Friday, September 9, 2011

Essay Exam Answering Tip #9911 – Write with Concision

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subject only in outline, but that every word tell.  William Strunk and E. B. White

Mr. Strunk and Mr. White got it!  Often, less is more, and simple is best.  I like the phrase, "...every word tell."  When you write your exam answer, every word ought to be a point-scoring word.

Example: When you're answering a Contracts essay exam question, there's no need to define Contract. That's right.  Just as there is no need to define “Tort” or “Crime” in Tort or Criminal Law essay answers, there is no need to define “Contract.” Simply begin with the first issue.  That's because your "audience" as you write an exam is not a "know-nothing," but rather, a (fictional) peer who is familiar with the facts of your case (the question you're answering) and the basics of the law ... but she needs a refresher on the particulars.

So writing that "...a contract is an agreement between parties that ..." (etc.) scores no points; whereas, it is important to state the applicable portions of the statute of frauds before using that as a defense.

Likewise, there's no reason to discuss matters that are not germane to the call of the question.  One mistake is to write about what the defendant should have done instead of what he did do, then explain how things would have turned out differently for the parties if that were to have occurred.  In other words, changing the facts of the hypothetical and writing about the issues that arise under the altered facts.  That's a no-no.  As in "no points."  It wastes your time.

Concision reigns.

{This “tip” is one of a continuing series.  Law school academic professionals are authorized to use this material in their work however they choose – and law students who read these tips are encouraged to integrate them into their practice sessions. To see where this tip fits in the grand schema: Click here.} (djt)

September 9, 2011 in Advice, Exams - Theory, Writing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

NOW What?

Do you have to address the question, "NOW what am I going to do?  I have $100,000 in debt, and law jobs are drying up?" This is not just a Career Services question ... it definitely affects law school performance, and esprit de corps on campus in general.  So, NOW what?

According to Alan Scher Zagier, writing for the Associated Press, "The days of top law school graduates having their pick of six-figure jobs at boutique firms — or at least being assured of putting their degrees to use — are over.  Post-graduate employment rates are at their lowest levels in 15 years."

The article continues, explaining that because the employment rates have declined, so have the law school application rates.  "New student enrollment at UCLA law school is down 16 percent, while the University of Michigan reports a 14 percent decrease in applicants."

Now here's the good news (or maybe it's just speculation) for our students ... those who apply may be more committed, more sure of their career choice.  While a few years ago, very bright people with an aptitude for doing well in law school - but not necessarily with the desire and commitment you'd want to see in a lawyer representing you - were attracted to law school seeing it as "...a cakewalk to get a big salary," according to Sarah Zearfoss, the assistant law dean and admissions director at the University of Michigan.

According to the AP article, Larry Lambert, a 28-year-old U.S. Navy veteran struggled with the question of whether there were just too many lawyers before deciding to enroll in law school this semester.  He told the reporter that a candid conversation with a burned-out lawyer had "stopped me cold in my tracks." He began law school nevertheless, hoping to work as a federal prosecutor or in another position where he can "be a part of something bigger," and sees this diminishing application trend as "...one of the best things to happen to the profession in a long time. People don't go into social work thinking they want to get rich. They want to help people. The law should be like that."

Now THAT's the spirit!  Could it be that this trend - if that's what it is - will lead to more satisfaction among law students and then (am I the eternal optimist?) in the profession itself?  Click here to read the article.  (djt)

September 7, 2011 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Play Nice

As you may know, I'm a proponent of approaching law school as "practicing" law ... preparing for the professional practice by doing each day in law school many of the things laywers ought to be doing.  Example: attend every class.  There are hundreds of excuses ... even reasons for missing a class now and then.  But how many excuses or reasons stand up to the scrutiny of a client or a judge when a lawyer blows off a deposition or fails to show up for the second day of trial?  (Answer: zero.)

Now here's a real-life example.  In law school, students ought to be encouraged to learn to solve problems through dialogue, discussion, and respectful negotiation.   As Academic Support Professionals, many of us are the "go-to" folks for students who have "issues" with other students, faculty, or administrators.  That role doubles when we have dual capacities (like also serving as Dean of Students) as part of our responsibilities.

When students approach the office in tears, or in a heated rage, explaining how they have been wronged, think about how to counsel them with the "practice" idea in mind.  Law school can be a wonderful training ground for civil behavior under stress ... or the opposite.

Consider an order recently made by United States District Judge Sam Sparks in the case of Morris v. Coker.  "You are invited," wrote Judge Sparks, "to a kindergarten party on ... September 1, 2011 ... in courtroom 2 of the United States Courthouse, 200 W. Eighth Street, Austin, Texas."  His Honor includes a list of exciting topics to be addressed at the party, including, "How to telephone and communicate with a lawyer ... How to enter into reasonable agreements about deposition dates ... [and] an advanced seminar on not wasting the time of a busy federal judge and his staff because you are unable to practice law at the level of a first-year law student."  Later in the order, the Court encourages the invitees to bring their toothbrushes.  (Read the Court Order here.) 

According to Above  the Law, a web site for lawyers and law students, Judge Sparks is "...a colorful judge with a robust sense of humor, as well as a low tolerance for lawyer shenanigans and quarrels." 

Judge Sparks has campaigned for civility for years.  Another example of his impatience with purile behavior is his order of April 25, 2007, which includes several rhymed couplets.  Excerpts:

   Babies learn to walk by scooting and falling;
   These lawyers practice law by simply mauling
   Each other and the judge, but this must end soon
   (Maybe facing off with six-shooters at noon?)
   ... There will be a hearing with pablum to eat,
   And a very cool cell where you can meet
   And work out your infantile problem with the deposition.

(Read the whole "poem" here.)   Law school is a great place to learn to deal with difficulties.  After three years of practicing this skill, lawyers ought to be able to live up to the expectations of (even) Judge Sparks!  (djt)

September 4, 2011 in Advice, Miscellany, Professionalism, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)