Saturday, December 10, 2005


"Writing is not like painting where you add.  It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees.  Writing is more like sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible.  Even those pages you remove somehow remain."

- Elie Wiesel, interview in Writers at Work, 8th Series (George Plimpton ed. 1988).

December 10, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 9, 2005

the phone book

Gen X and Gen Y might be better legal researchers if they only knew how to use a phone book.  The paper kind.  More and more of them have had little experience with the language and classifications typical of the old-fashioned yellow pages.  If you think about it, the basic underlying skills needed to use a hard copy phone book are not really so different from the skills needed to use, say, a statutory index, a digest, or a Boolean-based search engine for a computer data base.

Here's one scenario to try with a 1L class:  Tell them it's 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon.  Assume a female friend wants to find a new dress to wear to a fancy party that night, and she just hasn't had time to shop yet.  She wants to know how long her favorite dress store will be open.  Where should she look in the phone book for the store's number?

In my small town's yellow pages there's an entry for "dressmakers," but she doesn't have time for that, and there's no entry for "dress shops."  There's an entry for "women's crisis services," which she's not in need of yet, but no entry for "women's clothes."  There are entries for "storage" and "store fronts," but not for "stores."  Finally, there are entries for "clothing & accessories," but there are five such entries, each followed by a dash and other words.  These include "alterations," "consignment & resale," "leather," "men," and, last but not least, "women."  So the helpful entry is "clothing & accessories -- women."  Several stores are listed there, including our hypothetical partier's favorite, and she can find the phone number, call, and confirm how late they'll be open.

This little exercise alone involved chosing logical terms to get started with, being able to generate alternate terms, trying broader terms, changing the order of the terms, and browsing the sub-topics.  It's interesting to watch the I-pod generation use the phone book.  (spl)

December 9, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 8, 2005

gift giving suggestions

Need ideas for gifts for your favorite legal writing professor?  Yes, a nice pen is always appreciated, especially the fat kind that keeps the hand from getting fatigued while commenting on papers hour after hour.  But if you're looking for something a little different, check out:

The Legal Writing Store at


The B.A. Legal Writing Store at

("B.A." will be self-explanatory when you visit the site.)  Each site offers a variety of t-shirts, mugs, notecards, and now even postage stamps, all sporting a legal writing logo.  All profits from sales at these websites go into scholarships for legal writing professors to attend the Legal Writing Institute's annual Writer's Workshop in the summer. (spl)

December 8, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

recommended reading

While grading papers and finishing other end-of-the-semester tasks, we can look forward to having the time to do some reading during the semester break.  One book many legal writing professors would likely enjoy but may not be familiar is Writing Ourselves into the Story, Unheard Voices from Composition Studies, edited by Sheryl I. Fontaine and Susan Hunter (Southern Illinois University Press 1993).  This book contains short pieces by over two dozen professors who teach writing to undergraduates, in a wide variety of settings.  Legal writing professors will recognize the dynamics, the issues, and perhaps even a bit of themselves in these stories.  As you might expect, they are beautifully written, and it's a joy just to read the language being used so well.  The most amazing story has got to be Hearing Our Own Voices: Life-saving Stories, in which Professor Lynn Bloom at the University of Connecticut describes how a lesson learned in writing class literally enabled a student to save her own life. (spl)

December 7, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Ideas for spring assignments, part two

You can also justify spending your leisure time watching a show such as "Boston Legal" by rationalizing that its creator, David E. Kelley, is a former Boston attorney who writes many of the episodes.  He also created "Picket Fences," "The Practice," "Chicago Hope," and "Ally McBeal."  There's a great list of archetypes in his law-themed shows at  In addition to exploring and demonstrating moral and ethical challenges, his scripts also tend to be ripped from the headlines. (njs)

December 6, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ideas for spring assignments

Since fact is often stranger than fiction, you could certainly get ideas for spring research and writing assignments straight from the headline legal news.  Creating a good office memo, trial brief, or appellate brief problem from scratch does take a lot of time and a bit of teaching experience.  If you are lacking in either of these requirements, some helpful sources of already tried-and-true LRW problems include:

The NYU Moot Court Casebook.  Your school likely already has a subscription, so check the law library catalogue first.  It may already be checked out to another professor.  If it's sitting on the library shelf (where it's been found at some law schools), you may want to have it permanently checked out to a legal writing professor's office. 

The Wake Forest Moot Court Problem Book.  Ditto.  The problems in both books include full appellate records and bench briefs or summaries of relevant law.  You can customize these to fit your needs, using just part of the record for a memo or trial brief, for example, or narrowing down a multi-issue problem to just one issue.

The Idea Bank.  This password-protected database includes submissions from hundreds of legal writing professors.  The assignments available there include brief problems, memo problems, upper-level litigation-based course documents, drafting course documents, shorter writing and analysis assignments, and in-class teaching ideas.  It's available via the Legal Writing Institute, with further instructions at

With any problem previously published and used by others, you do need to take care that answers are not available somewhere on the Internet.  Changing a small, but key, aspect of the assignment can help avoid plagiarism problems.

December 6, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 5, 2005

Dear Editor ....

A recent read of p. 265 of the Eighteenth Edition of The Bluebook revealed two errors.  It's just not possible that three examples in a row can include dates written as listed below and all be correct:

Mar. 16, 2000
July. 7, 1983
Jan.16, 2001

Surely no period is needed after "July," since it's not an abbreviation.  And surely a space is needed after the period after "Jan."

Did you know that you can provide valuable editorial assistance and bring such errors to the attention of the editors simply by e-mailing them at  More information is available at:

Likewise, if you're using the ALWD Citation Manual and come across an error, you can bring it directly to the attention of the primary author, Dean Darby Dickerson, at Stetson University,  More information on the ALWD Citation Manual (including helpful teaching materials and expanded appendices) is available at: (spl)


December 5, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 4, 2005

legal writing grading haiku

'Tis the season for legal writing professors to start waxing poetic about grading papers, resurrecting our bi-annual tradition of writing haiku about grading.  Recall that haiku is a form of traditional Japanese poetry.  It must be 3 lines long, with 17 syllables.  There must be 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second line, and 5 syllables in the third line.  A haiku usually includes some sort of reference to nature.  And ideally it includes a little something surprising.

John Mollencamp, at the University  of Missouri-Columbia, offers the first grading haiku of the season:

So much to do now
Where did the semester go?
Grades are due soon

Only a few weeks
to grade so many memos
Eleven a day?

Icy winds outside
Tall stack of memos inside
Maybe I'll rake leaves

Forida in-laws
welcoming with warm weather
must grade papers first

Quiet library
students are all studying
my grading begins


December 4, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)