Saturday, November 10, 2007
Mercer's School of Law and the ABA host an annual writing competition in honor of Mercer’s former legal writing professor, Adam Milani. It is one of the few competitions for student-written briefs – not academic papers -- which means many students have papers already written for classes that they could submit. The prizes can be as high as $1,000.
This year the list of permissible topics has been expanded. Professors involved in any law school course in which court briefs are written might consider using one of these topics for an assignment:
-the Civil Rights Act of 1964;
-Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972;
-Age Discrimination in Employment Act;
-Family and Medical Leave Act;
-a state statute or municipal ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The deadline for submission is June 1. Further details are posted on the Mercer website at: http://www.law.mercer.edu/academics/legal_writing/writingcomp.cfm
hat tip: Professor Linda Edwards
Friday, November 9, 2007
By Hillary Burgess, Adjunct Professor, Rutgers School of Law - Camden
A few weeks ago, the Tax Law Blog asked contributors to give Dean Chemerinsky advice about the single best idea to reform legal education. The responses have been posted on both the Tax Law Blog and the Law School Innovation blog. Professor Gordon Smith advised Dean Chemerinsky to eliminate legal writing programs along with other forms of what he deems mock lawyering skills (moot court, law review, and all other co-curriculars). You can read the advice here: http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2007/09/gordon-smiths-a.html
While his idea to increase externship experience merits consideration, the notion of eliminating all co-curriculars and especially legal writing training is shocking (at least to someone who has a passion for making the legal community better writers). As a profession, lawyers are not the best writers and our legal writing courses are the only chance we have in the current system to influence the legal writing style for future lawyers. Clear communication is so critical to the practice of law, yet we don't do enough, in my opinion, to create good writers (though we are all working hard on that front!).
In fact, even with our current legal writing programs, our law school curriculum works against producing good legal writing. So many students learn by imitation, yet student's first exposure to legal writing is in the ancient cases that are a part of the first year curriculum. Students learn to refer to New York City as "vast wastelands known as the beach" (Pierson v. Post - the Rule of Capture fox case) or worse, to create fact patterns with all of the havoc and disorganization of Pennoyer v. Neff. Teaching legal writing is the only hope we have of combating our law students from learning how to "write like a lawyer" from these doctrinally crucial, yet extremely poorly written opinions.
Moreover, law is a fast-paced, time-is-money environment. Practicing lawyers do not have time (and probably don't have the inclination) to teach externs about good legal writing. Even if a few practicing attorneys did devote the time, there would be no standards for what was taught or how much of it was taught, much less a peer review selection process that ensured those teaching knew what constituted good writing. Moreover, after our current generation of legal-writing trained lawyers retired, the next generation would be taught only by people who received scattered tips on legal writing from this generation of lawyers.
My advice is just the opposite: make every class a writing class with both writing and doctrinal feedback. One of the most consistent complaints from law students is that there is no feedback in doctrinal courses, so students are left guessing what they did right and wrong on the exam. Did they have the law wrong or did they fail to identify an issue or did they just fail to communicate their understanding through bad writing. Granted, I have adopted the idea from my undergraduate institution, University of Chicago, where there was no college composition course because every class was expected to teach academic writing. And, granted, the faculty to student ratio there is 1:4 and the average class size is under 20. That said, when I've taught doctrinal courses to both pre-law and law students, with class sizes up to 60, I make every class a writing class with assignments (yes multiple) that focus their objectives on learning how to write better.
Even without making "every" class a writing class, we could require (or seriously urge) our faculty to provide more writing opportunities in class. We could also increase the writing requirements necessary to graduate and make writing classes smaller to allow faculty to devote much more time to developing lawyers as writers while not distracting from their other work. Perhaps we should even rethink the idea of simultaneously teaching first semester students doctrinal material and how to "think like a lawyer" and focus their first experience with law school solely on how to write and think like a lawyer, with doctrinal courses advancing the introduction on how to "think like a lawyer" with doctrinal material.
I'm just tossing around ideas here, but the point is: We need more writing courses, not fewer. More feedback on writing, not less. More opportunities for students to learn to write well, not fewer.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Professor Andrea Mcardle at CUNY has written a very helpful article on Teaching Writing in Clinical, Lawyering, and Legal Writing Courses: Negotiating Professional and Personal Voice, 12 Clinical Law (Spring 2006).
As she describes it :
"This article addresses the challenge facing law students to preserve some sense of individual voice and ownership of their writing as they enter a professional discourse community and negotiate its formal structures and idioms. It conceives of this challenge as equally a project for clinical, lawyering, and legal writing teachers. Each of these teaching communities plays a role in acculturating law students to the conventions of practice-based writing and identifies strategies to help them develop confidence in their capacity as communicators. The question of student voice is particularly a consideration for clinical teachers who supervise student work in live-client settings and continually must balance the need to ensure that a student's work product meets the standard of competent representation against the educational imperative of preserving the student's individual voice and sense of personal efficacy. Informed by these considerations, the article proposes pedagogic approaches that can help emergent lawyers undertake the delicate negotiation between professional and personal voice, and argues that there is a good reason for clinical simulation-based, and legal writing pedagogies to be in conversation on the questions of cultivating individuality and bolstering confidence in student writers."
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
The Awards Committee of the Legal Writing Institute has created a new award to honor the memory of the late Deborah Hecht, who served as the Director of the Legal Writing Center at Touro University School of Law. Because Deborah regularly contributed the “From the Desk of the Legal Writing Specialist” column to LWI's newsletter, The Second Draft, the award will go to the legal writing advisor or specialist whose article is selected by a panel of judges as the best article to appear in The Second Draft during the preceding two-year period. The winner will receive a certificate at the Biennial Conference of the Legal Writing Institute, and a plaque will also be displayed at the Touro School of Law Writing Resources Center in Deborah Hecht’s honor. The first recipient of the Deborah Hecht Memorial Writing Contest Award will be chosen from articles published in Volumes 21 and 22 of The Second Draft.
hat tip: Professor Julie M. Spanbauer of The John Marshall Law School in Chicago
"VanCleve argues his statement is more explicit than other statements in which suspects successfully invoked their right to counsel. See Wentela v. State, 95 Wis. 2d 283, 292, 290 N.W.2d 312 (1980) ("I think I need an attorney"); see also State v. Billings, 110 Wis. 2d 661, 663, 329 N.W.2d 192 (1983) ("maybe I ought to see an attorney"). However, our supreme court explicitly overruled Wentela in Jennings, 252 Wis. 2d 228, ¶33. In Jennings, our supreme court held the Supreme Court's decision in Davis overruled Wentela, and further held that under Davis the statement 'I think maybe I need to talk to a lawyer' was not sufficient to invoke the right to counsel. Jennings, 252 Wis. 2d 228, ¶¶33-36. VanCleve's reliance on Wentela and Billings as controlling authority here evinces either extremely poor legal research or a deliberate misstatement of the law." State v. Gerald A. VanCleve, No. 2007AP753-CR, slip op. ¶ 15 (per curiam)(emphasis added). hat tip: Christopher G. Wren, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Appeals Unit, Wisconsin Department of Justice (njs)
"VanCleve argues his statement is more explicit than other statements in which suspects successfully invoked their right to counsel. See Wentela v. State, 95 Wis. 2d 283, 292, 290 N.W.2d 312 (1980) ("I think I need an attorney"); see also State v. Billings, 110 Wis. 2d 661, 663, 329 N.W.2d 192 (1983) ("maybe I ought to see an attorney"). However, our supreme court explicitly overruled Wentela in Jennings, 252 Wis. 2d 228, ¶33. In Jennings, our supreme court held the Supreme Court's decision in Davis overruled Wentela, and further held that under Davis the statement 'I think maybe I need to talk to a lawyer' was not sufficient to invoke the right to counsel. Jennings, 252 Wis. 2d 228, ¶¶33-36. VanCleve's reliance on Wentela and Billings as controlling authority here evinces either extremely poor legal research or a deliberate misstatement of the law."
State v. Gerald A. VanCleve, No. 2007AP753-CR, slip op. ¶ 15 (per curiam)(emphasis added).
hat tip: Christopher G. Wren, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Appeals Unit, Wisconsin Department of Justice
Indiana University - Indianapolis, the host school for the 2008 LWI conference, just promoted several legal writing professors.
The faculty voted unanimously to award Jim Dimitri and Joel Schumm long-term contracts and to award Joel, Cynthia Adams, and Debby McGregor the rank of Clinical Professor of Law. The promotions to full professor are subject to university approval.
hat tip: Lisa McElroy, Drexel University College of Law
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
In an article titled, "Love to Write? Keep It to Yourself," Rachel Toor explores her emotional reaction to people who claim that they love to write. She argues that writing is hard and exhausting work--a daunting exercise--and then gives hints on how to make it manageable, such as establishing a routine and knowing one's productivity limits. She ends by describing her hellish experience running a 50K race in rugged terrain in the heat of August--tremendously hard work. But not as hard as writing.
hat tip: Natalie Tarenko, Texas Tech
The President of the ABA has issued a statement about events unfolding currently in Pakistan.
It's one thing to see university students take to the streets. And it's hard not to pay attention when Bhuddist monks march en masse. But lawyers? That Shakespeare sure knew a thing or two.
Professor Ruth Anne Robbins, from Rutgers-Camden, sends the following report:
"Last Friday many of us attended the Legal Rhetoric conference at American’s Washington School of Law. It was a phenomenal conference.
"James Boyd White was the keynote speaker, an amazing opportunity for us to hear one of law’s great scholars. After he spoke we were able to hear the thoughts and new scholarship happening in three different areas of legal writing/clinical doctrine: narrative, metaphor and archetypes.
"Terry Phelps is truly a conference visionary. The professors in that Legal Rhetoric department obviously put in a lot of work and showed enormous dedication to the project and the field.
"Thank you so much to everyone at American – I for one was energized by the quality of the presentations and material."
Monday, November 5, 2007
Legal writing faculty who teach courses in drafting and other transactional skills should put May 30-31, 2008, on the calendar, for the second conference hosted by the Center for Transactional Law and Practice at Emory University, "Teaching Drafting and Transactional Skills: The Basics and Beyond." The program will include sessions for all levels of teacher experience and will cover topics including how to teach basic courses, how to create exercises, using technology in the classroom, identifying and teaching "best practices," designing and teaching a business simulation class, integrating contracts drafted in other countries into the transactional curriculum, and how to organize and pay for a transactional law and practice program.
The call for proposals is available here: Download dfg_conf_save_the_date.pdf. The deadline for submitting proposals is December 3, 2007.
Hat tip: Lyn Goering