Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Legal writing as a distinct academic discipline is only a couple of decades old, but the oldest legal writing organization in the U.S. dates back to 1953. Scribes, The American Society of Writers on Legal Subjects, promotes better writing throughout the legal community, including law schools.
Scribes encourages good legal writing with an annual book award, a law-review award, and a brief-writing award. It also publishes The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing, which frequently accepts articles by legal writing professors and its other members. And it publishes an informative newsletter, The Scrivener.
Many legal writing professors are eligible to join Scribes. You qualify if you've published two articles, ever served as a journal editor, published a book on a legal topic, or published two judicial decisions. Many professors are able to cover the annual dues with their professional development accounts or by simply asking their schools for assistance.
Scribes is an organization in which practitioners, judges, deans, and law professors come together with the common goal of improving legal writing. Its website announces:
"Advocating lucidity, concision, and felicitous expression, Scribes seeks to spread the growing scorn for legal writing that is turgid, obscure, and needlessly dull."
If that sounds good to you, check out http://scribes.org/ for more information. (spl)
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
The Florida Supreme Court reviewed the state bar's attempted discipline of two attorneys who used pit bull imagery in their television ads, including the firm phone number 1-800-PIT-BULL. You can read the case at http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2005/sc04-40.pdf.
Let's just say that the court did not approve.
A wealth of numerical information about legal research and writing programs in United States law schools is easily available via the annual ALWD-LWI Survey results, posted at http://www.alwd.org. It is usually the best first place to look for information on any aspect of legal writing instruction in the U.S. The response rate for ABA accredited law schools has recently been above 90%, so this is very reliable data.
The core questions have remained the same from year to year for the last 5 years, so you can follow trends and changes, as well. In addition, there's a "hot topics" section that changes every year. It is also possible to do customized searches, number crunches, and identification of individual schools' responses, by contacting the survey directors:
Phil Frost (Michigan), email@example.com
Jean Rosenbluth (Southern California), firstname.lastname@example.org
Catherine Wasson (Widener), email@example.com
The topics covered (not an exhaustive list) include:
- credit hours
- types of research assignments
- types of writing assignments
- teaching methods
- citation methods
- writing specialists
Upper-level Writing Courses:
- required courses
- elective courses
- access for LRW profs
- use by LRW profs
Faculty (broken down for Directors, Full-Time Profs, & Adjunct Profs):
- types of appointment
- salary averages (broken down by region, school size, etc.)
- scholarship requirements & support
- governance participation
- hiring processes
- developmental funding
Sunday, November 27, 2005
As the semester ends, many second and third (and fourth) year law students are busy finishing seminar papers. Few of them realize that with very little extra work, they can submit their papers to a myriad of legal writing competitions. There are so many legal writing competitions out there, the odds are pretty good for those who take the little extra time required to send in a submission. They could be in a position to win a prize ($$$), gain some recognition for their hard work, and add a really nice resume line. Many websites provide lists of legal writing competitions, and many include links to other listings.
Although it hasn't been updated recently and it doesn't include links, the listing at the University of Memphis is likely still the most comprehensive and informative:
Other helpful listings, more current, and mostly including helpful, direct links to competition sites, include:
The next time you see your seminar students, why not ask them which competitions they're planning to submit their work to?
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Friday, November 25, 2005
The Association of American Law Schools' (AALS) annual meeting is fast approaching, January 3 - 7, 2006, in Washington, D.C. If you're still on the fence about whether to go, or if you want to fill your dance card, listed below are some of the events that may be of particular interest to legal writing professors. There are many more events, enough to keep anyone busy all day and evening. You can view the full schedule and registration materials at http://aals.org.
Tues., Jan. 3rd:
4-6 p.m. Legal Writing Insitute (LWI), Board meeting
Weds., Jan. 4th:
8:45 a.m. - 5 p.m. Workshop on Integrating Transnational Legal Perspectives into the IL Curriculum
8:45 - 5:30 p.m. Workshop on the Search for Balance in the Whirlwind of Law School, including:
2 - 3:30 p.m. Teaching Methods & Grading
12:15 - 1:30 p.m. Section on Law Libraries luncheon
Thurs., Jan. 5th
7 - 8:30 a.m. Section on Women in Legal Education breakfast (75% of legal writing profs are women -- women in legal education)
7 - 9 a.m. Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD), Board meeting
10:30 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, & Research presentation:
Teaching Professionalism in a Way That Respects and Honors Law Students
4 - 5:45 p.m. Section on Academic Support presentation:
The First R: The Role of Students' Reading Skills in Decoding the Law & Performing Well in Law School
Fri., Jan. 6th:
7 - 8:30 a.m. Section on Academic Support breakfast
8:30 - 9:30 a.m. ALWD new directors breakfast
12:15 - 1:30 p.m. Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning & Research luncheon
3:30 - 5:15 p.m. Section on Teaching Methods presentation:
The How Tos and Whys: Exploring the Consequences of Our Pedagogical Choices
7 - 9 p.m. LWI Golden Pen Award & ALWD-LWI Blackwell Award reception
Sat., Jan. 7th:
9 - 10:45 a.m. Section on Graduate Programs for Foreign Lawyers presentation, co-sponsored by Section on Legal Writing Reasoning, & Research (and others):
Techniques to Internationalize the First Year Curriculum
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Yes, there are professional ethics involved in every aspect of lawyering, including legal writing. Judge Gerald Lebovits provides a concise review of the ethical considerations inherent in legal writing in his recent articles in the New York State Bar Association Journal. Legal-Writing Ethics -- Part I appears in the September/October 2005 issue, and Legal-Writing Ethics -- Part II appears in the November/December 2005 issue. These articles are both short enough and informative enough for student reading assignments.
Judge Lebovits is a judge of the New York City Civil Court, Housing Part, in Manhattan, and he also teaches as an adjunct at New York Law School. In recent years he has been the primary author of The Legal Writer, a regular column in the NY State Bar Association Journal. His tone and his thoroughness make it obvious he speaks from long experience in the courtroom.
Making Judge Lebovits's articles on legal writing ethics even more interesting are the sources he cites. The scholarship of many legal writing professors is cited in the footnotes, including books and articles by:
Donna Chin (Seton Hall)
Beth Cohen (Western New England)
Nancy Lawler Dickhute (Creighton)
Judith Fischer (Louisville)
Linda Edwards (Mercer)
Terri LeClercq (Texas)
Wayne Scheiss (Texas)
Lou Sirico (Villanova)
Michael Smith (Mercer)
Melissa Weresh (Drake)
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
One of the best websites created (and well-maintained!) by a legal writing professor is Barger on Legal Writing, at http://www.ualr.edu/cmbarger/.
Like many legal writing professors, Professor Coleen M. Barger posts materials specific to her own courses. But she also posts a plethora of links to resources that are helpful for many legal writing students -- and many legal writers.
In the category of Writers' Resources alone, she includes links to solid sources on:
- formatting documents,
- grammar, style, composition,
- inspiration and reference,
- plagiarism avoidance, and
- plain English.
Other categories full of useful links include appellate resources, legal writing programs, and legal research. Under legal writing programs, you will find links to many other legal writing professors' websites, with their own links to still more resources. (spl)
Monday, November 21, 2005
Everyone who teaches legal writing should know about the case of Mylward v. Weldon, decided on February 15, 1596. (No, that date is not a typo.) This is a famous English case in which the plaintiff submitted a document to the court that was "six score sheets of paper" long, "yet all the matter thereof which is pertinent might have been well contrived in sixteen sheets of paper."
The court's response to this unnecessary verbosity:
"[I]t is therefore ordered, that the Warden of the Fleet shall take the said Richard Mylward, alias Alexander, into his custody, and shall bring him into Westminster Hall, on Saturday next, about ten of the clock in the forenoon, and then and there shall cut a hole in the myddest of the same engrossed replication (which is delivered unto him for that purpose), and put the said Richard's head through the same hole, and let the same replication hang about his shoulders, with the written side outward; and then, the same so hanging, shall lead the same Richard, bare headed and bare faced, round about Westminster Hall, whilst the Courts are sitting, and shall shew him at the bar of every of the three Courts within the Hall, ...."
This is a good case to use to persuade legal writing students that judges do take brevity seriously, and they have done so for over four centuries. You can find the complete text in a facsimile at: http://www.languageandlaw.org/TEXTS/CASES/MILWARD.HTM (spl)
Sunday, November 20, 2005
From time to time, legal writing professors may have a need to survey students, or perhaps colleagues or alumni. Perhaps you want to find out answers to questions not on the standard, end-of-the-course student evaluation forms. For example, how many 1L students this semester actually did the reading assignments in the legal writing textbook? Or, how well prepared did your newly-returning 2L students feel for their on-the-job writing in their first summer law jobs?
Students are much more likely to respond to a survey if they can do it on-line and their responses will be anonymous. There is a website that will help you create an on-line survey, and you do not need any particular technological know-how:
If you are expecting 100 or fewer respondents, you can use this survey site free of charge. That makes it feasible for asking questions to all the students an individual legal writing professor teaches or an entire law school class that isn't too large (or too responsive). For larger groups of respondents, there is a fee. (spl)
Friday, November 18, 2005
If legal research is part of your legal writing course, take a look at lawdawgblawg. This blawg is written by the professional law librarians at Southern Illinois University School of Law. They not only give updates on the newest high tech ways to do legal research, they also post helpful reminders and instructions full of research tips and hints.
You can access lawdawgblawg at:
And now for an explanation of the name:
If you're reading this blog, you probably already know that "web" + "log" = weblog = blog.
And, a blog about law = a blawg.
The mascot of Southern Illinois University is the Saluki, a breed of ancient Egyptian dog. (Southern Illinois has long been called "Little Egypt.") The SIU Salukis are also known informally as "the dawgs."
And, the SIU law school folks are known as the "law dawgs."
When a group of law dawgs created a blawg, it was just natural to call it lawdawgblawg.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
The Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) has just announced it will once again, for the summer of 2006, be awarding summer research grants. The grants help legal writing professors spend the summer pursuing scholarship. In past years the grants have ranged from $2,000 to $5,000. The number of grants awarded varies from year to year, and it reflects the royalties the organization receives from the ALWD Citation Manual.
Both full-time and adjunct legal writing professors are eligible to apply. ALWD Board members, officers, and Scholarship Committee members are NOT eligible until they have been out of those positions for a full academic year. Preference is given to those legal writing professors who have no other source of research funding, i.e., those whose law schools do not provide summer research grants to legal writing professors. Both new and veteran legal writing professors are encouraged to apply.
Along with the required application form, applicants must provide a five page synopsis of the project. This synopsis should include a preliminary list of sources, a description of research methods, a detailed description of the project, a table of contents, a timeline for completing the work, and a discussion of the contribution the work will make to exisiting scholarship and the gap it will fill. All applications will be reviewed blindly.
Applications must be received by 5:00 p.m. EST, Februrary 1, 2006, by Professor Sarah Ricks at Rutgers-Camden. Selections will be made by April 1, 2006.
For complete details and an application form, please contact the Chair of the ALWD Scholarship Committee, Professor Sarah Ricks, firstname.lastname@example.org. (spl)
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
The deadline is fast approaching for nominations for Secretary for the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research. Nominations should be sent by November 30th to Professor Suzanne Rowe at the University of Oregon:
Any member of the Section can self-nominate or be nominated by another colleague. The Secretary's main duty is to prepare the Section newsletter twice a year. Examples of past newsletters are available at:
After one year, the Secretary usually moves up in the rotation of Section officers, to Chair-Elect, and then to Section Chair the year after.
There is no fee to join the Section. To become a member, contact the AALS National Office at (202) 296-8851 or email@example.com.
Monday, November 14, 2005
With the Thanksgiving holiday fast approaching, many 1L legal writing programs in the U.S. are almost done for the fall semester. As our students wrestle with that last big paper, they're in our offices, having individual conferences on their drafts and asking lots of questions. A tricky aspect of scheduling the course every year seems to be timing the conferences just right.
Schedule the conferences too soon, and the students don't have serious drafts ready. They haven't done enough of the difficult thinking work yet to know what their real questions are. The quarter or half an hour you set aside for a student ends up being time wasted.
Schedule conferences too late, and the students won't have enough time to incorporate into their papers what they figure out during their conferences. Even worse, some students will put off doing the hard thinking work until it's too late to produce a strong paper.
The right timing IS possible to achieve, with a lot of forethought and a little luck. And when you do, those intense, long days of back-to-back conferences can be less draining and more productive. (spl)
Sunday, November 13, 2005
To find out what legal writing professors themselves write about, check out:
You do NOT need a password to click on the alphabetical listings of legal writing professors by last names and see bibliographies of their published work. It's easy to see what people in the field of legal writing are writing about generally, or what any individual legal writing professor has written.
Of course, some entries are more up to date than others. If you are a legal writing professor who would like to update or correct your entries, or if you would like to add yourself to the listings, you will need a password.
The person to contact for a password is Professor Terry Pollman at the University of Nevada - Las Vegas:
Her co-author on the legal writing scholarship project is Professor Linda Edwards at Mercer University:
Friday, November 11, 2005
For law students who ride an emotional roller coaster or suffer serious pyschological stress whenever they have a major writing assignment due, a great book to recommend is Bird by Bird, by author Anne Lamott.
At first students have trouble believing that a book about writing can be immensely entertaining. They also think they've already heard all the possible "how-to" tips out there on avoiding procrastination, perfectionism, and writers block. And they doubt that an author who teaches creative writing can help them.
Creative writers do have to understand how to create characters and plots. Legal writers have it easier: our characters and plots walk right in the door. So I tell my students they can just skip Lamott's chapters on characters and plot.
The rest of the book inevitably leaves my students feeling a lot better about the writing process, with new tools at the ready to make that process less angst-ridden. Every time I've been able to persuade a law student to read Bird by Bird, they've come back to thank me. It's often time well spent in the break between semesters. (spl)
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Beginning legal writers first wrestle with the basic conventions of legal writing and the formal requirements of a particular document. Then they come to understand that, within the conventions and formalities, there are many stylistic choices to make. For example, they must achieve a tone that is appropriate for the seriousness of their purpose and for their audience.
In time, more experienced legal writers often develop highly individual legal writing styles. Some famous jurists are known in particular for their writing styles. A few judges have even broken out of the confines of legal prose to create, yes, legal poetry.
The case of Fisher v. Lowe, 122 Mich. App. 418, 333 N.W.2d 67 (1983), concerned damage to a property owner's tree, which was hit by a moving car. The facts of this case appear to have a brought a childhood poem to mind for Judge J.H. Gillis. The entire brief opinion is written in rhyming verse. Even the headnotes and synposis, which are usually added by the legal publisher, are written in rhyming verse. The opinion begins:
"We thought that we would never see
A suit to compensate a tree.
A suit whose claim in tort is prest
Upon a mangled tree's behest; ...."
More recently, in Zangrado v. Sipula, 2000 Pa. Super. 196, 756 A.2d 73, Judge Eakin wrote a longer opinion, entirely in rhyming verse. This case concerned the veterinary bill for a dog hit by a car. The dog's name was Angel, and as Judge Eakin poetically described events:
"To appellee this was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster;
the wingless Angel'd taken flight and ascended quickly past her."
While such opinions might add some levity to a judge's work day, it's hard not to wonder what the actual parties to the case think of this approach. Judge Eakin seems to have been at least aware that the parties might feel they were being made fun of, as the opinion closes with:
"We must conclude the issues raised do not warrant a new trial
and all that we may offer now is this respectful rhymed denial."
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
The New England Consortium of Legal Writing Teachers invites all legal writing teachers to its next conference, taking place at Boston University School of Law on Friday, December 9, 2005, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Topics to be presented include:
Showing v. Telling: Allowing Students to Convince Themselves of the Value of a Legal Writing Paradigm
Stephanie Hartung & Audrey Huang, Suffolk University School of Law
Teaching Students Not to Make Assumptions: An Exercise on How Neighboring States Construe the Same Statutory Term Differently
Lisa T. McElroy, Southern New England School of Law
You Can't Build a House without a Solid Foundation: Organization as a Prerequisite to Effective Legal Writing
Amy R. Stein, Hofstra University School of Law
Clarity, Context, and Confidence-building: The Three C's of a Successful First-year Legal Writing Program
Nancy Soonpaa, Texas Tech University School of Law
Teaching Policy for Fun and Profit
Kirsten Dauphinais, University of North Dakota School of Law
Using the First-Year Legal Writing Curriculum to Explore Ethical Decision-Making: It's a "Good Thing!"
Leah M. Christensen, University of St. Thomas School of Law
Moving Beyond Product to Process: Building a Better LRW Program
Ellie Margolis & Susan DeJarnatt, Temple University, Beasley School of Law
Grading in Legal Writing
Jan M. Levine, Temple University, Beasley School of Law
Cynthia Adams, Indiana University School of Law, Indianapolis
The deadline for registering to attend the conference is Friday, November 18th. Registration is required, although there is no registration fee. To register, e-mail Stephen Haag at Boston University School of Law:
Friday, November 18th is also the deadline for receiving a reduced conference rate at the Hotel Commonwealth, which is within walking distance of the conference. To make a reservation, call the hotel directly at 617-933-5000 and mention the "New England Legal Writing Seminar."
The New England Consortium of Legal Writing Teachers usually meets twice a year on a Friday, in December and in June. The location of the meetings rotates among the law schools in New England. The meetings are designed to allow for a robust exchange of ideas about legal writing teaching, while minimizing the cost of travel and time away from work and families. Most legal writing professors in New England can reach the meetings with no more than a two or three hour drive and are able to return home the same day. Legal writing professors from other areas who are visiting or traveling in New England are always welcome to join the meetings. (spl)