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)
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."
November 9, 2005
New England Consortium conference
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)
November 8, 2005
Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference
The sixth annual Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference will be taking place on March 17 and 18, 2006, at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in Tucson, Arizona. Anyone who teaches legal writing is welcome to attend.
As with most regional legal writing conferences in the U.S., there is no registration fee for attending this conference. There will be a welcome reception on Friday evening, March 17th, and breakfast and lunch will be provided on Saturday, March 18th, all at no cost to participants. Participants are responsible for their own transportation and hotel expenses. At the conference website, you will find information about reduced conference rates for local hotels. All participants do need to register, so the planners will know how many people to prepare for. You can register at:
A regional legal writing conference is an excellent way to gather a lot of ideas and information about teaching legal writing in just half a weekend, at a reasonable cost. It is also a great way to find support for other legal writing issues you may be working on and to become re-energized for meeting the challenges ahead for the rest of the semester.
In addition, if you have never been in Tucson in the spring, you may be surprised at how beautiful and inviting a town in the desert can be. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, where you can see the desert in bloom, is a particular gem worth visiting while you are in Tucson:
For more information on the conference, please contact Professor Suzanne Rabe at the University of Arizona:
The program co-chairs for the conference are Professor Judy Stinson at Arizona State University and Professor Terry Pollman at the University of Nevada - Las Vegas. (spl)
November 7, 2005
the endangered apostrophe
Correct punctuation can be crucial to clear communication. Sloppy punctuation in legal documents and legislation can lead to lawsuits. (We will be posting examples of those lawsuits here, from time to time.)
If you are a legal writer who cares about punctuation, a legal writing professor who wishes your students would care more about punctuation, or someone who just can never keep the apostrophe rules straight, you may be interested in the work of The Apostrophe Protection Society. The Society's website reviews correct usage of the apostrophe, and its FAQ page is particularly helpful:
If you or someone you know is already participating on the frontline of the effort to save the apostrophe, you might also be interested in the Apostrophe Squad:
November 6, 2005
"The power of clear statement is the great power of the bar."
- Daniel Webster