Thursday, December 20, 2007
All I want for Christmas is a reliable Internet. Really. This co-editor of the blog has been pulling together materials for a presentation I'm making in February on the impact of the Internet in appellate briefs and opinions. One of the mostly frequently quoted cases addressing the validity of Internet information is St. Clair v. Johnny’s Oyster & Shrimp, Inc., 76 F. Supp. 2d 773, 775 (S.D. Tex. 1999), in which District Judge Samuel Kent wrote:
Anyone can put anything on the Internet. No web-site is monitored for accuracy and nothing contained therein is under oath or even subject to independent verification absent underlying documentation. Moreover, the Court holds no illusions that hackers can adulterate the content on any web-site from any location at any time. For these reasons, any evidence procured off the Internet is adequate for almost nothing, even under the most liberal interpretation of the hearsay exception rules found in Fed. R. Civ. P. 807. Instead of relying on the voodoo information taken from the Internet, Plaintiff must hunt for hard copy back-up documentation in admissible form . . . .
Case in point? "Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information." Character "Michael Scott" from the t.v. satire, The Office (NBC Apr. 5, 2007). Legal writing's own Ian Gallacher (unlike Scott, a real person), while arguing the need for more “open-access” sources of law, recently had this to say about Wikipedia:
[T]he Internet’s unmediated “Wikipedia” site contains articles that have the appearance of authority, even though they could be completely inaccurate. . . . The open-access nature of the Wikipedia site means that anyone can post or edit an entry, and the sophisticated presentation software available as part of the site means that any entry, whether it be completely accurate or entirely fictitious, will look the same. Unwitting users of the site could be misled into following a theory supported by a Wikipedia entry that has no actual substance in reality. For this reason, many scholars mistrust anything that appears on the Wikipedia site and do not recognize it as a viable research source.
Ian Gallacher, Cite Unseen: How Neutral Citation and America’s Law Schools Can Cure Our Strange Devotion to Bibliographical Orthodoxy and the Constriction of Open and Equal Access to the Law, 70 Alb. L. Rev. 491, 503 n. 63 (2007). Even the Bluebook has a bias against the Internet. See The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation 153 (Columbia Law Review Ass’n et al. eds., 18th ed. 2005) (“When information is available in a traditional printed source or on a widely available commercial database, it should be cited to that source rather than to the Internet.”). So don't cite this blog, please! Unless, of course, you really, really, really like what we're writing about, and you can't find a better source.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Washburn University School of Law's Center for Excellence in Advocacy, in collaboration with Washburn's Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing Program, has announced its upcoming symposium, Writing to Win: Plain Language Jury Instructions. The symposium will begin with an opening reception on Sunday evening, April 6, with presentations planned for Monday, April 7, and Tuesday, April 8, 2008. The Honorable Carol Corrigan, Associate Justice, California Supreme Court, will be the keynote speaker for the symposium.
hat tip: Professor Lyn Goering, Washburn University
No, not for free shipping of holiday gifts. Until the extended deadline to submit your proposal for the conference on teaching legal drafting and transactional skills. If you're interested in presenting at this conference at Emory University in May, you need to submit your proposal by this Friday, December 21, 2007, to Professor Tina Stark at email@example.com.
The steering committee for the conference also includes Professors Lyn Goering, George Kuney, Richard Neumann, Jr., Sue Payne, Lisa Penland, and Anne Rector.
hat tip: Lyn Goering
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
"Unless the author is a famous one whose prose the editors dare not tamper with, the edited and published writing usually takes on an ‘official’ law-review style that is lacking in personality or individual idiom, overburdened with abstract phraseology, bottom-heavy with footnotes, humorless, and generally unobservant of good grammar and diction. This last fault is perhaps ineradicable, at least in the U.S., inasmuch as legally trained young men and women are called upon to be professional editors when not one in fifty has a background suitable to the task."
- Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage 507 (2d ed., Oxford U. Press 1995)
hat tip: Professor Wayne Schiess, University of Texas
There was a recent report on new studies showing Chimps and College Students as Good at Mental Math. The results basically boil down to the fact that it's language that distinguishes the human brain from the chimpanzee brain. So the next time a legal writing student complains about how hard it is to express their understanding of the law, you might encourage them by noting their effort is worthwhile, because it's what separates us from the chimps.
hat tip: Professor R.J. Robertson, Southern Illinois University
Monday, December 17, 2007
Professor Lou Sirico, at Villanova University, has published an article on Readability Studies: How Technocentrism Can Compromise Research an Legal Determinations, 26 Quinnipiac Law Review 147 (2007).
Here is his summary:
"One way to determine whether consumers understand a document is to use a readability formula to assign it a score. These formulas calculate readability by counting such variables as the number of words and syllables in a passage or document. The idea of readability formulas has been defined as "an equation which combines those text features that best predict text difficulty. The equation is usually developed by studying the relationship between text features (e.g., words, sentences) and text difficulty (e.g., reading comprehension, reading rate, and expert judgment of difficulty)." Even though readability formulas are mechanical and imperfect, they are easy to apply and, therefore, popular.
"The Flesch-Kincaid test is one popular readability formula, perhaps because Microsoft Word allows users to apply it easily to documents that are typed or pasted into the program. If Microsoft's readability program is flawed, however, it compromises the results of the many researchers who have relied on it."
You can access the article via Lexis or Westlaw, although the appendix is not included there.
The announcement below arrived from Howard University:
WRITING AND LEGAL WRITING TEACHERS, INSTRUCTORS, AND PROFESSORS OF COLOR AND/OR PROGRESSIVE ORIENTATION CONFERENCE, Howard University School of Law, 16-17 May 2008
This conference is for any person who has an interest in and concern for teaching writing at any of its levels and in any of its forms, from early childhood to graduate and professional programs. The conference is particularly designed to bring together writing teachers of color, writing teachers who are progressively oriented, and writing teachers who teach a significant number of students of color.
The conference theme is: From Grammar School to Graduate and Law School: Building to Bridge the Achievement Gap
In addition to plenary sessions, the Conference will also include numerous works-in-progress and colloquium presentations. We would particularly like to invite you to respond to the Conference Call-for-Papers on the following topics:
* Teaching writing to students of color
* Writing and social change and engineering
* Building coalitions among faculty: grammar to graduate/professional schools
* "Literacy" in immigrant communities
* Literacy in urban communities
Please e-mail e. christi cunningham at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or are interested in:
(1) presenting a paper on one of the topics listed above
(2) presenting a work-in-progress
(3) being a commentator for a work-in-progress
(4) proposing a panel topic
The deadline for the next round in the call for papers (a title and short abstract) is 18 February 2008.