Saturday, July 21, 2007

HP & legal language

Trying to connect this morning's Harry Potter craze with this blog's focus on legal writing may be a far stretch, but exercising some kind of blog author's prerogative, I've decided to share here a couple of paragraphs from a book chapter I've drafted.  The first line below should give you the gist of the chapter's topic.   

"There is another aspect of Anglo Saxon law that the Harry Potter books call to mind, and maybe it also is not a coincidence. Among the legal remedies imposed by Anglo Saxon tribunals were wergilds and bots. Wergilds (also spelled wergelds and wergylds) were monetary compensation to relatives of homicide victims. The wergild correlated with the status of the victim, increasing along with the status of the deceased. Bots sometimes referred to compensation generally. But bots more specifically were money awards given by the defendant to a harmed person, calculated to compensate for the person’s physical or intangible injuries.* As one scholar explains it, 'the "wergild" was the sum paid to the kin of a slain man and varied in its rate with the victim’s social status; the "bot" was the sum paid to the injured man himself and varied with the parts of his body outraged and the kind of property damaged.'**

"Now, bots surely brings to mind 'Botts,' as in Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans. In the Harry Potter books, these jelly beans come in a wide variety of flavors, including some very odd ones, like spaghetti and pepper. And then there are the truly gross Bertie Botts jelly bean flavors, like earwax, booger, and vomit. Parts of the body outraged, indeed!"

*See J. Laurence Laughlin, The Anglo-Saxon Legal Procedure 278-280, in Essays in Anglo-Saxon Law (Little, Brown & Co. 1876).

**See G.O. Sayles, The Medieval Foundations of England 122 (U. Penn. Press 1950).



July 21, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

recommended reading: Orwell & legal writing

With apologies for the delay, here is a fascinating article recently published by Professor Judy Fischer, on Why George Orwell's Ideas About Language Still Matter for Lawyers, 68 Montana Law Review 129 (2007). Judy connects the lessons of 1984 and Orwell’s other works to the written work lawyers do every day. And she shows us how legal writing professors who insist their students use plain English are actually continuing Orwell’s efforts against dystopia.


July 19, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

teach legal writing in Albany

Professor Pam Amstrong sends this announcement:

Albany Law School invites applications for the position of Assistant Lawyering Professor for the 2008-2009 academic year. Currently, there are two open positions to teach Introduction to Lawyering. Lawyering faculty at Albany Law School enjoy the benefits and privileges extended to all faculty. Although not "tenure-track," lawyering faculty positions may become renewable long-term contract positions upon review after three years of continuing successful performance.

Professors in the Lawyering Program teach a first-year course integrating legal research, writing, analysis, and lawyering skills, including: interviewing; client counseling; fact investigating; drafting; negotiating; and appellate advocacy. Each professor is responsible for two sections of Introduction to Lawyering that will have 17-18 students each. The Lawyering Program is a coordinated program and is currently comprised of 7 professors.

Applicants must have a J.D., excellent academic record, demonstrated legal research and writing ability, prior teaching, clerkship and/or practice experience, and the ability to work within a coordinated program structure. Compensation for the position is competitive and includes full benefits.

Albany Law School is a small, independent private school in New York State's capital. Established in 1851, it is the oldest independent law school in the nation and the oldest law school in New York. The student-faculty ratio is 14 to 1, and the school offers students an innovative, rigorous curriculum taught by a committed faculty. With 48% of the entering class from out of state, the school has a growing national reputation as a small, selective institution committed to academic excellence. You can learn more about the school by visiting our website:

To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, including names and contact information for at least three references, a writing sample, or legal research and writing, or lawyering teaching materials to: Faculty Recruitment Committee, c/o Barbara Jordan-Smith, Dean's Office, Albany Law School, 80 New Scotland Avenue, Albany, NY 12208-3494. Email:

If you have any questions, please contact Debbie Mann at:

1. The position advertised:
__ a. is tenure-track.
_X_ b. can lead to renewable long-term contracts.
__ c. has neither of these forms of job security.
(This position may lead to successive five-year contracts and complies with Section 405C.)

2. The person hired will be permitted to vote in faculty meetings.
_X_ a. true
__ b. not true
(The professor will be permitted to vote on all matters except hiring, promotion, and tenure of tenure-track faculty.)

3. The school anticipates paying an annual academic year base salary in the ranges checked below:
___a. $95,000 or more
_X_ b. $85,000 to $94,999 (salary commensurate with experience)
_X_ c. $75,000 to $84,999 (salary commensurate with experience)
_X_ d. $65,000 to $74,999 (salary commensurate with experience)
___e. $55,000 to $64,999
___f. $45,000 to $54,999
___g. $35,000 to $44,999
___h. Less than $35,000

4. The person hired will teach two sections of Introduction to Lawyering each semester, to the total number of students (combining both sections) in the range checked below:
___a. less than 30
_X_ b. 30 to 44
___c. 45 to 59
___d. more than 59
(Most sections contain fewer than twenty students.)


July 18, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

a hand-out on hobgoblins

Fischer Judy Fischer at the University of Louisville has written a bar journal article that would make a helpful handout for 1L legal writing students, perhaps sometime toward the end of the first semester: Dismiss Those Sixth-Grade Hobgoblins, 69 Kentucky Bench & Bar (May 2007).  As Judy says in her abstract:

"Legal writers may have internalized false rules about writing. For example, they may believe the myths that a sentence cannot begin with a conjunction, that it is incorrect to split a compound verb or an infinitive, that a word should not be repeated in the same sentence or paragraph, and that one-sentence paragraphs are always incorrect. Writers should dismiss these hobgoblins when they are obstacles to writing clear, idiomatic English."


July 17, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 16, 2007

but is it dicta?

All law professors who teach first year students teach the skill of legal reading.  We show students the basics, like how to tell the facts from the procedure.  And they gradually learn to read the nuances, too, such as when a judge is communicating with a wider audience than just the litigants and for purposes other than deciding the immediate dispute in front of the court.  The United States Supreme Court's recently-completed term should provide students with a lot of material with which to practice the latter.


July 16, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)