Law School (EALS) program and the Bar Exam Language & Strategies (BELS) course. He is also the creator of the Bankruptcy Bill cartoon and has played in ultimate Frisbee tournaments in 8 different countries. He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife and 3 children.

In his interview responses below, he describes a program for helping students pass the bar exam.

Stephen Horowitz
Director of Legal English Programs
St. John’s University School of Law
Blog: St. John’s Legal English Blog

(1) Define leadership in your own words.

One form of leadership is recognizing unfilled needs of an organization, developing a vision and strategy, having deep conviction in that vision and strategy, persuading stakeholders of the value of supporting the project, and filling those needs in a way that benefits the stakeholders and the organization.

(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: The Bar Exam Language & Strategies (BELS) course, designed to help students improve their results on the essay writing section of the bar exam.

Background: There was never a specific request. But in early in 2016, I started to realize that a number of our nonnative-English-speaking master of laws (LLM) students planning to take the bar exam were in need of some sort of language-related support. And I began thinking about developing a hybrid bar exam and language support course. A professor with expertise in bar preparation who had many of the LLM students in his classes had observed to me that, for those LLM students who did not pass the bar, language seemed to be a primary obstacle. Additionally, a colleague had analyzed bar scores taken by our LLM students and concluded that for those students who did not pass, the greatest opportunity for improvement was the essay section. At the time my jurisdiction was pre-LLM programs. But I decided it was time to start developing support programs for LLM students, starting with a language support course for bar preparation.


  • Figuring out what the course would look like
  • Getting buy-in from my my supervisor
  • Persuading a professor to let us work with his exam materials
  • Fitting the course into the already full schedules of LLM students
  • Persuading students that this new course would be worth their time


  1. Collaborated with my colleague Kathryn Piper to brainstorm and conceive of what the course would look like. (Katy has both law and ESL experience, and has particularly unique insights and ideas around the intersection of law and language support.)
  2. Gained my supervisor’s support, with the understanding that it would need to be a support course offered at no additional charge.
  3. Developed rapport with the professor whose exams I would need to use. Established trust and procedures to ensure security of exam materials.
  4. Communicated with administrators and students to find optimal time to meet. Devised course so that all work would be during class time–no homework assignments–in order to avoid adding to their already full loads.
  5. Met with students to explain the rationale for the class and conduct needs analysis to determine their greatest concerns and fears about taking and passing the bar exam.


  • We quickly learned that in addition to language support needs, time was the students’ other greatest obstacle. As a result, we began focusing on language-related strategies designed to help students write more quickly and efficiently.
  • Student interest remained high during the pilot course, despite the fact that they were concurrently enrolled in paid bar review courses (e.g., BARBRI). Students appreciated a forum to ask language-related questions and get language-related feedback.
  • Bar results impact still unclear, but demand from both students and administration has led to BELS course incorporation into the fall and spring semester schedules.

Comment: In spring 2016, as far as I knew, this idea had not been tried previously, so this very much felt like a new wheel to be invented. (Though I recently learned of another legal English specialist, Kirsten Schaetzel, who has also been involved with bar support for LLM students at Emory Law School.) As a result, it has felt very satisfying to start from scratch and see this idea develop into a positive component of the LLM experience at St. John’s Law School as well as a unique support offering for nonnative-English-speaking students that is specifically highlighted in conversations with potential LLM applicants.

Stephen’s story points to what we need to be doing as ESP practitioners.  We need to identify the specific communication needs of our students and provide them with the communicative expertise to achieve their goals. In my case, many of my students need to prepare to communicate effectively in job interviews. In this connection, they need to be able to speak and write about their experiences. I would argue that passing the bar exam and being hired are both important goals to the relevant students. By empowering our students to achieve such important goals, we are illuminating the importance of communicative expertise and communication training for career success.

Do you have questions or comments for Stephen? Please feel free to contact him directly!

Good luck in empowering your students to achieve their academic and professional goals!

All the best,

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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