Monday, January 12, 2015
When it comes to legal writing, "if you cannot say it, it does not exist."
While attending the 2015 meeting of the American Association of Law Schools, I had the opportunity to attend the Blackwell Reception. The Blackwell Reception is put on by the Legal Writing Institute and the Association of Legal Writing Directors.
At the 2015 Blackwell Reception, these organizations presented two awards:
The Golden Pen Award went to the Honorable Michael Ponsor, Judge for the United States District court for the Western District of Massachusetts.
So, finally -- the significance of the title of this blog post: "If you cannot say it, it does not exist." Judge Ponsor made this statement as he accepted his award and, not surprisingly, received much applause from the roomful of legal writing professors. Judge Ponsor's statement goes well beyond the confines of legal research and writing classes.
Even if this bloger did not do double duty in both Academic Support and Legal Writing and even if this blogger did not work at a law school in Western Massachusetts (where Judge Ponsor is a welcome and respected speaker) his statement would be worthy of this blog. The statement applies to every aspect of a law student's journey toward success in law school and in law practice. As law professors, law students, or lawyers, if we cannot explain or articulate our analysis, that analysis does not exist. I have already used Judge Ponsor's statement -- in the first class of my upper level course.
Have a great Spring Semester!
Monday, September 29, 2014
Time management and doctrinal classes can be challenging enough. However, when Legal Research and Writing assignments are thrown into the mix, your schedule can get even more challenging.
First, create a weekly schedule as a way to effectively manage your time. Start by penciling in your classes; then add work hours, if any, and regular appointments. Next block out study times for each class (4-5 hours for every hour that you are in class). Remember to add breaks -- every now and then. Do not try to study for hours on end -- without breaks of, say 10-15 minutes, after 60-90 minutes of study.
Next, look at your Legal Research and Writing Syllabus- note the deadlines for major writing assignments and work backward from those deadlines. When will you complete your draft? When will you outline the assignment? When will you finish the bulk of the required research? Add these tasks to your weekly schedule to maximize the likelihood that you will not be doing the bulk of the work the day before the assignment is due. Try to leave time to print out your draft and set it aside for a while (24 hours is a good goal) -- before your final proofread and edit.
If you stray from your weekly schedule once or twice, do not discard the schedule. Instead, try to get back on the schedule. Last - but not least - remember to include time for exercise and enjoyment.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
August 18, 2014
As the summer wanes and we move into the fall semester, the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth School of Law wishes to invite you to our Second Annual Junior Faculty Scholarship Exchange. This is an opportunity for junior faculty in the New England region to gather together to discuss works in progress, finished papers, research interests, and to network with peers from other institutions. Our hope is to provide a local forum for legal scholars to develop their ideas and scholarship with input and constructive criticism from fellow law teachers. This event is especially aimed at faculty with seven, or fewer, years of law teaching experience.
We are hosting this conference at the UMass Club, located in the heart of Boston’s financial district, on the 33rd floor of 225 Franklin Street. The venue is close to South Station, and the red and orange lines of the MBTA, several parking garages and local hotels. A hot buffet lunch, with morning and afternoon snack services will be provided. For directions, see: http://www.clubcorp.com/Clubs/University-of-Massachusetts-Club/About-the-Club/Directions-Hours.
Please consider joining us for this event by marking your calendar for Friday, October 17th, 2014, from 10 to 4. Seating will be limited. To register for the Junior Faculty Scholarship Exchange, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kindly include a short abstract of the work you wish to share with our group. We will confirm your registration for the event. Once we achieve capacity, we will need to decline further registrations . As this event is being underwritten by the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth School of Law there is no registration fee. Attendees will need to assume responsibility for their personal travel or lodging expenses.
Feel free to forward this invitation to a junior faculty member that you believe may be interested. If this is information that you would prefer not to receive, please let us know and we will take you off of our list. If you have any immediate questions or concerns please call us at (509)985-1121, and ask to speak with Emma or me. Thank you.
Spencer E. Clough
Associate Dean/Director of the Law Library
The University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth School of Law
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
The Learning Curve is the official publication of the AALS Section on Academic Support. It is published twice yearly, once in the summer and once in the winter. As shared in the summer issue last month (also attached again here), the Editors are considering articles for the upcoming winter issue. We are particularly interested in submissions surrounding the new issue’s themes of incorporating experiential learning into programs and meeting the needs of law students in the "new normal." Are you doing something innovative in your classroom that helps motivate a new generation of law students? Do you have a fresh take on technology or what it means to be "ASPish" in these changing times? Do you have proven exercises and assessment tools from which your colleagues might benefit?
Please send your submission as an attached Word document to LearningCurveASP@gmail.com by no later than October 1, 2014. (Please do not send inquiries to the Gmail account, as it is not regularly monitored.) Articles should be 500 to 2,000 words in length. If light references are appropriate, please include them in a references list at the end of your manuscript, as opposed to using footnotes. (For examples, please see the attached issue.)
We encourage both new and seasoned ASP (and ASP-friendly) professionals to submit their work. Please ensure that your articles are applicable to our wide readership. Principles that apply broadly — i.e., to all teaching or support program environments — are especially welcome. While we always want to be supportive of your work, we discourage articles that focus on advertising for an individual school’s program.
We wish you all the best as you begin a new academic year, and we look forward to reading your work and learning from you!
--The Learning Curve Editors
Courtney Lee, Pacific McGeorge (Executive Editor)
Lisa Young, Seattle (Associate Editor)
Jeremiah Ho, UMass Dartmouth (Assistant Editor)
Friday, August 15, 2014
I was surprised several years ago when I discovered that many of my law students can only print. They are unable to write in cursive (or longhand as some of us also remember it being called). Some explained that their elementary/middle/high schools had never taught them cursive writing at all. Others stated that they had learned it at some point but had little experience writing in cursive now.
In catching up on some back The Chronicle of Higher Education articles, I came across an article by Valerie Hotchkiss about the implications of another non-cursive generation and what the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at University of Illinois Urbana - Champaign is doing to combat the loss of cursive: Cursive Is an Endangered Species. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, August 9, 2014
I just had my first article accepted (yeah!) and while it is still fresh in my mind, I figure I would give some advice about publishing. I felt like I was lost in the woods; while most law professors worked on a law review in law school, have mentors and peers with vast publishing experience, and/or spent time as a VAP, I did not. I have wonderful, amazing mentors in Judith Wegner, RuthAnn McKinney, and Kris Franklin, but I did not have the day-to-day, hands-on contact with mentors that many doctrinal professors have when they are writing (all three women living several hundred miles from me). This is not because I don't have wonderful people at my school; it's that I was so busy with ASP, that I did not have much time to interact and chat about writing with my UMass colleagues. I know many people in ASP have the same experience.
1) Find some good, highly critical scholars who will review your article. God bless Judith Wegner and Kris Franklin, who read and commented extensively on my article. Don't be sensitive. Look for critical reviewers who will tell you exactly where the article has issues. As my dean says, "when you are in the weeds," it's very difficult to spot big-picture problems with your argument.
Also, find some really strong grammarians to proofread your article. It's amazing what you can miss when you have read your article everyday, for 45 days, 15 hours each day.
2) Go to LWI or AALS sessions on publishing. I attended Katherine Vukadin's session at LWI, and it was invaluable. If you can get your hands on her handout from LWI, do it! I used her suggestions as a guide when I wrote my abstract and cover letter, and her marketing advice was 100%, spot-on perfect (in fact, I think I am getting publishing in one of my first choice law reviews because I sent a marketing letter directly to the editors).
3) Do NOT switch computers between finishing your draft and submitting. If you have a perfect, proofread, spell-checked, and double-checked article ready to submit, submit it from that computer. And be absolutely, 100% certain that you are either submitting via PDF, or you have turned off comments and highlighting (if they are not turned off, you can save a "clean" copy, yet attach a copy with highlights and comments.) Be very, very careful submitting via Expresso and Scholastica. You can't recall a submission (because you submitted the wrong version, found an error, etc.) unless you plan on withdrawing and paying again.Trust me, these issues caused me huge headaches.
4) Let it go. Let it go. Let it go. Yes, it could always be better. Yes, you could spend more time on it. But sometimes, you just need to let it go.
5) If you are writing a pedagogy piece, find some trusted advisers to help you choose a placement. I went with a specialty journal that focuses on my topic (BYU Journal of Education and Law) despite having offers from some very well-ranked general law reviews. I knew that my audience was different from the audience for most law review articles, so I chose a placement that would draw readers and scholars interested in legal education.
Lastly, if you are like me, and terrified of Bluebooking, (because I did not have law review experience from law school) BE NOT AFRAID. Seriously, Bluebooking is about 1/10th as difficult as a law professor than it was when you were a law student. Once I got the hang of it (and it did take a week or so of correcting, and correcting again) it was not difficult, just tedious. I would advise against using a student research assistant to do your Bluebooking if you are afraid to do it yourself. You need to have the confidence to check your article before you submit, and you can't do that if you are relying, completely, on the skill and knowledge of a student worker.
And good luck! I hope to see many more ASPer's writing and publishing. (RCF)
Saturday, June 28, 2014
I am in the middle (or actually, the middle of the end) of writing my first law review article in 7 years. It has been a monumental task, starting with the fact that I am terribly out of practice. The Bluebook has changed since the last time I published in a law review (and I wasn't great at Bluebooking to begin with!) I have only had a month of solid writing time, although I have been researching and writing piecemeal for almost a year. To get inspired this morning, because I am so tantalizingly close to the end, but just so burnt out and exhausted, I read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed comparing writing to running. I am a long distance runner, primarily at the 10k to half-marathon length, so I thought the article could help inspire me. And she did have some good advice.
Done is better than perfect. As I write, I think about all the connections I should be making. However, I don't have the time to write the article of my dreams, I have to finish. And done is better than perfect. I think this also applies to bar takers. So many high-achieving students get stuck during bar prep because they have trained themselves to be perfect. On law school exams, aiming for perfect is important if you want to be in the top of your class. But for bar prep, just getting the work done is more important than perfect. You can't be perfect when you have so many subjects to cover, and so little time.
Writing and running each require one small step. An article doesn't come out whole in a day or a week. Neither does bar prep. Each are about taking one small step, then another, and so on. Because if you look at the project, the race, or the bar exam, as one giant monolith, you will never get started. And you have to get started. And you have to keep going when you only have 4 pages of a 30 page article, or you have only read one subject in a 15 subject outline, or you have run one mile, and have 12.1 more to go.
So with that, I need to get back to writing. I am working on one of my last sections, a section that is dear to my heart--ASP. And then I need to write my conclusions. Wish me luck. And to all of you working on the bar exam, good luck to you, too. I hope to see fellow ASPers at LWI next week.
Monday, June 16, 2014
As you plan your summer writing, remember the call of papers by the Section on Academic Support for our fourth speaker at the AALS Annual Meeting in January 2015. The call for papers deadline for submission of your paper is 5:00 p.m. Friday, August 15, 2014. The full announcement is below.
Call for Papers
AALS Section on Academic Support
January 2015 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
ASP a Roadmap at the Crossroad: How Academic Support Will Meet Today’s Varied Challenges
This year, the Academic Support Program Committee opted to have a call for papers and one speaker will be selected from the call. From isolated academic support efforts to more formalized multifaceted programs, academic support has fundamentally changed itself and legal education over the years. In light of shrinking budgets, disappearing positions, smaller applicant pools, changing profiles of incoming students, and media attacks on legal education, academic support programs face newer and varied challenges. We seek papers highlighting innovative methods, programs, or ideas related to these challenges.
Topics might include, but are not limited to, efficient and effective ways to: collaborate with faculty; manage limited human and financial resources; attract and retain students; provide resources for students with learning and other disabilities; and create programming for diverse populations to address any social isolation and/or bridge any skills deficiencies.
As the deadline for program proposals was April 1, 2014, our list of program proposal speakers will be forthcoming. The selected paper speaker will join those speakers as one of the presenters. There is no formal requirement as to length of the abstract and paper submission. Preference will be given to papers that offer novel scholarly insights on the panel topic. A paper may have already been accepted for publication as long as it will not be published prior to the Annual Meeting. The Section does not have plans to publish the papers, so individual presenters are free to seek their own publishing opportunities.
Papers must include the following information:
1. A title for your paper.
2. An abstract of your paper.
3. A final draft of your paper.
4. The amount of time requested for your presentation. No single presenter should exceed 30 minutes in total. [Deleted statement about shorter presentations because paper speaker should be given at least 30 minutes.]
5. A detailed description of both the substantive content and the techniques to be employed, if any, to engage the audience.
6. Whether you plan to distribute handouts, use PowerPoint, or employother technology.
7. A list of the conferences at which you have presented within the last three years, such as AALS, national or regional ASP or writing conferences, or other academic conferences.
8. A list of your published scholarly articles or books within the last three years.
9. Your school affiliation, title, courses taught, and contact information (please include email address and telephone number).
10. Any other information you think will help the Committee appreciate the value your paper presentation will provide.
Please submit your paper by Friday, August 15, 2014 at 5pm to Goldie Pritchard, Michigan State University College of Law, email@example.com. If you have questions, please email Goldie Pritchard or call at 517.432.6881.
The Section on Academic Support Program Committee:
Goldie Pritchard, Chair
Robin Boyle Laisure
ASP Section Chair: Amy Jarmon
Friday, March 21, 2014
Many students have problems with outlining an answer before writing it on the exam. When all you hear is typing fingers around you, taking the time to outline your answer might seem like a luxury you don't have time for.
Consequently, I have students make a short "attack" outline to use during the exam (if it is open book), and ask them to set up that outline in something of a fill-in-the-blank format.
For example, the attack breakdown for adverse possession might look something like this:
Open and Notorious --
On the exam, once the student recognizes that a question is asking about adverse possession, he or she can simply fill in the relevant facts on the attack outline and then write the exam answer. Especially for the weakest students, who might have timing issues and tend to leave out elements and specific facts, such an attack outline can be invaluable.
Friday, February 28, 2014
At this time of year, as Spring Break looms large for many of us, law students are facing the, sometimes daunting, task of writng and polishing persuaive memoranda and appellate briefs. John Mollenkamp, a former academic support educator and legal writing professor, created a video that walks through the process of creating tables of authorites. The video can be found at the following URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F2h8AD-9aY
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Hat tip to Deborah Borman for the link to an article on the Legal Research and Writing Professor listserv. The article combines procrastination, writing, Dweck's research, and millenials into one piece: Why Writers are the Worst Procrastinators. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Today is National Punctuation Day! Any of us who work with students on the legal writing aspects of law school or lawyering skills know that many students struggle with correct punctuation. Commas show up in all sorts of places they are not needed. Semicolons are exotic for our students. Where the punctuation goes in relation to the final quotation mark in a sentence is a mystery for many. And apostrophes are appearing in amazing locations.
My praise, empathy, and heartfelt thanks to all ASP'ers and professors who join in the fight to train lawyers who will correctly place the punctuation in their drafted legislation, contracts, legal memoranda, and other documents. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
During the last few years I have been blessed with some writing opportunities that have taught me a great deal about putting words on paper while juggling a busy ASP office. In addition to writing articles for the Student Lawyer and writing posts for this Blog, I have had the opportunity to publish Time and Workplace Management for Lawyers through the ABA this past spring.
If anyone had asked me before these opportunities if I would ever be published in any format, I would have been skeptical because my full-time job is so busy. Here are some of the tips that I can pass on to ASP'ers who might want to write but who are unsure how to get started:
- Realize that you have something to say that can help law students and your colleagues. ASP'ers may discount their expertise if they are treated as "just administrators" and peripheral to the law school experience in their own work settings. ASP'ers are experts and with declining law school applications are becoming more important because of the changing law school populations.
- Turn items that you already use with your law students into writing opportunities. You may be able to use e-mail study tips, a series of handouts, a Power Point workshop, or other material as the basis for an article.
- Turn presentation materials that you have done for a regional workshop or national conference into an article on the same topic. Watch for conferences which are linked to publication opportunities with paper submissions linked to the sessions.
- Turn trends and observations that you have noticed about student skills or problem areas into possible research projects and later writing opportunities. Remember, however, to clear any research through your institution's human subject research approval process. Once you have collected and analyzed your results, consider whether you can turn your research into an article.
- Look for opportunities to write articles in related disciplines. Legal writing, balance in legal education, pre-law advising, teaching legal education, and student services are just some of the overlap areas that often have academic support writing opportunities.
- Start out with smaller writing opportunities that seem possible within your time constraints: guest posts submitted to this Blog; guest posts for other blogs that you read; short articles (usually 1,000 to 2,000 words) or comments (roughly 500 words) to newsletters, web publications, and other publications; book reviews for publications.
- Realize that many writing opportunities in the beginning are unpaid opportunities. Once your material becomes known, you may be able to land a paid situation on a regular or occasional basis. Even unpaid opportunities are beneficial!
- If law review articles are your interest, then talk to faculty and ASP'ers who are already published to gain tips on submissions; look for mentors who will review your articles and make constructive comments during your writing process.
- Consider starting your own blog or web pages. You can use tweets to gain followers.
- Consider posting your research papers on SSRN either as finished works or as working papers for comment.
- Set aside time in your schedule to write so it will happen instead of staying just a wish. Personally I work in the evenings and especially on the weekend when I have articles and book projects. An article of 1,200 words may take me 8 hours of writing time and 2 hours of editing time. My book on the other hand went through about 5 drafts during the approximately 20 months before the manuscript went to the publisher.
Writing is not for everyone. It is okay not to be interested in such tasks if you are not required by your law school to publish. However, if writing appeals to you, make time for it. Being published can add to your resume, your own feelings of personal accomplishment, and your credibility with ASP'ers, faculty, and students. Most of all, enjoy the process and the opportunities. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, September 13, 2013
Hat tip to Lori Roberts for the following information on a call for submissions:
The editor-in-chief of Western State's law review has asked me to announce that they would like to encourage the submission of articles related to legal writing, pedagogy, academic support and assessment in legal education. So, if you have a piece that is finished (or almost) please send it along! The deadline for submissions is September 30th. We have a fantastic group of students and a faculty advisor that keeps everything on-time and on-track during the publication process.
Please let me know if you have any questions. You can submit articles through ExpressO, or directly to the law review at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lori A. Roberts
Professor of Law
Director of Legal Writing & Research
Western State College of Law
1111 N. State College Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92831
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Dear ASP colleagues:
The Learning Curve is the official publication of the AALS Section on Academic Support, showcasing
brief articles treating theoretical or practical ideas related to student support and teaching excellence. Recently we shifted to a twice-yearly publication structure, and we look forward to sharing our first summer issue next month. Its articles explore ways to incorporate "Fun and
Games" into your programs.
We are considering articles for the January 2014 issue now, and we want to hear from you! We are
particularly interested in submissions concerning professional development in ASP, and encourage both new and seasoned ASP professionals to submit their work. Can you share some advice regarding scholarship – generating ideas, outlining, navigating the submission process, etc.? Are you doing
something innovative in your classroom? Do you have a fresh take on technology or what it means to be “ASPish”? Can you tell us something about the history of ASP teaching?
Please ensure that your articles are applicable to our wide readership. Principles that apply
broadly, i.e. to all teaching or support program environments, are especially
welcome. While we always want to be supportive of your work, we discourage articles that focus solely on advertising for an individual school’s program.
Please send your submission to email@example.com by no later than August 30, 2013. Please attach it to your message as a Word file. Please do not send hard copy manuscripts, and please do not paste a manuscript into the body of your e-mail. Articles should be 500 to 2,000 words, with light notes, if appropriate. Please note that Publisher does not support footnotes that run with text.
Endnotes or references lists will be used in publication and are strongly preferred in manuscript submissions.
For more information, or to inquire about the appropriateness of a topic, contact Jennifer Carr at Jennifer.Carr@unlv.edu. Please include “Learning Curve” in the subject line of your inquiry.
We look forward to reading your work and learning from you!
The Learning Curve Editors
Jennifer Carr, Heather Harshman, and Courtney Lee
Monday, June 10, 2013
It’s summer now. All of the exams are scored, grades assigned. It’s time for a little reflection….
It occurred to me at the recent inaugural AASE conference (which was great, by the way!) that
this last year was really busy for me. Not in a “Wow, I surely did accomplish a lot this year” way, but in a “Man,this year was so busy that I feel like I got very little accomplished” way.
If you are like me, then any given day during the semester could look something like this:
9:00 a.m.: Eat breakfast while returning yesterday’s e-mails.
9:45 a.m.: Make a to-do list of the things I want to accomplish today.
10:00 a.m.: 1-on-1 meeting with struggling 2L.
10:30 a.m.: 1-on-1 meeting with 1L.
11:00 a.m.: Prep for 1:00 class.
11:15 a.m.: Interrupt prep to meet with a walk-in student.
11:30 a.m.: Return to class prep.
11:45 a.m.: Another drop-in.
12:00 p.m.: Skip lunch to complete class prep.
1:00 p.m.: Teach class.
3:00 p.m.: Return to office for office hours.
4:00 p.m.: Grab lunch.
4:15 p.m.: Eat lunch at desk while reviewing a past exam for the next student meeting.
4:30 p.m.: Place partially eaten lunch on credenza and meet with struggling 1L.
5:00 p.m.: Ask 5:00 appointment to be patient, because the 4:30 meeting is going long.
5:10 p.m.: Begin 5:00 appointment.
5:30 p.m.: Ask 5:30 appointment to wait about 10 minutes.
5:50 p.m.: Apologize to 5:30 appointment for the late start.
6:55 p.m.: End 5:50 appointment, which went over an hour due to my “late start guilt.”
6:56 p.m.: Look at partially eaten lunch on credenza. Decide to take a bite.
6:57 p.m.: Throw partially eaten lunch away. It has turned.
7:00 p.m.: Call my wife, and tell her that I’m working late tonight.
7:05 p.m.: Work on faculty committee work.
8:30 p.m.: Begin reviewing today’s e-mails.
8:45 p.m.: Begin reviewing student work sent in today’s e-mail.
9:30 p.m.: Look at the list of things I meant to accomplish today.
9:35 p.m.: Choose to leave work notwithstanding 90% of my to do list is not done.
9:36 p.m.: Promise to do better tomorrow.
10:15 p.m.: Grab dinner at a drive through to eat at home.
11:00 p.m.: Go to bed.
1:00 a.m.: Wake up with indigestion.
1:05 a.m.: Check e-mail before going back to sleep.
1:10 a.m.: Return e-mail from a troubled student.
1:11 a.m.: Troubled student responds.
1:13 a.m.: Respond to troubled student.
1:15 a.m.: Troubled student responds.
1:17 a.m.: Respond to troubled student with a very clear, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
1:20 a.m.: Troubled student responds with “just one last question.”
1:22 a.m.: Respond to troubled student.
1:25 a.m.: Troubled student responds.
1:30 a.m.: Turn off my phone and promise to e-mail troubled student tomorrow.
Does this seem at all familiar to you? Am I crazy? Because I have to be honest with you, I originally was trying to be funny when drafting the sample day above. But it occurred to me by the time that I finished that it was all too realistic. I absolutely have days like this. A lot of them. And please note that as I string days like these together, there’s nothing on that list that says “spend six uninterrupted hours working on scholarly writing” or “go off-campus for a weekly afternoon of community service at local high school” or “work out” or “read for fun” or “eat lunch at a reasonable hour” or “write that blog post that you promised Amy Jarmon months ago.”
As I think about this, I wonder how I get anything done. I’m so busy, and there’s always so much to do. I’m not complaining, mind you. I like to be busy. But I realize, looking at the schedule above, that my days are so full that a lot is getting missed. I realize now, in my head, that my thoughts sound a lot like a law student’s:
“I don’t have time to do everything.”
“Where am I supposed to find the time?”
“I’m working really hard, but I always feel behind.”
“I have so much to read. I can’t get anything else done.”
“I can’t think beyond tomorrow.”
“I’m not sure how I’m going to get everything finished.”
“I’m not getting enough sleep.”
“I don’t have much personal time.”
“I’m not procrastinating. I just can’t get to things until just before they are due.”
“I don’t know where I’m going to find the time to get all of my work done.”
“I guess I’ll just do the best I can.”
I hear these complaints from law students every day. And I genuinely believe that I give them really good advice. So, I wonder, how might I advise myself? Here is some simple, familiar advice that I now offer to myself, and possibly to those of you who are like me:
1. Make a schedule.
Plan out what you want to accomplish each day. Don’t just put “write” or “work” on your calendar. Plan days with detail. For example, set aside reasonable stretches of time to work on
individual tasks. Keep in mind all that you must accomplish in a given day. Set aside time in your schedule to accomplish each task and to complete the tasks overall.
In addition, engage in long-term planning. Look weeks (even months) ahead to see what deadlines exists or what longer projects must be completed. Estimate the amount of total time that you need to complete those projects and then spread the bigger tasks out, working on a little bit at a time, rather than trying to accomplish all of it at once. All nighters are often a reflection of poor planning. If you plan better, hopefully you won’t be spending the last day or two before a deadline working insanely to finish your project.2. Focus on one thing at a time.
Even though we all think we can multitask pretty well, you might find it helpful to isolate certain tasks. When writing, find an environment that is free of distractions – though you should know yourself and avoid an environment that is too quiet, if you know you won’t be productive there. An hour spent meaningfully on one task is probably more efficient than three hours spent on that one task while simultaneously trying to accomplish other goals or spending those hours in a state of distraction.3. Build in time to care for yourself.
It is important to eat and work out and spend time with family. Don’t just expect that time to appear. Plan it out. Put “Lunch” in your schedule, and put “Work Out” in your schedule at specific times. Then, respect those times. From now on, you are unavailable to do work during those times. You’re going to feel better if you eat and exercise regularly, and the remaining hours in the day will be more energized and productive.
4. Prioritize tasks.
On busy days, figure out what must be done and what can wait. Reschedule a meeting if you must; ask for extra time on a task when you can. Then spend your day focusing on the most important things but avoiding the guilt about the other, less important things.
5. Do not allow one task to dominate your time.
It is all too easy to get sucked into working on one task to the exclusion of all others. Don’t let this happen. Even though you have prioritized tasks, and one seems (or is) more important than the others, do not let that one task allow you to fail on all the others. I see this all the time with my students who are working on writing assignments. The writing assignment is due this week. It will get a grade. It seemingly is the most important thing on the schedule. Students work all day and night on the writing, simultaneously falling behind in reading, outlining, class attendance, and other obligations they have. While working on the paper with extreme multi-day focus is actually an understandable decision when one is taking a snapshot view of a student’s life, less so when looking at the “movie” version. Decisions have consequences, even the well-intended decision to focus on only one thing that happens to be due this week.
Sometimes, you will find yourself in a position where you will have to grind. By that I mean that you will be busy, tired, working late, irritable (is that allowed in ASP?), hungry, and overwhelmed, among other things. But you have to press forward; keep working and check things off of that to do list. Things will settle down, especially if you plan ahead a little better, and you’ll be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
7. Just start working.
If you’re feeling paralyzed about work, sometimes the best thing you can do is start working. Overwhelmed by the amount of research you need to accomplish in order to write a scholarly article? Just sit down at your computer and start writing the article, figuring out the finer points of research focus as you go. Need to grade exams, just pick one up and start reading it. Need to give Paula Manning-type feedback on a paper, just get started. Need to write a blog post, just tap into your thoughts and get started. Don’t worry about perfection, just do some work.
One of my favorite pieces of advice for students who are having trouble outlining is the advice to just get started. The task seems so overwhelming to them, so I say this: Imagine riding a bicycle on flat ground, or maybe even a little uphill. When you first get started, you have to stand up, shifting your weight on the pedals, rocking the bike side-to-side, in order to build momentum slowly. But, after you have momentum, you find that the pedaling is easier, you can sit down on the seat, and you can still keep up your pace with less intense effort. So, dig down and spend a little extra energy to just get started. You’ll find that once you do, the going forward is much easier, as is forming the belief that you are able to keep moving forward.
I am going to follow my own advice. Starting today. (Well, maybe tomorrow, because today is almost over.) Ask me at the end of the summer if I finished my article and book. If I don’t give you the right answer, point me back to this blog post. Please. Because it’s going to be busy in the fall. Really busy. So the time for productivity and accomplishment is now.
Happy and productive summer months, one and all!
Monday, May 20, 2013
Thursday, November 15, 2012
When reviewing 1L's first drafts of practice exams, there is one problem that always comes up: writing in law is not creative writing. 1L's get confused by this statement, especially when their professors tell them that creativity is an important part of lawyering. However, the creativity that law professors are referring to, and the creativity that law students try to demonstrate on exams, are two different things. This is a particular challenge for students who majored in English in undergrad, and for law students who previously worked in creative fields, such as PR or marketing. Students need to understand that the purpose of writing for a legal audience is different from the purpose of writing in those fields. Lawyers need to be understood. A creatively written contract, that uses terms of art in new or novel ways, is likely to be misunderstood by the parties, and wind up in court. This is NOT what a lawyer wants when they write a contract. Therefore, lawyers use terms of art carefully; in fact, lawyers use words carefully. The goal of writing for a legal audience is not to show them how many 25 cent SAT words you know; the goal is to be understood.
Here are some other basic rules of writing for a legal audience that 1L's frequently misunderstand:
1) Using the same words throughout an exam is smart. Don't try to change your vocabulary so you don't overuse a word. That rule is true for creative writing, but it undermines the coherence of your essay when writing in law.
2) Keep your sentences short. Long sentences frequently contain too many ideas that need to be discussed separately.
3) Use linking words, like because. Although your sentences should be short, you need to be sure that you make explicit connections between law and fact. You are not a fiction writer; you do not want to make the reader make inferences. Spell it out for them.
4) A paragraph should focus on one idea. If you have a new idea, start a new paragraph. If you reread your work, and find that you have multiple ideas in one paragraph, chances are you are not discussing any one idea completely.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
The first-year students are currently deeply engaged in their research paths and legal memoranda. As is typical, many of them are fraught because they are trying to juggle the large time commitment for these assignments with their daily reading and briefing and their weekly outlining. It is not unusual for a few of them to lament that they have to do our legal practice course when their doctrinal courses are so important.
As someone who teaches our legal skills component of our Summer Entry Program, I realize the stress that students feel when they are juggling a doctrinal component at the same time as a writing component. However, I also know why both aspects are important even though students sometimes miss the point. So, I smile and then explain why legal practice is not a second-class component of law school.
I believe that some students miss the point because they do not really understand the practice of law and how law differs from other academic disciplines in their undergraduate studies. The following are some of the points that I try to get them to understand:
- Undergraduate studies in some disciplines (for example, hard sciences, accounting, some areas of mathematics) were often looking for right answers. In the law, the scenarios often are of the "it depends" nature that require more than just knowing rules of law.
- Undergraduate studies in other disciplines (for example, sociology, phiolosophy, political science) were often looking for the discussion of ideas. In the law, ideas are important, but the critical thinking about facts, the precedents, and seeing both sides of the argument combine for a more structured thinking.
- Undergraduate studies often encouraged mere memorization of material and regurgitation of that material rather than critical thinking about the material.
- Undergraduate studies often encouraged writing that was less precise and concise without the same critical importance on where the comma went or the specific word chosen.
- Doctrinal courses help you to learn how to read cases, understand the rules and concepts for a particular legal specialty, and fit the black letter law into the bigger picture of the course.
- Doctrinal courses typically ask students to use the law in the analysis of new legal scenarios under timed conditions.
- Doctrinal areas of the law change as new precedents are decided or new statutes are enacted. Some areas of law change slowly while others change rapidly. New societal or technological issues can open up entirely new specialties in practice. Thus, the doctrinal law learned today may change and is not the be all and end all of learning doctrine.
- Memorization of doctrinal law is just the start of the process of legal analysis. You must know the black letter law, but it is the application of that law to legal scenarios that is most important.
- Legal writing is very different for most students from any past writing and cannot be learned overnight. Legal writing skills need to be learned through practice.
- Law firms can have summer clerks and new attorneys learn the law - whether it is a new topic or an entire new specialty area. Learning the law is a given for any position, and doctrinal classes will have given law students a great deal of practice in doing so.
- Law firms cannot teach summer clerks or new attorneys how to research and write. They expect competence in those skills. A strong foundation is needed for the work that is completed every day in practice.
- Law firms take legal research and writing grades seriously. They will look at those grades to determine whether the person can be competent in the typical work that will be assigned.
- High grades in doctrinal courses are important, but indicate different skills than the legal writing grades.
- Legal research and writing skills will be used every day of their lives as attorneys. With stronger skills when they leave law school, they will struggle less as attorneys.
Once students understand the practical implications of their research and writing skills, they make better choices about when to begin their assignments and making time for multiple drafts. After their first summer positions, law students tend to realize that the hard work on these skills was truly worth it and that what they were told about the importance of the skills was confirmed. (Amy Jarmon)