July 19, 2008
LWI Conference Posts
There are MANY posts from the Legal Writing Institute Conference held last week in Indianapolis, including panel discriptions, photos, and links to handouts. To see them, click on the weekly archive for the week of July 13, 2008. Click here or click on the link in the column to the right.
We couldn't attend everything; so if YOU would like to write a guest post describing a session you attended, send it to one of the editors (listed on the left), and we'll post it here for you.
Links to LWI Conference Handouts
Here is a link to the handout that Prof. Joseph Kimble distributed during his presentation at the LWI Conference: Techniques for Better Legal Drafting: Lessons from the New Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Note: click on the columns for September & October 2005 and August through December 2007).
Here is a link to the survey on student responses to live grading that I distributed during the Tuesday evening program on Live Grading. Click the link, then click "download this document."
LWI Conference Photos
Professor Karen Mika of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law did a magnificent job in her remarks on Monday evening when announcing the LeClercq Courage Award, which was presented to Ralph Brill and Molly Lien. I was thinking of putting captions on each of these photos, but I also thought that you might enjoy guessing who everyone is in the pictures. (We can always post the names later!)
Karen sent me these photos from the conference to post on the Legal Writing Prof Blog. (None of them are from the Monday night event, but we'll have some photos from there later.)
These photos are also now on the new LWI Facebook Page. (Add me as your legal writing Facebook friend, too, while you're visiting!)
BIG HAT TIP to Karen Mika (who is pictured here in an absolutely gorgeous black dress!)
July 18, 2008
poster presentations at LWI, take three
Chris Rollins, who presented her poster on Thursday afternoon, has asked that her poster-- Download rollins_posters.pdf -- and handouts-- Download handouts_lwi_2008_rollins.doc -- be made available to those who are interested. Her topic was "How to Teach CREAC to All Types of Learners."
“That afterwards, the said Sheriff having duly made return of said writ with the report by him of said sale to the said court, said sale was by said court confirmed and a deed of said premises ordered upon his payment of the purchase price aforesaid.”
hat tip: Michael Cosgrove
ABA Section of Legal Education - Report of the Special Committee on Security of Position
Here is a link to the ABA Section of Legal Education Report that Suzanne Rowe discussed during the LWI meeting. Professor Rowe has prepared LWI's comments in response to this report. Click here for the ABA report.
July 17, 2008
poster presentations at LWI, take two
Jennifer Horn (Texas Tech) discusses her poster presentation, "Not-So-Magnificent Obsession: Performance vs. Professionalism." Her research focused on the way that individuals approach learning (with a learning orientation or a performance orientation) and how a student's orientation shapes the reaction to feedback: learners see feedback as useful information to help them improve, while performers see feedback as judgmental information about their innate ability and lack belief that effort will improve that ability. (Click the photo to enlarge it.)
reunion picture of Nairobi conference participants
Here's a reunion picture of American and African law professors who attended the March 2007 skills conference for African legal academics in Nairobi and/or are members of APPEAL, an interest group formed after the conference. The fund-raising efforts and donations by individual professors and law schools provided scholarships to support the African professors' travel to the LWI conference. (Click on the photo to enlarge it.)
LWI session: Life-long Legal Writing
Kris Butler and Mike Cavanaugh (Holland & Knight LLP) and Kathleen Dillon Narko (Northwestern) discussed law firm recruiting needs and the gap between law school education and practice needs in skills training.
Mr. Cavanaugh spoke about recent grads' lack of preparation to be effective contract drafters. At his big commercial law firm, he sees new associates who lack the skills to write in a clear, unambiguous, complete, and organized manner. Some also lack strong skills in basic English. He hopes for, but often can't find, recent grads who "have a powerful command of the language" and "diverse writing skills."
Professor Narko spoke about teaching students that there is a client with real needs behind the memo or client letter; that good writing is ethical writing, without personal attacks or overstatement; and that there is no "easy button" for thorough research. (In the Q/A afterwards, Ms. Butler shared the story of a summer associate who racked up a $15K Westlaw bill in two days!!)
Ms. Butler spoke about clients' expectations of lawyers: to get to the conclusion right away, and to edit a document for conciseness.
In the Q/A, an audience member asked Mr. Cavanaugh whether he had seen a progression or regression in new associates' writing skills. He replied that he had seen an improvement in legal writing, but a decline in basic English skills.
interested in joining an LWI committee?
Kirsten Dauphinais (University of North Dakota) chaired the Welcome Fair held Wednesday afternoon at LWI. The committee accepted about 80 Committee Interest Forms from members interested in serving on LWI committees. What a great response!
The Welcome Fair Committee included Gail Stephenson (Southern University Law Center), Kirsten Dauphinais, and Bonnie Tavares (Temple) (pictured here from left to right). Kendra Fershee (North Dakota) also served on the committee.
hat tip: Gail Stephenson
Learning Theory and Student Expectations - Tips From Three Experts
Three superstars of the legal writing field are Sonia Bychkov Green, Maureen Straub Kordesh, and Julie Spanbauer, all of The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. They presented a well-attended program this morning on how to incorporate learning theory and student expectations into problem design for a first-year writing course.
Julie Spanbauer traveled to Indianapolis from China to give this presentation. She emphasized the importance of thinking of students as learners (rather than thinking of ourselves as teachers). She compared law students to students of foreign languages who are learning from a native speaker (of law). These students are learning how to become fluent in our legal discourse (they even have to resort to using legal dictionaries). Some other points she made:
- Entering students face many hurdles as they immerse themselves in the study of law.
- Reading assignments are dominated by appellate opinions, which were never intended by their authors as teaching tools.
- Entering law students have little or no prior experience reading and analyzing these cases and cannot directly draw on their prior learning experiences as they transition into law school.
- First-year students are frequently relegated to the position of vicarious learning as they passively listen to the teacher engaging another student in dialog about a case or hypothetical scenario.
- Much of law school instruction is based upon a self-teaching model because the student is forced to assess other student answers and to ascertain how the teacher's instructional goals relate to the instruction presented.
Maureen Kordesh then spoke on how to control the classroom environment to maximize teaching effectiveness--and especially how (and why) to use controlled problems, as opposed to "real" problems, in the LS classroom.
She discussed the ways teachers can sometimes lose control over the learning environment, differences in teaching children and teaching adults, and being able to appreciate the difference between "indeterminacy" and "chaos" when synthesizing cases.
She illustrated some of the case examples she uses to examine holdings and reasoning from judicial decisions, and to do so in a way that appreciates the learning styles of adult learners. By careful editing of cases, Professor Kordesh illustrated how to minimize first-year student anxiety in briefing complicated cases and thereby maximize the ability of these students to develop particular skills.
Professor Green then discussed her work with law firm associates and common writing problems that arise in law firms. She emphasized that the writing problems that associates were experiencing were common to our students as well.
How can we bring clients into the classroom? She shared a video of a client interview (a father and his son who had fallen off a pile of logs), which forced students to treat the problem more seriously, and to be more engaged in the writing process.
She urged persons interested in learning more about how to incorporate real cases into the legal writing problems to read an article by Professor Steven Schwinn. Click here to download that article.
Contact Julie Spanbauer for copies of the handouts and bibliography from this presentation.
Teaching Civil Law Students About the Common Law; Teaching Common Law Students About the Civil Law
They described how their original course in English for Lawyers (designed for students entering LL.M. programs in the United States), and adapted it for students with broader backgrounds and needs beyond preparing for a U.S. law school graduate program.
They wanted their students to draw upon similarities between civil and common law systems, and to identify skills that could transfer across legal systems. They used a decision of the European Court of Justice and a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to make this connection. Both courts are of general jurisdiction, both are final decision-making bodies, both reference precedent, and both use analogical reasoning. They found an immigration decision from each court, and compared how to brief cases (preparing a permanent record of what the student read, and enabling close analysis of the cases). The exercise worked well with their civil law students in Europe.
And guess what? Ann and Theresa figured out that U.S. students could also benefit from the same type of comparative law exercise.
They noticed that students in the U.S. and in other countries learned primarily about their domestic law without regard to global legal principles. They recognized that global legal practice demands that our students understand other legal systems and their methods of legal analysis. They also noted that students discover some of these distinctions between common law and civil law:
- The roles of the court in each system (law maker versus dispute resolver)
- The institutional versus practical uses of precedent
- Uses of inductive versus deductive reasoning
- Use of the facts and uses of analogy
- Roles of scholars and secondary authority in each system (in civil law countries, the scholars are definitive on what the law is; courts and lawyers look to study scholars rather than court decisions).
They distributed an international contract problem (which they have shared on the idea bank) on whether the term "natural foods" could include genetically modified food. This international open memorandum problem produced many positive outcomes for their students:
- awareness of and respect for other legal cultures
- basic knowledge of similarities and differences between civil and common law reasoning
- exposure to international legal research
- increased interest in international legal practice.
There were also some challenges in having first year U.S. law students working on international and foreign law issues:
- beginning law students may struggle to compare common law and civil law given their limited time in law school
- researching in two different systems can cause student panic
- research may be more difficult given language barriers
- issues must be simple enough for students to handle with some confidence
The legal writing field is truly global. The audience for this presentation was filled with other international experts in our field (Debbie Lee, Kelly Brest van Kampen, Eric Easton, Jill Ramsfield, Nina Hovarova, and many, many others from the United States, Spain, Costa Rica, Singapore, and other nations). LWI conferences should really have a dedicated track for international and foreign issues -- there is much to discuss, share, and learn here.
Mark E. Wojcik, The John Marshall Law School - Chicago
All About India
She said that law schools in India are interested in improving their instruction in legal writing, and that there are many opportunities for U.S. professors to teach legal writing, research, statutory analysis, and other subjects.
She described her day-to-day experiences (such as difficulties in accessing the internet and finding a printer), the considerations she made in selecting course materials (how much U.S. law, how much the law of India, etc.), and how wonderful her overall experience was (imagine the great feeling of having all of your students stand up when you enter the classroom!).
I am so thrilled that Marilyn went to India, and that she shared her experiences with us. She learned new ways of putting together materials, and new ways of working with students.
All About Grading
Timothy D. Blevins of Florida A&M presented on "Grading: Using Spreadsheets and Rubrics." Breaking down the points per category can convey a greater sense of fairness in grading. He also recommended reserving a percentage of the assessment total for an holistic assessment (less than 10 percent of the overall grade). He urged professors to include spaces for comments, and to provide effective feedback that should lead to better future results for the student. Brenda D. Gibson, director at North Carolina Central University School of Law, called grading rubrics "the life insurance" for legal writing professors. Her school is presently an adjunct program (with nine adjuncts, working in teams of three), but it is moving to a full-time program. She believed that grading rubrics are a sound way of providing continuity in grading, and that minimizes (and, in her program, eliminated entirely) grade appeals.
She discussed these points in creating an effective grading rubric, and provided an example of the grading rubric she uses. Here is her methodology for creating grading rubrics:
- create the assignment
- work through the assignment, highlighting the points you expect your students to make. As you do so, start creating the rubric.
- work through the assignment again, looking for anything you could have missed the first time. Edit the rubric further to include missing material.
- share the rubric with as many colleagues as possible and ask them to work through the assignment as well. This review by others will improve your assignment and the grading rubric.
- Be open to making changes to the rubric during the grading process if you find that the students have discovered a different way of analyzing the process.
She said that it was critical to involve all of the players in making the rubric, both professors and students. With proper use, grading rubrics are a win-win situation.
Chris Rollins of St. Louis University was the third speaker of this morning program. She spoke on "Effective and Efficient Electronic Commenting." She discussed creating a "vocabulary of grading" for common global comments, which can then be narrowed to the particular assignment and the particular student's paper.
She uses electronic bubble comments and also uses colors to mark certain categories of errors:
- citation errors are marked in yellow
- grammar errors are marked in blue
- green is the color she uses to comment on sentence
- red is her color choice when students reach a conclusion before analyzing the paper.
She prints out these graded papers on a color printer and returns them to her students. (If you have a student who is color blind, use different fonts such as bold, underline, or italics.) She also includes comments to indicate to students their level of achievement in the particular assignment.
A lot of great information from this morning's program.
July 16, 2008
Electronic Commenting on Student Papers
Linda Hiemer (pictured at right) and Jane Wise of Concord Law School presented a session on how to comment on papers using VoiceLynx technology. Their law school (Concord Law School) is a completely online law school founded in 1988. In 2007 it merged with Kaplan University. It currently has 1,500 students. The average age of their students is 47, and 45 percent of their students have advanced degrees. The school offers a JD degree and an EJD (executive JD) part-time program.
The Legal Analysis and Writing ("LAW") course that they teach at Concord is offered in the third year (not the first year!). The first-year curriculum is instead focused on preparing students for California's "baby bar" exam. The school does some first-year writing instruction focused on preparing students to pass that exam, which (as I understand it) is required of students who are attending law schools that are not accredited by the American Bar Association.
They explained the Voicelynx Program, which allows teachers to record verbal comments that can be uploaded and embedded as an MP3 file. These verbal comments complement, reduce, or replace the traditional written comments that we make on papers. For students, the program allows a marriage of visual and auditory learning. It allows the use of word processing tools relating to the paper while embedding verbal comments. And the only equipment that is really needed is a computer, a headset with a microphone, and recording software.
They use this technology on grading student essays, client letters, and memorandum. They shared a sample paper with electronic comments, as well as a sample of voice comments for a student paper.
The students have a mandatory telephone conference if they received a grade of C or less on their papers. Students with higher grades can request telephone conferences, and Professor Wise estimated that she may have conferences only with about 10 percent of her students.
Voice commenting is a relatively new way of giving feedback to students, and it is a method that many teachers might consider. Some teachers have used programs that allow professors to record comments, and these comments can be particularly useful for overall comments. There are technical problems with the size of files -- many files are too large to email and must instead be burned to a CD.
The presenters played some examples of their recorded comments. I wish I could be more enthusiastic about what I saw (and heard) at this particular presentation, but what I saw did not persuade me that it is a better assessment method than what I am using with live grading. But again, that's just me. Most professors are still using only traditional grading methods, and exploring voice commenting technology will help many professors (and students) become better writers.
The presentation here has to be considered in its context -- these are two professors who teach at an online school, with no opportunity to meet with their students.
The best take away from this session may have come from Christina Bennett at Seton Hall, who suggested that the technology as demonstrated could be used effectively with a sample memo.
Katy Mercer of Case Western Reserve (who also attended the session) shared with me the information that the software needed to do this is open-source and available for free from Audacity.
Jim Levy of Nova Southeastern University School of Law Shepard Broad Law Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has generously agreed to become a contributing editor of this blog.
Although you may see him posting on a number of subjects, he will be the blog's official "Scholarship Dude."
Grumpy Ed Explains the "Grammar Bee"
More from the Legal Writing Institute Conference in Indianapolis.
- "Name names" to cut down on passive voice (when the characters are identified expressly, students can more easily write the sentence in the active voice).
- Write short, simple declarative sentences.
- Put the character and action as close together as possible.
- Start with familiar information and end with new.
Professor Blais was the warm-up act for Ed Telfeyan of the University of the Pacific-McGeorge School of Law. Professor Telfeyan is affectionately known as Grumpy Ed to members of the Legal Writing Listserve. He explained the "Grammar Bee," an in-class, first-semester activity for first-year law students to cure remedial writing deficiencies common to entering law students.
He shared some approaches that do not work in teaching grammar:
- assign outside reading
- browbeat the entire class
- write nasty comments on their papers
- send them to an outside tutor (that they may never visit)
And then he explained the "Grammar Bee." It's a class activity that he uses to have students identify correct answers, explain rules of grammar, and correct grammatical errors. He considers grammar from basic points (such as identifying the difference between its and it's) to dealing with students who know grammar but write in long-winded, impenetrable sentences. He uses the Grammar Bee throughout the semester, starting from the beginning of the year. It consists of a series of questions that might take five minutes or so of each class. (He has also used the Grammar Bee exercises once or twice in advanced writing seminars.)
Students are eliminated during the course of the semester, but they can "challenge back" and get back into the game. (A key to using this exercise is being able to keep all of the students involved even after they are eliminated from the grammar bee.)
He shared some of the questions (and answers) that he uses in his courses. This teaching method makes learning grammar fun and interactive. Guess what? Grumpy Ed isn't that grumpy after all.
What do students think about live grading? Click here to see some of their thoughts in the results of an informal student survey on the "live grading" experience.
Effective Methods for Teaching Legal Writing on Online
For the millennial generation, technology is not a separate idea. It's more like air or water--something that is plentiful and constantly surrounding us. The millennial generation also believes that e-mail is for old people. They text, they IM (instant message), and they get only maybe four or five email messages a day . . . and those email messages are from the law school administration, so the students delete them. All this according to David Thomson of the University of Denver, who presented this morning on Effective Methods for Teaching Legal Writing Online.
He addressed concerns that professors have about electronic teaching and on-line distance learning. In course design, he emphasized various delivery formats for a class (using a color-coded syllabus). It included:
- on-line power point with a voice over (his voice, explaining the slides)
- asynchronous forum (when people contribute to the forum at different times)
- telephone calls (another form of technology), and
- live class (for material that is best taught live).
He discussed the expectations that he communicates to students about the course, and their understanding of the online learning environment.
He also discussed technology that makes the teaching and learning possible, with a special focus on technology that supports collaborative learning. In addition to online tutorials, he discussed:
- online research exercises
- ICW online (to learn ALWD and Bluebook citation)
- He's had some of the best teaching experiences ever since going high-tech.
- Students like the convenience of learning this way, and that they can adjust their schedules to this new learning
- Students feel more connected to their teachers
- This is at least as good, and in many ways better, than face-to-face
To see the slides and learn more about Professor Thomson's highly informative presentation, click here.
To read his new article about this, click here to download his paper from SSRN.
poster presentations at LWI
At this year's LWI conferen ce, poster presentations offered a new way for participants to share their research. Judith Fischer of Louisville (she's on left side of the picture on the left) explained her work on "Judges and Gender-Neutral Language: Whether They Use It and What We Can Learn from Their Practices."
Abstract of poster presentations are included in the LWI Conference Book.