If you want a monolingual dictionary of U.S. law, the only Blacks Law Dictionary worth getting is the big one. Don’t get an abridged Blacks. But you dont have to get Blacks: Gifis (also known as Barrons) and Merriam-Webster are both excellent. I have a feeling Merriam-Webster is on the Web somewhere. There are at least two sizes of Gifis: get the largest. Both Gifis and Merriam-Webster date from the late 1990s – you could check the publisher to see if a new edition is due, although it doesnt matter, as the latest information can be found on the Internet.
If you want one for the UK, or more likely just for England and Wales, Curzon, or Mozley and Whitely, or Osborn, or the Oxford Dictionary of Law (the latter has fewer and longer entries) are all OK.
On legal terminology in general, there are some promising books around that I don’t know – three U.S. ones entitled Legal Terminology, by Gordon Brown, S. Whittington Brown and Cathy Okrent. Some Internet research will produce extracts to look at, either at amazon.com or on the publisher’s website.
Garner’s Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage is a great book, but not of much interest to most people. Don’t buy it without looking at it.
A curiosity that no-one I know likes but that has some good material in it is Pons Fachwörterbuch Recht (based on a Peter Collin English dictionary). The main body is an English-for-foreigners English law dictionary, which Klett Verlag has spruced up with German equivalents (good German equivalents) and a German index. This is not supposed to be a bilingual dictionary. It has definitions and sentence examples. I think people feel it’s below their level in some of its entries, but it is worth having a look at.
Vanessa Sims: English Law and Terminology. A Guide for Practitioners and Students, ISBN 3 7890 7020 3 (for first ed. 2001 – maybe there is a later one). This is an outline of English law, with important terminology marked in bold.
Coursebooks with a variety of texts
These coursebooks tend to remain in print for only a few years, so it may be that you can’t get hold of recommended ones. Try to see them and see if their glossaries save you time. Alternatively, you can use a dictionary and the Internet to find vocabulary you don’t know. For instance, enter into Google: define:manslaughter. That produces six definitions. In the long run you’ll have to rely on your own resources in any case.
An example of possibly out of print: Donald R. Black, Black’s Legal Reader, ISBN 3 933 76330 4, 1998 (überarbeitet 1999), but Google suggests it’s still being used there. May be possible to order, or to buy at a law bookshop in Hannover, where it originated. I should think that law students could exchange details of a lot of local scripts via Internet forums. I’m sure there are numerous books of this kind that are all good but not sold nationwide.
I think the most widely sold book of this type with a German slant is Professor Sharon Byrd’s Einführung in the anglo-amerikanische Rechtssprache – new edition of two volumes is apparently in the pipeline. These are good books with excellent texts and based on great classes, some of which I have attended myself – and of course the interaction between teacher and class is missing in the book. I don’t like everything the publisher has done to this. For instance, after every section comes a block of Terminology, followed by a block of Vocabulary. We are supposed to believe that Terminology and Vocabulary are separate things. Pity the poor author. You know that IANAL means ‘I am not a lawyer’, so maybe ANAL means ‘I am a lawyer’ – or rather a law publisher. All the Terminology (ie the legal terms) is repeated in alphabetical order in the index. So you save time looking things up as they come once in the order encountered in the text and once alphabetically. But you lose this time again, I suppose, turning pages from terminology to vocabulary. Anyway, the book comes out rather long, just over 50 pages being repeated, and thus expensive. I am not that keen on the way the definitions are written, but that’s because I spend all my time thining about language. I prefer the Alpmann scripts with some German terms in the margin – at least in principle, but unfortunately their materials are not in native-speaker English and their German equivalents are not ideal (OK for many readers, but not to give translation students). Another thing I don’t like is the publisher’s attempt in the second edition to cover English as well as American law. This means we get sections where English law is described – very well but not perfectly – by an American, or there’s a reference to the word heirs in the English section, whereas the word is no longer used in English law, or we’re told that jury is singular in U.S. English and plural in British English, – not so, it is either singular or plural in BE.
I mention this book because if I don’t, people will think I don’t recommend the book. On the contrary, it is very good and most people will not be affected by the AmE/BE problem.
Astrid Tangl more here, English for Lawyers and Law Students. With a Short Introduction to the US Legal System, ISBN 3 7143 0106 2 (or 978 3 7143 0106 9)
This is by an Austrian judge but the English is first-rate. Apparently she co-teaches a course on legal English at Innsbruck University. I find it a touch on the expensive side at EUR 24.30 (for 130 pages plus an index of concepts and a bilingual vocabulary list), but sometimes better a short book than a long one. The contents include a brief description of the US legal system, with some case reports and diagrams, and some lists of terminology with German equivalents. Good layout.
Francis Henry, Kevin Pike: English law and legal language: Introduction. Eine Einführung in das englische Rechtssystem und die englische Rechtssprache. Sprachenzentrum der Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, EUR 15. ISBN 3.9810877-0-4 2006
I have already mentioned this, so I mention it again. For British English. I am not saying this is the best on the market, but it looks good. I have a couple of other books I am not even mentioning because I suspect they are out of print.
Some miscellaneous suggestions
Michael Jewell, An Introduction to English Contract Law: For German Readers with Exercises, ISBN (for first ed.) 3 7890 5006 7
There is not much German in here, but the text has a comparative-law element. For example, mistake and Irrtum have different places in English and German law, and the section on Mistake begins with a section on the relationship between English law and German law
Glanville Williams, Learning the Law
An introductory book for English students. The author is long since deceased, but I have a 2002 edition. The book contains a lot of useful trivia, including pronunciation of law French and legal Latin, law libraries, the system of precedence, how to pass exams and so on.
I am sure I have forgotten some books worth mentioning, but I’ll add any that occur to me here.
LATER NOTE: Further suggestions are contained in this following entry.