Saturday, April 9, 2011

Legal skills and a hit Broadway musical

In today’s New York Times, Samuel Freedman, who writes the paper’s “On Religion” column, reviews “The Book of Mormon,” the new hit Broadway musical from the perpetually irreverent minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone (creators of the perpetually icon-eviscerating “South Park”) in collaboration with Robert Lopez (of the Broadway musical “Avenue Q”). The musical focuses on two young Mormons on their missions in Africa. Lopez described the protagonists: “They’re 19, coming from a sheltered and naïve place, being sent into the real world. . . .” Freedman offers this take on the show:
In its wiggy way, “The Book of Mormon” also depicts the faith crisis that strikes missionaries when their theological commonplaces prove irrelevant to the problems at hand: civil war, AIDS, poverty, genital disfigurement of women. Elder Price’s partner, Elder Cunningham, winds up improvising a version of Mormon text that addresses the issues, and, coincidentally, leads a visiting Mormon supervisor to fire him.
As I read the review, a similarity between law students and the Mormon missionaries popped into view. Law school often functions as “a sheltered and naïve place” that typically sends its graduates into the real world of law practice. Law schools, however, do not provide the kind of wide-ranging confrontation with reality afforded by the missions. Clinical programs and summer clerkships can provide sort-of encounters with reality, but even those experiences usually provide only limited and sheltered encounters. Freedman’s review raised for me the question of how law schools can improve the quality of students’ encounters with the reality of being a lawyer, and how to do that in a timely fashion so law students can, before having invested three years of their lives and accumulated piles of debt, test their faith in the professional path they’ve chosen.

Samuel G. Freedman, "Loopy and Profound, Show Tells the Drama of Missionaries’ Work," N.Y. Times, April 9, 2011, p. A16 (national edition).


April 9, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

How Do “Mentors” and “Sponsors” Differ?

In her article,”Working Smart: Create a Mentor Network,” legal search consultant Valerie Fontaine distinguishes between a mentor and a sponsor:

 Mentors spend one-on-one time to help you polish skills. They offer "psychosocial" support for personal and professional development, including advice and coaching. Sponsors notice those skills and advocate for your progress, either by recommending you for plum opportunities or for promotion. They take it further by openly campaigning for protégés' career advancement, often putting their own reputations on the line. Having a sponsor actively lobby for you can be instrumental, for example, during partnership consideration. 

While you can seek out mentors, sponsors usually discover you. However, you can position yourself so that they can easily discover you: 

Find opportunities to introduce yourself, get to know the powers-that-be informally, and share strategic information about your accomplishments and goals. To gain visibility, consider volunteering on projects with potential sponsors. If you do a good job, you'll get on their radar screen. Let the rapport grow naturally.

 Here’s the link to the article at


April 9, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

How lawyers (and law students) can overcome their fear of public speaking

From the always informative blog Attorney at Work:

Social anxiety expert Jonathan Berent, LCSW, ACSW, who has worked with more than 10,000 individuals—from professional athletes to business leaders to, yes, lawyers—calls . . . fear of speaking 'selective mutism.' In lawyers, he says it often shows up at networking events, in the courtroom, and even in the most casual encounters during meetings or around the office.

'What typically happens is that individuals have a visceral reaction to the stressor they encounter. This could manifest in sweating, stammering, shortness of breath, increased heartbeat or muscle tension. It is an adrenaline response that comes directly from our inborn ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. We all have it, but people with social anxiety will do anything to avoid the feeling—thus resulting in the fear of speaking, or selective mutism.'

His best advice is to do exactly the opposite of your initial reaction to the adrenaline—step into it rather than run away from it. 'Typically a client comes to me for help when the anxiety gets in the way of their success at work,' says Berent. 'They want to make partner or get a promotion and they realized they can no longer avoid the situations that make them uncomfortable.'  Berent will work with them privately using several levels of treatments, but for those who want to be proactive, here are some of the steps he asks clients to take:
  • Accept that you will have an adrenaline reaction in certain situations. Acknowledge it and move on. Berent even advises “surfing the wave of adrenaline” to make it work for you. “Adrenaline is power,” he says.
  • Let go of the idea of perfection; instead set realistic expectations for yourself.
  • Breathe deeply through your diaphragm.
  • Focus on the message, not the messenger (you).
  • Change the way you think about your anxiety. Do not think about it as a character disorder. Nothing is wrong with you.
  • Take a leap of faith believing that people will cut you some slack.
  • Examine the root of your anxiety—like so many adult issues, it was probably shaped in childhood. This is something that you may want to work through with a therapist.

For more advice, check out A@W here.


April 9, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Study suggests that undergrad students want to make personal connections with their profs through Twitter.

I don't Tweet and have no plans to start (it's good for marketing and reporting on political insurrections but other than that, who has time?) but maybe this will give you the impetus to start. From the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

Kirsten A. Johnson [an assistant professor in communications at Elizabethtown College] always wondered whether her personal posts on Twitter, Facebook, and other social-networking Web sites affected her credibility in the eyes of her students.

[She] designed an experiment for 120 students at the college and has just reported the results. It turns out that professors with personal Twitter streams appear to be more credible than those who stick to business. The study, co-authored with Jamie Bartolino, one of her students, appears in the most recent issue of Learning, Media and Technology.

The researchers created three accounts on Twitter for three fictional “professors” named Caitlin Milton, Caitlyn Milton, and Katelyn Milton. One account was filled personal tweets (“Feeling good after an early morning swim at the rec center”), the second with scholarly ones (“Working on a study about how social-networking sites can be used in educational settings.”), and the third with a combination.

To Ms. Johnson’s surprise, when the students were surveyed, they rated the personal professor the highest on measures of competence, trustworthiness, and caring—which adds up to credibility.

Ms. Johnson thinks this might be, in part, because students could find a professor who tweets personal items to be more caring. The experiment was conducted among students at Elizabethtown, a small, liberal-arts college in Pennsylvania, where, she says, students strive to forge relationships with their professors.

“I think that students, particularly undergraduate students, want to make a connection with their professors that goes beyond knowledge,” she says.

You can read the rest here.


April 8, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Happy Birthday, 17th Amendment

On April 8, 1913, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified when Connecticut provided the decisive vote. The amendment requires electing U.S. senators by popular vote. Previously, the Constitution provided that state legislatures would elect senators. (Article I, section 3). The amendment reads: 

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

In some conservative circles, there is a move to repeal the amendment in hopes of giving more power to state legislatures. I have a difficult time understanding the rationale. The 17th Amendment resulted from the efforts of a populist movement to give more power to the voters. I would have assumed that this move toward greater democracy would have received applause.

In addition, during the last half of the 19th century, state legislatures frequently deadlocked over the decision of whom to appoint to the post. Partisan politics and special interests crippled the system. By the early 1900s, as many as 29 states had found ways to  circumvent the original  process and effectively let the voters pick  senators.


April 8, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday Fun: Don't forget to vote in the ABA's annual "Peeps in law" contest

Click here to see the eight finalists and then vote for your fav (you have until April 19).

Here's a teaser.













"12 Angry Peeps."







April 8, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Painful" budget cuts coming to New York courts; last minute deal may save Florida from same fate

Two stories here. The first is from New York courtesy of the New York Law Journal:

Cuts imposed on the courts in the new state budget are "unprecedented" and will do "great harm" to the system, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman yesterday told judges and court employees in a Web address. "The most painful cuts, I regret to say, will be in the continued reduction of our already depleted work force. While we have not yet determined the exact number of court system layoffs that will be necessary, it will undoubtedly be a very significant number across the broad range of administrative and court operations."

You can read more here as well as watch a video of Judge Lippman's address.

The second story comes to us from Florida via

Chief Justice Charles Canady and Gov. Rick Scott's Office have agreed on a plan to loan money from reserves to Florida's court system to avoid furloughs and curtailing some legal services through May.

Wednesday's agreement will cover part of a $72.3 million shortfall in court funding blamed on a sharp drop in mortgage foreclosure filing fees.

The remaining shortfall through the end of the budget year on June 30 will be covered through a supplemental appropriation from the Legislature that wasn't part of Canady's loan request.

Final details and the exact amount of the loan were not immediately available.

The shortfall is temporary as foreclosure filings are expected to increase in the next budget year.


April 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

1L grading error may require recalculation of some class ranks

No one's happy when this happens. Not the professor or the students. Above the Law is reporting a story about a crim. law prof who discovered a clerical error in connection with the calculation of her first semester final grades that may affect some 1L class ranks.

Here's a portion of the email sent out by the professor explaining what happened (courtesy of ATL):

Dear Sections D & E,

Yesterday, I discovered that the fall 2010 Criminal Law grades were inaccurate due to a data entry error. As you know, the midterm exam was supposed to constitute 25% of the final grade and the final exam 75% of the final grade. Unfortunate mistakes in data entry reversed the intended weight of the exams.

The data has been correctly reentered into the law school’s grading program, and new grades have been posted. Many of you will have no grade change. Those of you who now have a higher grade will be elated, and those of you who now have a lower grade will be disappointed. Whether your grade is higher, lower, or the same, what is important here is that you receive the grade you earned. I am, however, truly sorry for any grief this situation causes any of you.

These things sometimes happen.  I'm sure the professor feels awful about it. All one can do is correct the error, apologize and move on. No one's infallible.


April 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Steve Martin on Learning from Poets How to Write

Comedian, actor, and  writer Steve Martin is a multitalented man. In an interview on the Powells Book News blog, he spoke about how reading poetry helped  him  learn to write. The lessons he learned would be beneficial  to legal writers:

I really enjoy finding the right word, creating a good, flowing sentence. I enjoy the rhythm of the words. I haven't said this in a long time, but it's so true for me. When I was in college, I really liked poetry. I don't read much anymore. But my favorite early 20th-century poets were Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, and e. e. cummings. Looking back, here's what I think I learned from each of them. From e. e. cummings, I learned about the rhythm of words. From T. S. Eliot, I learned about the intelligence of words. And from Dylan Thomas, I learned about the beauty of words. I try to bring all three of those elements into writing. Then, of course, you have to tell a story at the same time.

So those are my goals in prose. [Laughter] Prose should be, unless you're writing an instruction manual, a kind of poetry.

I'm impressed



April 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Why do people procrastinate?

Everyone does it. But did you know that 20% of the population suffers from "chronic procrastination" and that it's a serious condition which can derail success and happiness?  Chronic procrastination has its roots in the fear of failure as well as, ironically enough, the fear of success. Listen to this brief podcast courtesy of Inside Higher Ed to learn more.


April 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Screen reading and eye-strain

Our eyes are designed to view reflected light, not to look into a light source for hours on end. Hence one of the reasons we get eye-strain staring at our computer screens all day long. Dedicated e-reading devices like Kindle have tried to solve this problem by developing electronic ink, rather than use back-lighting, to better mimic the experience of reading text from the page of a book. 

Unfortunately most of us are stuck in front of back-lit computer screens for hours each day and that's going to lead to eye-strain. For tips on how to lessen the effects, check out this column from the always helpful ProfHacker blog at the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

Change Your Focusing Distance

Spending too much time at the same focus distance is one of the primary causes of eye fatigue, particularly when you’re focusing at fairly close range. Every 40 minutes or so, look away from your book or computer screen, off into the distance. Then look at something close to you. Alternate for a a minute or so before returning to your work. This exercises the muscles in your eye and prevents the buildup of tension.

Blink More

Studies have shown that computer users tend to blink much less frequently than people doing other tasks. Blinking helps lubricate the surface of the eye with tears, washing away dust and other irritants. Consciously reminding yourself to blink at intervals during the day will help relieve dry eyes.

In addition to simply blinking more frequently, pay attention to how you are blinking. If you blink too quickly, you may not be fully shutting the lid and allowing the tears to spread over the surface of the eye. A few times a day, take a minute or two to slowly and thoughtfully close your eyelids all the way and keep them closed a fraction of a second, a bit longer than a regular blink. Open your eyes. Repeat a few times. It may feel awkward, but that’s because we are usually not aware of the blink mechanism until we have a problem with it.


One of the best ways to relieve tired eyes is to practice palming:

  • Rub the palms of your hands briskly together for a minute to warm them up.
  • Close your eyes and cup your hands over your eyes (your palms should not directly touch your eyelids). Feel the warmth seep into your eye socket.
  • Relax for a minute or two, letting the darkness and warmth refresh your eyes.

For more tips and information, click here.


April 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pending case may test parameters of fair use exception for classroom use of copyrighted materials

The BNA Electronic Commerce & Law Newsletter, 16 ECLR 555 (April 4, 2011) is reporting on a pending Georgia case that will determine whether university professors who scanned, uploaded and distributed to students via a password protected electronic library system have violated the publishers' copyrights (the plaintiffs seek to hold university officials liable on vicarious copyright infringement grounds).  The case may ultimately turn on a sovereign immunity issue (the defendants are Georgia State officials) but if not, a trial on the fair use issues is scheduled for June. More from BNA (subscription required):

The publishers in this case take issue with the university's operation of two electronic systems, ERes and uLearn. The systems operate in different ways, but each enable faculty members to provide reading materials to students in electronic formats.
Before posting documents, professors are required to complete a fair use checklist, and the university has the ability to remove content that is infringing. If the checklist weighs against a finding of fair use, professors are directed to obtain a copyright license. However, in practice, court documents revealed that professors often decide not to include content rather than obtain a license, due to budget deficits and other concerns.
The plaintiffs, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press Inc., and Sage Publications Inc., contended that university officials are liable for “pervasive, flagrant, and ongoing” distribution of copyrighted materials.

Click here to view the complaint, and here to view the district court's most recent order denying, without prejudice, the defendants' motion to dismiss due to sovereign immunity.


April 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Career Advice for Law Students and New Lawyers: A Roundtable Discussion

The new issue of the ABA's Law Practice Today webzine has a great roundtable article chockful of great career advice for law students and new lawyers. Wendy Werner put together the article, called "Career Advice for Law Students and New Lawyers: A Roundtable Discussion." Contributor's include Kathleen Brady, Nancy Caver, Grover Cleveland, and Legal Skills Prof Blog's own Dennis Kennedy. 

Topics include job search tips, what to do if you initially can't find a job, learning to network, dealing with debt, and considering the option of opening your own firm. It's very high-quality advice, presented in an accessible and conversational style. A must-read.


April 6, 2011 in Current Affairs, Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (2)

Seven Things Not to Say at a Job Interview

According to Fox Business News,

1. Don’t compliment the interviewer’s appearance in any way.

2. Don’t cry.

3. Don’t talk about illnesses unless they’re relevant.

4. Don’t talk about problems at a previous company unless it’s to show how you persevered.

5. Don’t force rapport.

6. Don’t say “I have no questions.”

7. Don’t say you were fired.

I’m not sure I fully agree with all the advice. If you are this guarded, you may come across as quite cold and not a good fit for a team. Let them know that you are a real person.


April 6, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

A great online resource for writing teachers

Have you heard of "Digital Is?" I hadn't until I read this post from the Chronicle of Higher Ed. It's part of the National Writing Project and consists of “a collection of resources, reflections, and stories about what it means to teach writing in our digital, interconnected world."  Sounds yummy. 

Here's more:

Digital is how we write, share, collaborate, publish, and participate today and into the future. What does that mean for the teaching of writing? The NWP Digital Is website is a forum for exploring that question.

The NWP Digital Is website is a collection of resources, reflections, and stories about what it means to teach writing in our digital, interconnected world. It is also a growing community of contributors, readers, and discussants exploring three key areas:

  • What are we learning about the art and craft of digital writing? — Art/Craft
  • What are we learning about the teaching and learning of digital writing? – Teach/Learn
  • What ideas provoke us to think in new ways about education and culture in the digital age? – Provocations

It is an emerging knowledge-base created and curated by its community of members.

Registration (free) is required to access the discussion forum and other resources. Sadly, the fate of the NWP is in doubt due to federal budget cuts. If you'd like to support the organization, click here to find out how. To set up your NWP/Digital Is profile, click here.


April 6, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

How to draft a better business document

This advice is directed at a business audience but drafters of legal documents will find it familiar and helpful too. From the Harvard Business Review:

The proper use of paragraphs. A paragraph can express multiple thoughts. In business writing, it should express one. If you have a suggestion ("buy more cows") and a counter suggestion ("sell all the cows") that are both reasonable, but based on different assumption ("the ability of cows to manage portfolio investments for our clients") then put those two contrasting thoughts and their reasoning in separate paragraphs. One paragraph; one point of view.

Simple sentences. A sentence can say more than one thing. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." But you're not Dickens, and you're not trying to entertain a Victorian readership who reads by gas lamps and constantly fears explosions, and you're not being paid by the word. One sentence; one idea.

The primacy of the first sentence.
Mystery is for M. Night Shyamalan. In business writing, tell the reader what your document is about in the first sentence. If there's a title or a subject line before the first sentence, tell it there. You're not writing for the New York Post. "Wacko Jacko" may be compelling, but you're better off with "Analysis of Michael Jackson's Mental State During Final Performance." Boring, yes, but you're not paid for excitement — and if you are, let me know, because that's pretty cool. I mean, do you swallow fire or jump out of airplanes naked? Either way, what are you doing reading the Harvard Business Review?

Reading vs. scanning. Books are read. Business documents are scanned. Expect that this will happen to your carefully edited material. Where you've slaved over whether to write "the plan calls for" or "the call for plans," your readers will never notice because they're zooming by at 340 meters per second — just under the speed of sound at sea level — otherwise, their eyeballs would make a sonic boom (and people notice that kind of thing). To make sure your message gets across, give clues to where the information that matters to the reader resides. Easy to read titles, subject lines, headings, and bullet lists, are all helpful in getting those zooming eyeballs to pause.

Tone of voice. How you say what you are saying, quietly, loudly, with a possum on your lap, is not conveyed once the words are embedded in your email or printed on the page. Therefore, be careful not to assume your sarcasm, hopefulness, or fear of rabid possums will be correctly interpreted. Say what you mean to say. Don't expect anything to be inferred.

Humor. Humor doesn't work in business writing. Never. See "tone of voice," above.

You can read the rest here.


April 6, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Textual citations or footnotes?

Thanks to Thomas Cooley Professor Evelyn K. Calogero for tipping me off to this article by her colleague Joe Kimble called "Where Should the Citations Go?" It is published at 89 Michigan Bar Journal 56 (2010). The article reports on the results of a survey asking Michigan lawyers to state their preference between a passage with textual citations and an identical passage with footnote citations. Guess which version won? Based on the survey results, Professor Kimble argues that we should relegate citations to footnotes to aid readability.

You may also want to check out this July 8, 2001 article from the New York Times entitled "Legal Citations on Trial in Innovation v. Tradition" in which legal writing expert Bryan Garner also makes a persuasive case for footnote citations.


April 6, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Have students become more disrespectful; has their sense of entitlement grown?

I'm a long time reader of the Chronicle of Higher Ed and every once in a while it publishes an essay in which a university-level professor complains about some combination of the following:  1. Disrespectful students; 2. student entitlement; and 3. administrative pressure to treat students as customers. The reader comments, which are almost always interesting and informative, traditionally split between those teachers who sympathize with the sentiments expressed in the essay and those who suggest that any classroom behavioral issues might be attributable to the teacher.

Last week CHE published two more such essays, here and here. In the first, called "From Students, A Misplaced Sense of Entitlement," an adjunct complains about student rudeness, disrespect and an unwillingness to work to her expectations. In the second essay, called "An Adjunct Who Had Enough," a languages professor explains that he quit rather than cave to pressure, as he perceived it, to pander to student evaluations. What's interesting, though, is that as of this writing, the vast majority of reader comments (the relevant ones, anyway) express solidarity with these teachers rather than criticize them.

Which makes me wonder, has something changed in the classroom? Are students acting out more because of stress and pressure related to the poor job market? Is there more administrative pressure to treat students as consumers due to declining revenues resulting from decreasing applications?  Is the internet to blame? (which some believe is negatively affecting our personal interactions, here and here)  Or are the reader comments to the CHE stories merely expressing empathy for the authors and are not reflective of any larger trends? 

What do you think?


April 5, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

New scholarship: "Does WestlawNext Really Change Everything: The Implications of WestlawNext on Legal Research"

Thanks to Joe Hodnicki at the Law Librarian blog for alerting me to this article by Professor Ronald E. Wheeler, Jr.  It's available on SSSRN here and soon to be published in 103 Law Library Journal _ (2011). Below is the brief abstract and following that is a link to an extensive review from the LLB.

First, the abstract:

WestlawNext, Thomson Reuters’ newest electronic research service, has been around for over a year now. Ron Wheeler shares his thoughts on how this service may impact various aspects of legal research, and he suggests further study and research are necessary to fully evaluate and comprehend the system.

Here's the link to the LLB commentary.


April 5, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

How to change the functionality of online legal research engines to produce (much) better results

If Ms. Abraham doesn't patent this first, there's no doubt someone else will (and in the age of Watson, we won't have to wait long). From the blog Above and Beyond KM:

A Notice to Lexis and Westlaw:  You would be well-advised to read this post since it proposes a better model for your products.  (As for the royalty checks you’ll owe me, let’s talk…)

. . . .

[T]he current approach to legal research is fundamentally flawed.  Lexis and and Westlaw have created these enormous databases of case law that cannot be completely mastered unless you have world class research skills. In fact, what they’ve created is a frustrating game of “find the needle in the haystack.”  The problem is that the people who need the cases aren’t always the best equipped at finding the cases, and the people who are expert at finding cases aren’t the best equipped to analyze and use them. Further, most law firms don’t promote lawyers on the strength of their research skills. Rather, they promote lawyers on the strength of their analytical, advising, negotiating, writing and business-winning abilities.
It would be better if Lexis and Westlaw aligned themselves with their customers’ need to improve analytical capabilities.  Here’s the new model I propose:  instead of forcing lawyers to come up with appropriate search queries, Lexis and Westlaw should ask lawyers questions to elicit information about the case at hand.  In other words, the role of the lawyer searching for precedent would be to analyze their own case and strategy and provide that information to Lexis and Westlaw: what are the pertinent facts of the case, what jurisdiction, what procedural approaches is the lawyer considering.  Then, Lexis and Westlaw would deliver to you links to groups of cases that match your facts within your jurisdiction.  You could then review them to see how closely aligned they are to your situation.  Ideally, this approach would reveal the array of ways in which lawyers before you had handled this fact pattern in your jurisdiction and would highlight opportunities for following precedent or striving for innovation.  Better still, this should reduce (if not eliminate) the nagging worry that you’ve missed a case.
As long as Ms. Abraham's proposed search engine also delivers analogous cases where facts may be different than the original search query (much like West's key number system organizes results based on topics and "ideas" rather than facts), I think this is a great idea.  You can read more here.

April 5, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)