Saturday, May 14, 2011
I would like to give a hat tip to Sue Liemer at Southern Illinois University for bringing the following blog post to our attention on the Legal Writing Prof Blog. Although the student's posting on Beyond Hearsay is specifically related to legal writing professors, I think it has merit for relationships with all doctrinal professors and ASP'ers.
J. Richard Lindsay, a 3L at Southern Illinois, writes about learning humility as a law student writer so that he could learn from his legal writing professor instead of seeing his professor as an enemy. He writes about professors becoming allies when law students are able to get past the hurt and frustration of criticism of their work. The link is here: Uncovering Secret Allies: How Humility Can Lead to Great Relationships. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
If you have not completed the ASP survey sent by John Mollenkamp, please take the time to do so now. Or, as they say, the beatings (or harassing emails) will continue until morale improves (or until all ASPer's have responded to the survey).
I have made a plea over the listserv, as have a number of my illustrious colleagues, to finish the survey for yourself. I stand by that plea. But if you are more civic-minded, please complete the survey for all of us. We hear lots and lots about the growth of empirical legal studies, but ASP has no empirical data on the state of our own existence at other schools. Right now, we have no hard data on what we are, who we are, or what we do for students. If we want to prove how important we are to student success, we need to know what is going on at other schools as well as our own.
So please, respond to the survey. If you should have received a link to the survey, but did not receive one, please contact Ruth McKinney at email@example.com.
For those of you in the Northeast...finish the survey now because the weather is FINALLY! looking good. The sooner you get the (very quick) survey out of the way you can go and play outside. (RCF)
Friday, April 1, 2011
The ABA Journal and the National Law Journal reported on an law review article that studied laptop use among law students. The students self-reported their laptop use in class, including their feelings on whether laptops aid their learning. Students overwhelmingly reported using laptops, and overwhelmingly reported that they used thier laptops to "goof off" during class. I am going to bypass the issues that have been argued in other blogs (should laptops be banned in class, are professors failing to teach their students). Without a study that tracks laptop use in class and student grades, I am left to wonder, do students actually know what is good for them? If something feels good and it is satisfying, people will report that the activity helps them. Here, students reported laptops aided their learning, but that really means they find laptop use satisfying. What I want to see is an empirical study of the grades and attitudes of students who use laptops, comparing students who hand-write their class notes, students who use a laptop but do not goof off, and students who use a laptop and admit to goofing off in class. I would like to see their grade trajectory throughout law school, as well as their attitudes about goofing off, if it does have an impact on their grades. This study has yet to be performed (to my knowledge).
There are so many things we could learn from a study that tracks laptops and grades. It would be a wonderful diagnostic tool in ASP; having this information to share with students would help when students come to our offices to discuss lackluster performance. Assuming the data demonstrated a correlation between goofing off on a laptop in class and poor grades, I would have a better idea of what is behind less-than-stellar performance. I would approach a student who does not "goof off" in class, yet struggles, quite differently from a student who uses a laptop and plays during class while telling me that the laptop helps them learn. Right now, I don't make that assumption because I don't know if laptop use in class has a correlation with grades. I know playing on a laptop is rude and disrespectful, to me and to peers, but unless I have hard data showing a correlation between laptop use and grades, students are less likely to give up the laptop because of poor law school performance.
There is another issue hidden in laptop use that extends beyond exam performance; if students knew it had an impact on grades, would they care? I think this brings up issues about how we teach and student engagement in class. It also implies issues with motivation and depression. I know most of the pre-law students I work with are excited about law school, and motivated to do their best. If those same students become apathetic about their own performance, choosing to use a laptop even if it hurts their grades, we need a more serious examination of student mental and emotional health during their 1L year. Thanks to the amazing work of Larry Kriegar and Ken Sheldon, we know law school has a deleterious effect on law student mental health. But does depression extend to self-defeating behaviors, or is the effect limited to personal and professional outlook?
I wish we had more people doing empirical work on the behavior, motivation, and learning occuring in law schools. Larry and Ken are prolific, but we need more people doing more of this work. I think this is a problem resulting, in part, from the lack of research time and funds that go to law school professionals that work in legal writing and academic services. The people with the most time in the trenches with students, who would be best able to perform a large-scale empirical study, are the same people who are non-tenure track, and have least access to research funding. I am hoping some intrepid souls take on this challenge and produce more scholarship that relates directly to student academic success and health.
Monday, February 7, 2011
This is a call to everyone in ASP who has something to say, but is afraid to write. Most of us don't need to write for our job. However, if you don't write, it's almost impossible to move past "staff" status. There aren't as many writing mentors in ASP as there are doctrinal folks who can help junior faculty while they are writing. So I am writing about my writing process to let new ASPer's know that it is not them; writing is tough. But it's worth it.
I have been working on a major writing project for the last couple of months. I finally finished this weekend; I had to do the bulk of the writing on days off and weekends because my workload was too heavy to allow much writing 9-5. Finishing a writing project is both a relief and filled with anxiety. It is incredibly satisfying to be done, but then comes the intense worry that it's not good enough, a citation is missing, or that I forgot a topic essential to the discussion. One of the reasons I don't write as much as I should (outside of this blog) is due to the anxiety it provokes when I finish. Unless I have a deadline, I will never stop second-guessing my work.
Writing is a lot like running. I am a long-time distance runner (almost 20 years!). Even for the best writers, it's sometimes a grind. In both writing and running, it's hardest when you are out-of-shape. We generally don't think of needing to be "in shape" to write, but writing makes writing easier and more fluid. This does feel a little unfair, because when you most need to feel good about writing (or running) is when you are getting back after a long break. But that is when it is hardest and most painful.
For nearly two months I resorted to exhaustive, probably unnecessary, research because writing was too painful. I could not get more than a paragraph or two on a page, and I knew I needed 10,000-15,000 words. It seemed insurmountable because I had not written that much in years. I knew I could do it, but I could not remember how I did it, what my process was, what I did in terms of a timeline. But after two months, I found that my one-two paragraphs while researching out came to about 3000 words, and suddenly I had about 20% of the project done. And it didn't seem like I could never do it. When I would come back to running after taking time off due to illness or injury, it would seem like I could never get over the 1-3 mile range. And then, after a couple of months, I could hit 5 miles without stopping. And at five miles, a half marathon doesn't seem so unreasonable after all.
The second hardest time is when you get writer's block, or in running, when you plateau. This usually happens when you have been at it for a while. You become acclimated to the process and you stop responding. Nothing you do seems to make it better. This tends to happen at the worst possible time; when you need to get a project finished, but your mind is empty, or when you are training for a major race, and your legs don't want to cooperate. The experts say beware of overtraining, but work through it. It will break. This was were I was at about two weeks ago. I desperately needed to get past the 5000 word mark, but everything I wrote was terrible. None of it fit with the theme. I couldn't transition between topics. Every word was painful. But I knew I had two weeks, so I worked through it, and it did come together. But during that period, I probably erased more than I wrote. Through erasing and rethinking, I came out with a much stronger theme.
The last painful period for me is finishing up. As I said at the start, I never want to finish because I am afraid it's not good enough or dreadfully flawed. The easiest way for me to get over this is to send it out to be proofread. As soon as I hit "send" I think of five topics I needed to cover but forgot while I was writing. I would never remember what I needed to add if I didn't hit send. The anxiety of someone else reading my work, and finding it lacking, produces the adrenaline to put it all together. Quite honestly, what I send out to be proofread usually is lacking. It's not my best work, and it's not even very good work. In running, this is usually the period when I need training partners to keep going. I am in a pretty bad state about two-three weeks before a race, and I need companions to keep me going. I will not walk unless injured, so even when I hate running, I keep going because I am too proud to be the person who slows down the group.
In that last rush of adrenaline, I can usually knock out a substantial portion of the paper. The fear won't go away until it's published. In this way writing is still like running...you cross the finish line, and you immediately start planning your next race. In my case, I wrote three pages of a law review article while finishing my last work. Writing and researching made me realize how much more there is to say on the topic. So I started with just a heading. Then I jotted some notes about where I wanted to go with the topic. The I took a break from the major project and put in several more topic headings. There was no fear, no anxiety, as there is when I start writing after a long break. It was smooth. (RCF)
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
My colleague, Herb Ramy, (DirectorAcademic Support Program at Suffolk University Law School) has recently made his locally famous paper on "Creating a Writing Sample" available on SSRN. This is a great resource for students who are trying to convert their legal writing (either from their first year legal writing course or other employment) into a (hopefully) job-winning writing sample. Here is the link to Herb's ssrn page, the piece is called "Creating a Writing Sample":
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Some of my colleagues at UMKC School of Law have created a "self-editing" device to help students with their writing. Prof. Wanda Temm describes it below and asks for your help in improving it. (dbw)
Like many of us, I have just emerged from another round of critiquing briefs. I find one of the most frustrating things in critiquing papers is finding basic mistakes or just typos that the drafter should have caught with a basic proofread. With over-reliance on spell-check and grammar-check, proofreading skills are not where they should be in many of our students. That's certainly not news to all of you.
Frustrated that our pleas to "please proofread more carefully" go unnoticed, my colleagues and I seek to instill ownership of proofreading by requiring our students to complete a self-edit certification. Our aim is to break proofreading down into concrete steps for our students. The certification was originally designed by my colleagues, Professors Nancy Levit and Allen Rostron, for use with law review notes and comments. I am now incorporating into the first year legal writing program and would like your help.
Our draft certification is now available on SSRN at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1130308. Please take a look at let us know how we can improve this work in progress.
Looking forward to a few critiquing-free days,
Wanda M. Temm
Clinical Professor of Law
Director of Legal Writing
Director of Bar Services
University of Missouri-Kansas City
School of Law
5100 Rockhill Road
Kansas City, Missouri 64105
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
You may be interested in a new article designed to offer a succinct, straightforward guide to effective persuasive writing, with examples. In describing the article, author Sarah Ricks says that a common problem plaguing many briefs is the inability of writers to see their briefs from the point of view of "the busy judge or inexperienced law clerk." The article suggests how to use the reader's perspective to avoid ten of the most common errors that weaken a brief's persuasive impact.
She and a practicing attorney, Jane L. Istvan, co-wrote the article, basing it on a series of CLE's the two taught. The article is "Effective Brief Writing Despite High Volume Practice: Ten Misconceptions That Result in Bad Briefs," forthcoming in Toledo Law Review and available at SSRN: < http://ssrn.com/abstract=996907 > http://ssrn.com/abstract=996907. (Dan Weddle)
Friday, February 23, 2007
Students often ask me for advice on how to write scholarly articles to fulfill upper-level research and writing requirements, and one of the chief difficulties they face is how to take a mass of research and organize it into an outline. Last spring I suggested a series of questions that students can pose for themselves as a way of developing the structure of their articles. Here they are again:
I first make certain that they know two things:
1) that they have to discover a clear thesis – a point they wish to make that can be stated in a sentence or so; and
2) that they should arrange their material by considering it from the reader's point of view – a reader who is relatively uninformed, skeptical, and possibly hostile to the thesis the student is asserting.
Given those two principles, they should see all of the questions as an extrapolation of one key question:
What does the reader need to know, understand, and believe in order to accept my basic point, i.e., my thesis?
From that question come several useful questions they should ask themselves to spur their thinking:
1. What is the point that I am trying to make – i.e., what is my thesis?
2. Why is my thesis important? (Why should the reader care?)
- Does it solve a problem?
- Does it expose a problem that needs to be solved?
- an injustice?
- an inconsistency in the law?
- an inefficiency in the law?
3. What legal theories and doctrines underlie my thesis?
4. What policies or values does my thesis exemplify or reflect, and are they likely to be shared by the reader?
5. What changes in current theories or doctrine does my thesis require in order to be accepted?
6. What practical obstacles exist to the implementation of my thesis?
7. What must be done to overcome the obstacles?
8. What shared values can I appeal to?
Given the answers to 1-8:
9. What must the reader know?
- The nature of the problem or the origin of the problem, for example.
10. What must the reader understand?
- The effect of the problem?
- The logic of the theories or doctrines underlying or setting up my thesis?
- The logic underlying my thesis?
11. What must the reader come to believe in to accept my thesis?
- The need for a solution?
- The importance of the problem?
- The importance of my thesis?
- The validity of the theories or doctrines underlying my thesis?
12. What are the logical steps for a reader to go from uninformed and unconvinced to informed and
The list is hardly exhaustive, of course, and the sub-questions under each larger question are merely examples; but I have found that the list largely reflects the implicit and explicit questions I ask myself when I structure an article. From such questions the writer can identify the necessary concepts the reader must grasp and begin to see potential structures that would help the reader do so.
The writer will likely discover that several effective structures might work but will also likely discover that certain concepts must be clear before others will make sense; so only those structures that respect that fact will actually work.
I thought my students might find an explicit list of questions helpful to spur their thinking and give direction to their writing, so I scratched out this list. I thought you might also find the questions helpful (or a better list of your own making) if students ask you how to begin to bring order out of the chaos of their research. (dbw)
Friday, August 18, 2006
Cathaleen A. Roach has written a thought-provoking article about trends we may expect to see in our students over the next few years, trends that are not entirely encouraging. Several studies have suggested that students in high schools and colleges are receiving less and less instruction and practice in research and writing and, as a result, are graduating college with increasingly poorly developed analytical skills. In addition, students are exhibiting increasing passivity in their approaches to learning.
Her article has important implications for legal pedagogy in general and academic support efforts in particular. You will find her article, "Is the Sky Falling? Ruminations on Incoming Law Student Preparedness (and Implications for the Profession) in the Wake of Recent National and Other Reports," in 11 Leg. Writing 295 (2005).(dbw)
Thursday, March 16, 2006
I would like to provide a follow up to yesterday's (March 15) posting to add some important context. In that posting, "Helping Students Bring Order Out of Chaos," I suggested a list of questions that students can use to help them think through how to organize a mass of research results into an outline of a scholarly article. I asked my colleague Paul Callister what he thought of my advice because Paul, who directs our law library at UMKC, also co-teaches with me a course in scholarly writing. He, not surprisingly, suggested that we must keep clear the ongoing interrelationship between writing and research.
Paul is absolutely right, and his point is important. The writing process and the research process are intertwined for the scholar because both, in reality, are different manifestations of a thinking process that begins at the first inkling of a potential topic and continues to the last editing decision.
Throughout, the research directs the writing, and the writing directs the research, right up to the last moment of the process. Anyone who produces scholarship knows that the entire endeavor, from start to finish, continually sends the writer back to rethink the material, to research it from a different angle in order to flesh it out or refine it in new ways necessary to the writer's constantly evolving understanding.
When a good writer asks, early on, why a problem is important, she has only begun to really ask that question. She knows that if she stops asking it because she has compiled some research results – even a large number of research results – she has effectively stopped thinking about a critical aspect of the problem and has closed herself to new understandings. As a good writer, she will keep that question on the table to very end.
Students need to understand scholarship in those terms. Scholarship is about actively engaging ideas and letting that engagement transform the scholar's own understanding until the last sentence is tweaked for the last time. In other words, the questions on yesterday's list are actually ongoing questions that, along with others, should have been asked and researched long before – and should be asked and researched long after – the outline of a first draft.
Within that ongoing process, of course, the questions can be put to multiple uses. The use to which my posting suggested they be put is one of organizing and focusing the writer's thoughts for the purpose of creating a structure for the article. Once that purpose has been tentatively achieved, however, they will be used again and again for multiple purposes, including revising (rethinking) the organization that initially emerged.
When students approach scholarship as nothing more than gathering and sorting an impressive mass of material, they have missed the point of the entire endeavor. They are thinking in the simplest and least useful ways about what are likely important ideas.
When, therefore, one of our students comes to us asking for advice regarding his scholarship, we must make certain he truly understands the task: to think deeply about an idea and to refuse to stop thinking deeply until the final draft is finally complete. As a result, he will find himself researching even in the last revision because even in the last revision he will still be refining his understanding of that idea. (dbw)
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
I have been meeting with students about their legal writing papers this week. Lots and lots of students. The papers are due tomorrow, so I am seeing about 8-10 students a day until then. Often these students have done all the requisite research and really given the problem a lot of thought, but cannot seem to organize their issues even using the templates we bombard them with: IRAC, CREAC, PREAC etc.
The biggest problem seems to be in discussing and synthesizing the vast array of case law they have found in the E sections for CREAC and PREAC, or in the A for IRAC. Students often seem to flounder on what information on the case to include and which to exclude in these sections and more importantly how to arrange the cases in their thematic paragraphs. I’ve actually invented a new word to help students in determining what not to do, “write thematically, not casematically.” Nifty, huh?
But really, I tell students that they can usually sum up the case in two sentences using the formula of facts, holding, rationale (oh my!). It should look like this: “In the Smith case, the court found that monkeys were in fact members of the legislature because they were easily as capable as elected officials in making law for the state. The court reasoned that if a ham sandwich could be indicted, then a monkey could rule the land.” This is not a real case (I felt the need to mention that because you never know).
I have also been advising students to use these “explanation of the law” areas to lay out a spectrum upon which they can place their fact pattern to show that they are correct. In persuasive writing you can control the spectrum so long as you do not misstate the law or attempt to mislead the court.
Basically, the spectrum idea looks like this: in [our first case] in this jurisdiction we have slam-dunk summary judgment, in [another case] the court granted summary judgment where the facts were slightly less compelling than ours and finally, in [a third case], where the facts are highly distinguishable from ours, the court laughed at the motion for summary judgment and then set the motion papers on fire using their wands. The key is to lay out a spectrum where the relief you are seeking has been granted to parties who are less worthy than you for reasons you will explain later on (in the next paragraph in IRAC or really soon in CREAC) in the paper.
This makes perfect sense to me, but I have been forced to draw pictures in some cases to make this point to students. I fully expect to see my post-it diagrams of case law spectra flutter by me on the Boston Common some day. Probably tomorrow, after the papers are turned in. (ezs)
Monday, March 6, 2006
Do you find that as the "final brief" deadline approaches, first-year students at your school become [more] frenzied? Do they blow off classes? Do they stay up all night writing, rewriting, and drinking way too much coffee?
This is not a good thing.
Here is a recent (February 2006) example of what happens when students (apparently) don't pay enough attention to their legal writing class. See King Order. Be sure to read the footnote.
Thanks to Jon Tonsing for bringing this order to my attention. (Note: Jon is not involved in the litigation that spawned this order.) (djt)
Sunday, February 26, 2006
You're gonna love this.
Your notes, student notes ... whaddya think?
Do you have some tech ideas you use that others might be interested in? Send me an e-mail note.
Thursday, February 2, 2006
In a discussion thread on the Legal Writing Institute Discussion List, Professor John Haberstroh of the Northwestern University School of Law contributed an extensive list of resources that he had compiled to help students for whom English is a second language. The list is in Word format and contains "live" links to numerous Internet resources for students who need help with writing, grammar, usage, and other elements of the writing process. The list was compiled to help ESL students, but it would also be invaluable for any law student who is struggling with writing.
Professor Haberstroh has graciously given us permission to offer the resource to the academic support community. You access can the document by clicking on the link below and can download it for your own use. (dbw)
Saturday, December 31, 2005
In an attempt to provide more support for upper-level students who are tackling their R&W requirements, UMKC's Law Library Director, Paul Callister, and I developed a course in scholarly writing last spring. You might consider proposing a similar course for your law school as part of your ASP efforts.
The course is designed as a one-credit, pass/fail offering that takes students from the initial stages of topic development through strategies for getting their articles published in appropriate journals. Using two outstanding texts, Mary R. Falk's Scholarly Writing for Law Students and Eugene Volokh's Academic Legal Writing, we use a "writer's workshop" approach that includes direct instruction in the writing process and advanced research techniques, as well as numerous opportunities for the students to share their research and drafts with one another for critique and advice.
Paul provides most of the instruction in research; and I provide most of the instruction in writing, each of us playing off the other's focus to create as best we can an integrated approach to the material. We do not grade the students' work or even provide much reading or critique because we believe that such input should come from their individual faculty advisers. Our objective is to give the students strategies and techniques they may not get from advisers and to help them work through writing and research difficulties as they arise. As long as they attend the class and participate fully, they can earn the credit.
One of the most important and appreciated facets of the class, we have found, is the workshop approach that allows students to bounce ideas off each other and obtain feedback as their projects develop. They are not allowed to edit each other's work, of course, or to collaborate inappropriately; but they seem to benefit tremendously from the workshop interaction as they test their own theses and those of their peers. It is intriguing to watch them as they talk through conceptual difficulties with one another and find their thinking crystallizing into more coherent and focused approaches to their projects.
The class is scheduled to meet for an hour, once a week. When the students' schedules permit, however, we sometimes take a couple of weeks off to allow them to work on their drafts and then reconvene for an extended session that allows for more extensive group work. Last spring, we were able to schedule two class times during the week to give ourselves more flexibility in class meetings, given that a one-hour course need only meet once per week. This fall, however, our students' schedules made such an arrangement impractical; so we stuck with once a week. Nevertheless, the interactions were rich and beneficial.
We are still massaging the course and experimenting with our approach, but students seem to have found it quite helpful so far. Because we have avoided the grading load, the course has not been particularly burdensome, as writing courses go; and our rapport with the students has had more of a "coaching" feel than is sometimes true of first-year writing courses, where students and professors have to deal with disappointing grades on the students' assignments.
All in all, our feeling is that the course has been a success and has addressed an important need for students. You might want to explore a similar offering, perhaps using a larger team of instructors or guest lecturers from among the scholars, writing professors, and librarians on your faculty. The resources are there; with a little creativity, you can offer an important set of resources without creating too much strain on anyone's already crowded schedule. (dbw)
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
As you are preparing your spring ASP program, you might consider adding a scholarly writing component. Many students arrive at law school already struggling with writing generally, and their struggles are compounded as they strive to master writing for legal contexts. The problem becomes even more complex as they attempt to move from the instrumental legal writing they learned in the first year to the scholarly writing demanded by their upper-level R&W requirements. Some ASP workshops on scholarly writing or even a full-blown scholarly writing course can be a great help.
Consider what many students face as they enter law school. They come in with poor training in writing and a "how much baloney must I pour into this paper to get to the page limit" approach to research-based writing assignments. They must learn to research what for them are dizzyingly complex legal problems in a completely foreign library system. They must learn to write with precision for an exacting audience that will consist mainly of lawyers and judges who have no patience for sloppy research or fuzzy legal thinking and writing. They must learn to tailor this research and writing to resolving specific legal questions raised by hypothetical fact patterns and either predict how a court would likely rule or persuade a court to rule in a particular way. They learn IRAC.
Then comes the upper-level research and writing requirement. No longer focused upon a discrete set of facts that raise a set of specific legal issues, the R&W requirement forces students to cast their nets into a legal ocean they have barely learned to navigate (and even that navigation has been learned mostly close to shore) and come up with something interesting and novel to say about a legal topic they barely understand.
When they begin their first tentative forays into the world of academic legal writing, they find that their seemingly fresh, new topics have already been the subject of intense scholarly exploration by seasoned law professors. Finally, even if they can come up with something useful and novel to say, they find that because there is no hypothetical fact pattern to which their research and writing must be tailored, IRAC is useless as an organizational tool.
They could use some help.
One way to help might be to create a series of workshops on scholarly research and writing for legal audiences. The ASP professional need not be the one who actually conducts all of the workshops, of course. Recruiting other law faculty and librarians to deliver the sessions can be an excellent way to provide the students with very practical and insightful advice on developing topics, using research tools not covered in first-year writing courses, and tailoring writing to academic audiences. After all, a law faculty is made up of scholars, and the law library is filled with people who think about research problems all day long. Many of those people are rich sources of experience and expertise and would be delighted to help.
It is true, of course, that students have individual faculty advisors for their R&W assignments. Those advisors, however, may not always have thought deeply about the processes of legal reseach and writing. They may have produced extremely important scholarhip in their particular areas of law, but ironically their extensive backgrounds can sometimes make it difficult for them to explain to a novice how to discover and develop a novel topic when everything in the field seems novel.
Some of those scholars, on the other hand, are quite interested in and thoughtful about the processes that drive good scholarship; and they can provide an abundance of practical advice for novice scholars. It makes sense for the ASP professional to tap such expertise for the student body as a whole whenever possible.
Librarians are also a treasure trove of research strategies that students have yet to encounter. Students learn basic legal research in the first year; but good research librarians can open up a much larger world of strategies and resources for budding legal scholars, a world even many faculty advisors may not realize exists.
Finally, and certainly not least, legal writing professionals are often well-established scholars for whom thinking deliberately about the writing process is second nature. Many would relish the opportunity to share what they know about scholarly writing and its similarities to and differences from the instrumental writing students encounter in the first year.
A step beyond a workshop series would be a full-blown course in scholarly writing. Later this week, I'll describe how such a course might work. (dbw)
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
This is the time of year when I get a lot of referrals for help with first-year legal writing assignments. These students have turned in two to three papers already, and their legal writing professors think they need some help beyond the grading process. I am happy to help, but I wonder if I am doing these students a disservice at times. What if my style of writing and “rules of citation” are different from their professors'? And my understanding of the law—since each legal writing professor has a different issue in a different jurisdiction—may be quite limited.
Frankly, I feel like an idiot if all my advice boils down to “Well, we’ve made a list of questions for your legal writing professor. Let’s check with him and then get back to this paper when we have some answers….”
I do have a copy of each professor’s assignment and a “confidential” outline that incorporates the case law, but I have not been to class, and the assignments inevitably evolve over time. Often I hear, “Oh, we’re not supposed to cover that anymore,” or “She said we don’t need to cite that way.” Because I am not grading the paper, I always say to do it the professor's way rather than mine.
I am in a situation where I basically must trust the students to be honest with me, and sometimes I find that I have been duped. And to what end? It is a lot like fabricating things to tell your therapist. Why would you tell me that your writing professor is okay with something when it is not true?
Granted, there are students who truly believe what they are telling me, and my cautious “That doesn’t sound right” will prompt them to double check. But often there are students who take advantage of my secondary position and tell me things that are not accurate. It makes me feel like Grandma. You know how it is: “Mommy always lets me eat candy for breakfast, and Daddy lets me use his chain saw all by myself.” Gee, that doesn’t sound right, but who am I to argue?
It gets frustrating after a while. I have had students come back to me angry (really, really angry!) after my advice turned out to be incorrect in the context of a particular professor's particular assignment. I have also had writing professors gently chide me for not catching things, when in fact I did catch them and did point them out to the student as suspicious only to be told by the student that they were allowed.
So where does all this leave me? On the way home to make some chicken soup. (ezs)
Saturday, October 29, 2005
In a recent article in the Cleveland State Law Review, Professor Dionne L. Koller, who directs the Academic Achievement Program at University of Maryland School of Law, addresses the relationship between Legal Writing programs and Academic Support programs.
"It is often assumed," Professor Koller writes, "that legal writing and academic support go hand-in-hand. As a result, little thought may go into the ways that a legal writing course may actually hinder a law school's academic support mission."
The article (Legal Writing and Academic Support: Timing is Everything, 53 Clev. St. L. Rev. 51) provides a thorough analysis of the functions of both programs, and suggests how they may complement (or not) each other.
For example, although many of us in Academic Support offices believe that our best source of "struggling student" referrals will be the Legal Writing department, it ain't necessarily so. Drawing from her own experience, and from observations by Professor Herb Ramy (Academic Support at Suffolk University Law School), Professor Koller writes, "... while the legal writing course may serve as an important additional identification tool when used in conjunction with other predictors, performance in the course is unreliable as the primary indicator of the need for academic support."
After mentioning some of the downsides of too close a relationship, or dependency, between legal writing and academic support, Professor Koller then proposes a legal writing course as a model for delivery of academic support. Odd? Not so fast. What she recommends is an upper-level legal writing class as a vehicle for post-wunnelle support.
The article describes the program at the University of Maryland in great detail. "Students in an upper-level legal writing course can practice their emerging analytical skills with smaller, 'bite-size' writing assignments on the issues presented by the problem that build up to the final written product," she explains, as one of the many valuable aspects of combining upper-level writing with essential analytical training in the second year of law school.
Professor Koller explains that the "...upper-level legal writing course must incorporate elements of learning theory and academic support practice," in order to "...provide a meaningful legal writing opportunity to ... [struggling] students." (djt)
Saturday, September 17, 2005
I hope that your fall semester is going well. It was great seeing many of you in June at the LSAC National Academic Assistance Training Workshop in Las Vegas.
This fall, I would like to publish another issue of The Learning Curve, the newsletter of the AALS Section on Academic Support. I encourage you to submit articles on topics in the field of Academic Support. For instance, I welcome articles on current research projects in the ASP community and articles on particular ASP insights from those in the field. The newsletter is a rather informal publication and is a great vehicle for ASPers to discuss their current research interests or other noteworthy topics.
Several participants at the LSAC Workshop told me how they appreciate the
newsletter and the insights provided in the articles.
Short articles (i.e., from a few paragraphs to a few pages) are preferred, but the newsletter is published electronically, so we may be able to accommodate longer submissions. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about whether you should submit a particular piece.
Attached in the last issue (spring 2005); you can access previous editions of the newsletter at the ASP website: http://www.law.umkc.edu/aals-asp.htm. (Follow the links to The Learning Curve.)
Please e-mail me your submissions by FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 18; I would like to publish an issue in December.
Again, please contact me if you have any questions. I received some excellent contributions for our last issue, and I look forward to receiving your submissions this time.
Thanks, Natt Gantt
Editor, The Learning Curve
Associate Professor and Director of Academic Success
Regent University School of Law
Sunday, July 31, 2005
Introduction to Basic Legal Citation by Professor Peter W. Martin.
This work first appeared in 1993, and was most recently revised on July 11, 2003.
This downloadable student resource includes the whys (pronounced "wh-eyes") and hows of citation, is loaded with explanations and examples, and is "accessible" to beginning students.
For example, one of the first questions many new students ask ("What degree of mastery of this language should one strive for – as a student, legal assistant, or lawyer?") is answered directly and clearly.
Consider the source: Peter W. Martin is the Jane M.G. Foster Professor of Law at Cornell Law School where he has been a member of the faculty since 1971 and was dean from 1980 to 1988. Professor Martin is a past president of the Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction and past chair of the Association of American Law Schools Section of Law and Computers.
Would your first-year students benefit from this resource? (djt)