Saturday, March 15, 2008
In a recent post to her Business Writing blog, Lynn Gaertner-Johnston wrestled with the question of whether to use incorrect grammar with certain audiences so as to be "accepted" by that audience. In other words, is it possible to alienate your listeners or readers by correctly using "whom" in a sentence when casual speakers always say "who"?
She got a great response from one of her readers, whose comment suggests adopting neither the ungrammatical nor the stuffy-yet-correct construction. Instead, find a way to "write around the problem" by rewording the idea to avoid the difficult choice.
I heartily agree with this advice, particularly when dealing with busy law students who claim, for example, that they "always" have trouble using semi-colons (okay, just write two shorter sentences) or that they "never can remember" the difference between imply and infer (okay, say that the evidence persuaded the jury to find x). Think of it as just finding another route to get from point A to point B, taking a detour. You might try a classroom exercise in which you give the students several sentences representing common errors and ask them to rewrite the sentences to avoid the errors altogether.
Friday, March 14, 2008
For the third installment of this mini-series on judicial websites, I have to admit to a certain amount of laziness and parsimony. Therefore, I like judicial websites that freely provide information that I used to have to trek over to the courthouse, telephone someone to obtain, or pay someone to receive.
For instance, I like to see what oral arguments are scheduled for the next few sessions of court, in case I find one that interests me. I like to keep up with slip opinions from my state's appellate courts. I like seeing photographs of new judges who've joined the bench. I scan the ethics opinions and disciplinary notices for scary stories to share with my students, hoping I'll never see one of their names in a similar publication. I like to read the annual statistics on court workloads, filings, and other indicia of the state of the judicial system. And I like having all these things available to me from my desktop.
Should legal research and writing teachers always invent their own writing problems, or should they sometimes use actual legal work to generate writing assignments? Two authors contend that working on actual problems can better motivate students to learn the basic skills of research, analysis, and writing. They also recommend that LRW teachers work more closely with clinical faculty to design, co-teach, and evaluate courses where writing problems are based on actual pending cases.
Steven D. Schwinn (pictured here on the left), now a professor at The John Marshall Law School, and Steven D. and Michael A. Millemann, the Jacob A. France Professor of Public Interest Law at the Univeristy of Maryland School of Law, write about two experimental courses they developed and co-taught where students worked on actual cases. Their article is Teaching Legal Research and Writing with Actual Legal Work: Extending Clinical Education into the First Year, which appeared in volume 12 of the Clinical Law Review. The article is also available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=897554.
Are there any other benefits to this idea? Professors Schwinn and Millemann believe that in the longer term, engaging law students in work on behalf of poor and underrepresented persons will encourage students to provide legal services to similar clients later when they are lawyers.
Mark E. Wojcik, The John Marshall Law School-Chicago
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Second in a short series detailing why I love court websites:
Appellate courts have begun to provide public links to audio--and in some jurisdictions, to video--recordings of oral arguments. These can be compelling teaching tools. For examples, check out these state-court websites from around the country (not intended to be an exhaustive list):
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
Professor Julie Spanbauer of The John Marshall Law School-Chicago surveyed the needs of LL.M. students who speak English as a second language and assessed what law schools have done (or failed to do) to meet the those needs. The survey and research were supported by a Scholarship Incentive Research Grant from the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD). The published article is called Lost in Translation in the Law School Classroom: Assessing Required Coursework in LL.M. Programs for International Students, and it appeared in volume 34 of the International Journal of Legal Information. You can see the abstract of her article and download a copy of it here or go to http://ssrn.com/author=38112.
Here are some of the observations that she makes in the article:
- Law schools need to do more for international students to enrich their classroom experiences.
- "The existing pedagogy addressing the writing issues of entering J.D. students can be utilized to inform the legal education of international students."
- A conversation between those who teach ESL students and the larger legal writing community "will encourage legal educators to become more aware of the influence of culture and language on their understanding of the law and they will, in turn, be better teachers."
There's a lot more in the article that will be of interest to all of us whose students include persons who speak English as a second language. The issues are not limited to LL.M. students, because many J.D. students today also speak English as a second language.
Professor Spanbauer also received a Fulbright award to teach in Taiwan this summer.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Here's a two-page article from Professor David Sorkin that would make a great handout for your legal writing classes. It's called Sex Ed for Legal Writers and it appeared in the Illinois Bar Journal. You can download a copy of the article here. It was published a couple of years ago, but the information in the article is still current and useful. Professor Sorkin (who is one of my legal writing colleagues here at The John Marshall Law School) wrote a series of these helpful articles when he was serving as the Editor of the Legal Communication Column for the Illinois Bar Journal. They've all just become recently available on SSRN.
Here are some of the observations that Professor Sorkin makes in the article:
- "Gender-biased language distracts readers (or listeners) from the message being communicated by diverting their attention away from the substance of the message, and toward the words that are being used to express it."
- "[S]ometimes, gender-specific language will result in the reader receiving an entirely different message from that intended by the writer."
- "There are perfectly good substitutes for many gender-specific terms."
- "Sexist language isn't a problem only because it's sexist--it also interferes with the purpose of your communication."
Professor Sorkin provides a useful list of 11 possible solutions for avoiding sexist and gender-biased language in legal writing. You probably cover some of these in your class already at some point. Make a copy of the article for your students or have them download it themselves at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1100298.
I love court websites for so many reasons. I'm going to list them in my next few posts. Here's my first (but only because it's the most recent) reason.
This morning I went to my state appellate courts' website to check dates for upcoming oral arguments that students might want to attend. I clicked the entry for one of the arguments, and up came the clerk's docket sheet. Not many of us would think that a docket sheet is particularly interesting, but I discovered something that I can use to reinforce with the students the importance of rule compliance in constructing and formatting briefs. In my state, the appellate clerk's office has a rigid checklist that is used to ascertain rule compliance for every appellate brief that is filed. If anything does not pass muster, the clerk is empowered to reject the brief as tendered, and the lawyer who proffered it must fix the problem. In some cases, the lawyer may also have to ask the court for permission to submit the "repaired" brief, because it will come in after its deadline.
I'm sometimes accused by students of being picky about things. Well, it's true; I am. I am picky about the things that will get briefs rejected in my state. Now I can show my students who the true master of pickiness is: the clerk of court. Click this link to the docket for a case scheduled for argument May 1, 2008 (link may not work after that date), if you'd like to take a look.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Here's an article to recommend to student editors (and student writers) on your law journals. It discusses--in an extremely sensible and coherent way--the appropriate use of footnotes. The article by Professor William B.T. Mock, Jr. appeared in the International Journal of Legal Information. Click here to download the article or view the abstract or go to http://ssrn.com/abstract=1019891. The article is short -- only 11 pages. It may be one that you will want to share with your writing classes as well as students on your law journals.
In the article, Professor Mock identifies and explains three basic types of footnotes: (1) references; (2) facts; and (3) ideas.
- Footnotes for references allow readers to retrace your research and determine whether your line of analysis is correct. They also allow future authors to build upon your work.
- Footnotes for facts inform readers about the informational context, support less well-known facts, and provide readers with a starting point for further reading.
- Footnotes for ideas place your arguments and analysis in the broader intellectual context of academic scholarship on the same subject, and provide readers with a way to learn about the give-and-take of discussion on the issue.
The article goes into further detail on each type of footnote, providing helpful explanations and examples.
Here's a further taste of what Professor Mock has to say about footnotes:
- "Not every proposition in a law review article requires citation, nor does every footnote require cited authority."
- "[M]any student editors and research assistants do not understand the distinctions among types of footnotes . . . ."
- "The more obscure the fact referenced, the more necessary the reader will find the information in the footnote. In such obscure cases, it is important to direct the reader to a source of further information."
- "Sometimes, the footnote merely serves to resolve a textual ambiguity, where failure to do so might provide an ongoing distraction to the reader[.]"
Download the full article for further gems. William B.T. Mock, When a Rose Isn't 'Arose' Isn't Arroz: A Student Guide to Footnoting for Informational Clarity and Scholarly Discourse, 34 Int'l J. Legal Information 87 (2006) Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1019891
Mark E. Wojcik, The John Marshall Law School-Chicago
Monday, March 10, 2008
If you teach contract drafting or ADR, here's a good lesson on the implications of an arbitration clause in an employment contract. And the article itself (as well as the discussion in some of the linked items) is a good example of persuasive writing, with the ominous references to "secretive arbitration."
hat tip: Wendy Humphrey, Texas Tech
Did you know that you can search through past issues of The Second Draft, the official newsletter of the Legal Writing Institute? Published twice a year, each issue contains a wealth of information for those of us who teach legal writing, research, and analysis. Have a look now to see how easy it is to look at past issues on-line. You'll also find information about submitting articles for the next issue (which will be on techniques for teaching statutory interpretation and analysis).
Mark E. Wojcik, The John Marshall Law School-Chicago
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Plan now to attend the Symposium on Plain Language Jury Instructions in Topeka, Kansas, April 6-8, 2008. Hosted by the Center for Excellence in Advocacy, in collaboration with Washburn University School of Law's Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing Program, the symposium features several notable speakers, including keynote speaker, the Honorable Carol Corrigan, Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court. Justice Corrigan chaired the California Judicial Council Task Force on Jury Instructions from 1997 to 2005, and she was among three California justices who received the 2007 Golden Pen Award. Presenters and panelists include Joe Kimble, Wayne Schiess, and Mary Barnard Ray, all well known in the national legal writing community.
Although there is no fee to attend the symposium, seating is limited; therefore, you must register (which you can accomplish online) in order to attend. If you are an attorney licensed in Kansas or Missouri attorneys, note that the program will permit you to earn at least 9 CLE credits at no charge.
hat tip: J. Lyn Entrikin Goering