June 30, 2006
more recommended reading
I can't attest to these two articles personally, since I haven't read them yet, but a colleague I trust can and did, so I'm passing on the recommendations:
Grammatical and Structural Choices in Issue Framing: A Quantitative Analysis of "Question Presented" from a Half Century of Supreme Court Briefs, 29 Am. J. Trial Advoc. 327 (2005).
Therapeutic Communication as a Tool for Case Theming, 29 Am. J. Trial Adovc. 395 (2005) (in which the author discusses what makes a compelling theme and how to use the client interview to construct a theme for the case).
Whether you are a long-time advocate of plain English or whether you've only recently started to wonder if you really could do away with the boilerplate, you may be interested in a new book by Professor Joseph Kimble, Lifting the Fog of Legalese, Essays on Plain Language (Carolina Academic Press 2006). Joe has long been a soldier on the plain language front, and this book ties together many of his previous essays. He also includes some how-to examples and a "plain language bookshelf," so you can find even more inspiration and instruction. Of course Joe's own writing style makes for a nice, crisp read.
Remember when a "poster" used to be a visual display on a large piece of stiff paper poster board, not someone who posts a message on a listserve or blog? Well, it's the old-fashioned type of poster that this message is about. In many academic disciplines, posters have long been a way for conference or meeting participants to share their research with each other. This year for the first time, the Association of American Law Schools introduced poster presentations to the panoply of activities at its annual meeting in January. (Both of the co-editors of this blog had the honor of having their posters selected to represent the Section on Legal Writing, Research, and Reasoning.)
At the AALS annual meeting in January 2007, this Section will once again have the opportunity to present a few posters from its members. The deadline to submit a proposal is September 1, 2006, and proposals must be sent by e-mail to Gehan Girguis, AALS Executive Assisstant at firstname.lastname@example.org. The topic of a poster can be anything related to legal writing in the academy, including pedagogy, the doctrinal substance of legal writing, or the status and political issues inherent in teaching legal writing. More information is available at the AALS website.
The key to creating a good poster is to keep it simple. Figure out what core concept you would like to communicate and how, in the fewest words and with minimal graphics or pictures, you can draw in passersby and leave them with your main point. Think of creating the glossy magazine ad for your research or scholarship project. Once you catch someone's interest, then they can take the citation to your article with them, look up the full text, and read all the details.
Consider working with an expert to design the look or visual style of your poster. A graphic designer or commercial artist can flesh out your visual idea to make your communication as quick and clear as possible. If your school won't give you funds to pay a professional, consider asking an academic colleague in an art or design department, or their graduate or undergraduate students, for assistance. In particular, a professional artist can be enormously helpful in knowing how to best transport your poster. (I can attest that AALS and its hotel do a very good job of helping you receive and set up your poster once at the annual meeting site.)
incoherency of counsel
From today's USA Today:
Friday, June 30
Little Rock - The Arkansas Supreme Court decided that a death row inmate who said his lawyer was drunk during an appeal proceeding should get another hearing. Justices recalled the court's mandate nearly 10 years ago upholding Ledell Lee's murder conviction. The court cited examples of the counsel "rambling incoherently, repeatedly interjecting 'blah, blah, blah' " into his remarks."
June 29, 2006
need to shave words to meet a word limit?
This article has tips on how to do so.
For the last four years, Sharon Pocock has been the Director of Research, Writing & Advocacy, as well as a Professor of Legal Writing, at Michigan State University College of Law. Sharon oversaw the program at Michigan State at a time of huge improvements in the status of the legal writing professors there, including salary raises, upgraded titles, permission first to attend and later to vote at faculty meetings, travel grants the same as the rest of the faculty, summer research stipends the same as the rest of the faculty, longer contracts, and a promotion path to continuous appointments. Now she is moving to a legal writing position at Touro College Law Center in Huntington, New York, on Long Island.
more upcoming events
On January 4, 2007, from 8:30 a.m. to 10:15 a.m., the Association of American Law School's Section on Academic Support will be holding a workshop on Integrating Academic Support across the Curriculum. Contact Professor Robin A. Boyle, email@example.com, at St. John's University School of Law for more information as it becomes available.
Also, in the spring of 2007, likely late May or early June, Texas Wesleyan University School of Law is (as they say in Texas) "looking to" host a Lone Star Legal Writing Conference. Contact Professor Roger Simon, rsimon@LAW.TXWES.EDU, for more information as it becomes available.
Forthcoming in 81 Washington Law Review 217 is Sarah Ricks's article, The Perils of Unpublished Non-precedential Federal Appellate Opinions: A Case Study of the Substantive Due Process State-Created Danger Doctrine in One Circuit. I had the pleasure of reading an earlier draft of this piece, and I learned a great deal. Below is Sarah's abstract from SSRN (where the full text of the paper is available at no charge):
"About 80% of federal appellate decisions are non-precedential. This Article examines the practical consequences for district courts and litigants confronting inconsistent appellate opinions issued by the same federal circuit. Specifically, this is a case study comparing the divergent binding and non-precedential opinions applying one frequently invoked constitutional theory within the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the “state-created danger” theory of substantive due process."
"The comparison demonstrates that the risks of non-precedential opinions are real. During the six-year interval between binding state-created danger decisions, the Third Circuit created inconsistent non-precedential opinions on the identical legal theory. Doctrinal divergence between the Third Circuit’s binding and non-precedential opinions has undermined the predictive value of precedential state-created danger decisions, creating an obstacle to settlement at both the trial and appellate levels. In turn, district courts’ unpredictable application of the non-precedential opinions has undermined the critical appellate functions of ensuring that like cases are treated alike, that judicial decisions are not arbitrary, and that legal issues resolved at the appellate level need not be relitigated before the district courts.
"The practice of issuing non-precedential opinions is justified on efficiency grounds, as a mechanism for overburdened appellate courts to manage their dockets. But doctrinal inconsistency between the Third Circuit’s precedential and non-precedential opinions undercuts the efficiency rationale because doctrinal divergences may have led plaintiffs and defendants to value cases differentlypotentially leading to more litigation, fewer settlements, and additional need for judicial decision-making.
"This Article proposes several reforms to reduce doctrinal inconsistency between precedential and non-precedential opinions. Because an appellate court should weigh the same considerations in making each of its publication decisions, the Third Circuit should replace its amorphous publication guideline with specific criteria. The Article concludes by suggesting that, consistent with the common law tradition of empowering the applying court to assess the persuasive value of a judicial decision, the Third Circuit should no longer refuse to cite its own non-precedential opinions, and should follow several circuits in expressly according persuasive value to its non-precedential opinions."
June 28, 2006
a cool quote
No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.
H. G. Wells (1866 - 1946)
June 26, 2006
One more upcoming event . . .
On Saturday, January 6, 2007, Scribes (The American Society of Writers on Legal Subjects) will hold a program on Writing Jury Instructions in Plain English. This program will be at 10:45 a.m. in Washington, D.C. (just after the AALS annual meeting). The program is expected to include Justices from California, which just adopted plain language jury instructions.
Joe Kimble (at Thomas M. Cooley Law School) and I will have more information to share about this later. (There is also a Scribes event on August 5 in Honolulu at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider Hotel. That may be the most interesting use for travel funds.)
- Prof. Mark E. Wojcik
The John Marshall Law School
"next" year's conferences
With this year's big Legal Writing Institute conference over in June, and with the new fiscal year at most U.S. universities starting on July 1st, many legal writing professors are now planning their travel (and expenses) for the new academic year. To date we know of:
Association of American Law Schools annual meeting
January 3 - 7, 2007
7th Annual Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference
University of Nevada, Law Vegas
Spring (likely March) 2007
Second Global Lawyering Skills Conference
The John Marshall Law School (Chicago)
May 4 & 5, 2007
Back to the Future of Legal Research Conference
Chicago-Kent College of Law
May 17 % 18, 2007
Association of Legal Writing Directors conference
Central Region Legal Writing Conference
Fall (likely September) 2007
As more information and URL's become available for these and other conferences, they will be posted here.
June 25, 2006
"compete the position"
Yet another verb has been adapted to today's perceived linguistic needs . . . "compete," formerly labelled and broadly considered to be an intransitive verb, is now used as a transitive verb. Want to hire or promote someone using a full and open selection process? Then you'll need to "compete the position."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit used the phrase in a 2000 decision: "Unable to dispute that its refusal to compete the position adversely affected Cones, HHS cannot legitimately contend that it took no adverse personnel action against him."
My spot check of 3-4 dictionaries shows that this usage is yet to be formally recognized.