Saturday, March 18, 2006
What could be better than a March day in Tucson with lots of legal writing colleagues?
Richard Neumann started off this morning's programs with a presentation on ADD and learning disabilities (with a focus on dyslexia). He gave a clear and informative program that defined both ADD and LD, set out their characteristics, and emphasized that these conditions are neurological, not psychological. He explored how ADD may be an asset in that it enhances the ability to think outside the box--an asset not always rewarded in legal (or other) education. He also gave compelling examples of how traditional classrooms are not supportive of those with ADD and LD and how LRW teachers can help those students to perform to the best of their ability.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Well. it's two for two so far at the Sixth Annual Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference. After a warm welcome from Suzanne Rabe of the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of law, I attended a presentation on humor and the law and a presentation on law and literacy.
Michael Dinnerstein, Julie Oseid, and Leah Christensen talked about the theory and practice of incorporating humor into the practice and teaching of law. With examples ranging from class-based critiques of judges' use of humor in opinion writing to a punk song titled "You Are Not the Boss of Me" to teach court hierarchy, their presentation engaged the full-room audience and kept them asking questions until time ran out. Kudos to all!!
Kirsten Davis talked about literacy and whether legal writing courses should focus on teaching legal literacy--a concept that involves enculturating students to their new discourse community and recognizing that truly acquiring literacy, as opposed to mimicking it, may well take longer than two semesters. Her presentation style engaged the group; she first challenged us to "read" a letter written in a language based on pictures, then asked us whether our somewhat successful attempts made us any more literate in that language than our students' somewhat successful attempts to interpret and write in the law make them literate in that language. The rest of the hour was lively, provocative, and interactive. Great topic and ideas!!
I have no doubt that the other sessions were just as high quality--the handouts look great.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
One day a few years ago, during a late spring legal writing class, we were going over some finer points of wordsmithing, as my students worked on drafting strong point headings for appellate briefs. "Do you have any other tips like that?" a student asked. (I can't remember what "that" original tip was, only the question that followed it.) The first thing that popped into my mind was the sloppy use of "get" in legal writing.
In colloquial American English, there are so many ways to use the simple verb "get." We:
"get the groceries"
"get the joke"
"get along with so-and-so"
"just barely get by"
"get a shot in the arm"
"get out of town"
And so on and so on. While some colloquial uses are too informal for legal writing, most are simply too imprecise.
It was clear from the look on my students' faces that they just had never thought much about this word before, but once it was explained, they did, indeed, get it. (spl)
Anticipation mounts as legal writing professors from across the country get ready to head for Tucson and the University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law, where the Sixth Annual Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference starts on Friday afternoon. Stay tuned for reports on the presentations and participants . . . or go to the school's website and see what you're missing!!
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
The latest issue of The Journal of Appellate Practice and Process is out, and it's just as useful and thought-provoking as previous issues. Those past issues are available at the Journal's website. The current issue can be found via the commercial legal databases or by contacting the Journal directly. This journal is so good because, unlike most American law journals, it is peer-edited, i.e., edited by professors, not students. (spl)
If you are a member of the Legal Writing Institute, don't forget to cast your vote for new members of the LWI Board of Directors. The list of candidates and their personal statements are available on the LWI website; just click on "headlines" at the top right side of the screen. The deadline for voting is April 3rd. Because of the large number of candidates (29!), it's likely just a few votes will make a real difference in who gets elected. So, if you want LWI to be directed by the people you think will do the best job, be sure to send in your vote. (spl)
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Monday, March 13, 2006
For a website that features a monthly cartoon about academia, see:
This site invites your ideas for future topics for its cartoons. (spl)
Included in the long list of writing tips no one ever told my students in their 16 years of formal education before entering law school: "not only, ... but also" is a weak way to structure an argument. Some students think the obvious sense of addition created by this structure enhances the persuasiveness of the sentence. But they discount the ennervating effect of its obliqueness. Usually they can be convinced with a quick example. Here's one:
Not only is the weather stormy, but also there has been local tornado damage.
Could be stronger as:
The weather is stormy, and there has been local tornado damage.
Works every time to produce a more direct, persuasive sentence. (Not much we could do about the storms though.) (spl)
Sunday, March 12, 2006
You likely tell your legal writing students to delete "clearly," and its cousins ("evidently," "obviously," even "manifestly") from their drafts. You also tell them to delete similar phrases, like "it is clear that." To increase students' interest in this particular detail of good editing, try telling them to look for these locutions in their opponents' documents, because that's where their opponents will be unconsciously tipping their hand. Explain that when an uncareful writer states something is "clear," that's where they're least confident it actually is, because they have to assert that it is. So that's one place a legal writer should look carefully for weaknesses in the other side's arguments. Competitive law students will remember this tip better when you present it to them in terms of strategy. (spl)