Saturday, November 8, 2008

subtly sexist language

The abstract below summarizes a very interesting article on Subtly Sexist Language, by Pat Chew and Lauren Kelley-Chew:

"Sometimes, sexist language is blatant and universally shunned. Other times, it is more subtle and even socially acceptable. For instance, as summarized in this article, substantial social science research has considered the use of male-gendered generics (the use of such words as he, man, chairman, or mankind to represent both women and men) rather than gender-neutral alternatives (such as she or he, human, chairperson, or humankind). This research concludes that male-gendered generics are exclusionary of women and tend to reinforce gender stereotypes. Yet, these words may not be recognized as discriminatory because their use is perceived as normative and therefore not unusual. In addition, those who use these words may not be intentionally harmful. Complaining about their use may even be criticized as a trivial activity or an overly sensitive reaction.

"Given this social science research, there is a surprising absence of awareness on the use and effect of these words among lawyers, law faculty, law student, and judges. Based on our original empirical analysis of hundreds of legal documents (judicial opinions, legal briefs, and law review articles), we find that the legal community continues to use male-gendered words even though gender-neutral alternatives exist. Thus, while some judges, lawyers, and legal scholars may not intend to be sexist, they are being subtly sexist. The research reveals a strong general pattern of the dominant use of the male-gendered option in a number of word pairs (four out of the nine word pairs) and substantial use in three other word pairs. In contrast, there is the dominant use of the gender-neutral word option in two word pairs.

"Finally, the article offers some proactive suggestions. While the legal community is reluctant to change, it did shift from using the male-gendered option of reasonable man to the gender-neutral reasonable person. We suggest that this change occurred because of the legal community's heightened awareness of the sexist nature of the use of reasonable man, and that a heightened awareness of the subtle sexism of all male-gendered generics could prompt further changes. The article ends with a useful guide on gender neutral language that can be duplicated for distribution in the legal community and elsewhere."


November 8, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 7, 2008

deadline approaches for NE Consortium conference

If you are interested in attending the New England Consortium of Legal Writing Teachers (NECLWT) Regional Conference, Teaching Through Technology – Making Chalkboards Obsolete, --you must register by November 17, 2008.

The conference, hosted by Suffolk University Law School in Boston, will take place on December 1, 2008. The morning program will feature three interactive presentations exploring innovative methods for teaching legal writing and research through the use of Wikis, Clickers, and Podcasts.  Each presentation will not only offer the perspective of legal writing and research professors who have incorporated these methods into their classroom, but it will also provide attendees with hands-on tutorials on using the various forms of technology.

The three presentations will be followed by a luncheon featuring Professor Andrew Beckerman-Rodau.  Professor Beckerman-Rodau is a Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Intellectual Property Law Concentration at Suffolk University Law School.  He has been at the forefront of the movement to incorporate technology in teaching. Professor Beckerman-Rodau’s talk will focus on “The Pedagogy of Teaching Through Technology.”

Send any questions about the conference to Sabrina DeFabritiis.


November 7, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"mixed" value for unpublished, nonprecedential cases

On the 'Net: Jessica Slavin (Marquette) blogs about the recent article by Amy Sloan (Baltimore), If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em:  A Pragmatic Approach to Nonprecedential Opinions in the Federal Appellate Courts, 86 Neb. L. Rev. 895 (2008), available on SSRN. Sloan argues that non-precedential opinions should be accorded not full precedential value, but instead should received a “mixed” treatment, i.e., that “non-precedential opinions [would be] binding unless overruled by a later panel’s precedential opinion.”  She contends that giving non-precedential cases this “‘overrulable’ status” would ensure that the opinions’ precedential weight would “correspond[] to their position within the traditional hierarchy of federal decisional law.”  Slavin makes a number of good observations about the article and concludes with a discussion of recent activity in the Wisconsin courts relevant to this issue.


November 7, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Buon Compleanno a Mark!

Mark_italy Our cheerful, globe-trotting editor who is spending a sabbatical semester in Italy, Mark Wojcik, celebrates a birthday today. On behalf of your co-editors and readers, Mark, we wish you a great day! Buon Compleanno! Alles Gute zum Geburtstag! Bon Anniversaire!  Wszystkiego Najlepszego! ¡Feliz Cumpleaños!  photo credits: David Austin

November 7, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Grading Distraction: Totally Cool Maps of Election Results

Need a quick break from grading?  Take two minutes to look at these very cool maps


November 7, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

birthday party for a legal writing program

Bash6 We now have a few legal writing programs old enough to celebrate three decades in existence.  At the University of Oregon, the Legal Research and Writing Program recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.  Click on that blue type, and you can see pictures of founding director and professor emerita, Mary Lawrence, an original pioneer in the academic field of legal writing.  Congratulations to current director Suzanne Rowe and professors Joan Malmud, Rebekah Hanley, Megan McAlpin, and Tenielle Fordyce-Ruff.  Looks like it was a great party!


November 6, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Congratulations to Richard Neumann

Neumann_richard Neumann_richard_cartoon Neumann_richard_facebook Richard Neumann was named as the 2009 Recipient of the annual award presented by the Association of American Law Schools Section on Legal Reasoning, Research, and Writing.  We have often written about Richard on this blog (you can use the "search this blog" function in the column on the right to see what else we've written about him -- or about YOU for that matter).  In one post I wrote:

Richard K. Neumann (Professor of Law at Hofstra University School of Law in Hempstead, New York) is one of the nicest people in the entire world.  The planet is a better place because he's here.  Did you know that he did part of his education in Sweden?  It's true.  Did you know that HIS CHILDREN have read the Legal Writing Prof Blog?  Also true!!!

We share our enthusiastic congratulations to Richard for winning yet another legal writing award.  We thank him for his leadership, scholarship, and friendship.  I believe that the award will be presented to him in San Diego at the section's luncheon. 


November 6, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

comparing print and computer-based research

Here's an article of interest, as found by Dr. Natalie Tarenko, the writing specialist at Texas Tech:

Last week (Oct. 27), the Legal Writing Prof Blog posted an announcement about a new column in the Virginia Bar Association News Journal (Oct.-Nov. 2008): “Writer’s Block,” by David Spratt.  I did enjoy and learn from Spratt’s column and encourage everyone to read it and share it with students; I look forward to future columns.  However, I am writing to alert all of you to another great article on page 8 of the same journal issue: “Marshall McLuhan in the Modern Law Office: Has Technology Changed the Way We Think?” by Ross C. Reeves.  Reeves writes perceptively and persuasively about fundamental difference/s between print and computer based research.  His conclusions relate to research outside of legal contexts as well.  Here is the URL for the journal issue:

Dr. Natalie Tarenko, Writing Specialist

Texas Tech University School of Law

Lubbock, TX


November 5, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Former Law Professor is Elected President of the United States

Barack Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004.  Last night he was elected President of the United States.  Congratulations.


November 5, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

assessments signal our priorities

From Australia (where the first degree in law is an undergraduate degree), comes an article to help us re-assess what we're assessing, how we're assessing, and what signals we're sending our students via the process.  Molly O'brien, of the Australian National University, and John Littrich, of the University of Wollongong, instruct us in Using Assessment Practice to Evaluate the Legal Skills Curriculum,
Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2008.  As they explain in their abstract:

"A comprehensive audit of the skills curriculum offered to students in a Bachelor of Laws program yielded important insights about the collective impact of assessment tasks on the hidden and operational skills curriculum. This qualitative case study supports the views (1) that assessment tasks provide significant skills practice and performance opportunities for students; (2) that assessment provides students with important cues about what type of learning is valued; and (3) that review of assessment practices across the curriculum can provide important information for curricular reform."


November 4, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"no good deed goes unpunished"

Starbucks_cup If you watch Saturday Night Live, you may have seen the Starbucks ad promising free coffee to voters. Seattle news sources and other sources report that state officials in Washington have advised the company, however, that it may be violating the law with giveaway, as federal election laws prohibit the payment of money, goods or services in return for voting. "Federal law makes no distinction between cups of coffee or a raffle ticket versus a buy-the-vote kind of thing on the other end of the spectrum,'' said a spokesman, David Ammons, for the Washington secretary of state. "We just told Starbucks, essentially, no good deed goes unpunished. We appreciate the gesture, but it's forbidden."

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta-area voters were also offered deals on a variety of items such as Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and admission to the zoo. Like their counterparts in Seattle, businesses are reconsidering and giving freebies to all.  “Businesses are free to offer election day sales to all its customers; but special offers just for voters is prohibited,” said Matt Carrothers, spokesman for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

An Associated Press story quotes Starbucks spokesperson Lisa Passe for the company's decision to offer coffee to all who come in, whether they're voters or not: "We're confident that this is a smart investment for our brand and that it's simply the right thing to do at a time when every vote counts."


November 4, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Unexpected Benefits of Having Students Submit Papers Electronically

When our federal courts went electronic and started requiring the submission of papers electronically, I thought I should at least think about giving students the option of submitting papers electronically.  I thought it would be easier for students, particularly at a commuter school like mine in downtown Chicago.  Students had to email the paper, say, by 6:00 p.m. on a particular day when it was due.

I thought I would do this as a way of being nice to the students, and being able to submit papers electronically is in fact nice for the students.  They save on paper, and have much less stress from not having to rush to my office.  But although I did this for the students, to my surprise I also found it was nice for me.

I did not anticipate these benefits:

  1. I had an exact record of when the student sent the paper.  The date and time are in the email.  This makes it much easier to impose late penalties.
  2. I can do a quick spell check on the electronic document to see if the students used their computer spelling and grammar programs.
  3. If I suspect plagiarism, it is easier to check with an electronic version of the document.
  4. I can grade the paper electronically if I am in the mood to do so.
  5. If I am grading a printed out version of the paper, I can reprint a page if I later determine that I should rephrase a comment I wrote on a student paper.  (For example, changing "what WERE you thinking?" to "I am not sure the reader will understand this sentence.")
  6. If I had page limits or word count limits (which I don't, but others do), I could check those limits to see if the students used a function such as "make it fit" to avoid the page limits.
  7. If I am traveling to a legal writing conference somewhere on a day when a paper is due, having students email the paper to me allows me to travel without having to burden the registrar's office with collecting student papers.  Yes, they are always happy to do it for me, but having the electronic option is just easier.
  8. In student conferences and live grading, I have often pulled up the electronic version of the student's paper.

So all in all, moving from having students submit papers electronically was a good thing for the students and a good thing for me too.

Mark E. Wojcik

November 4, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 3, 2008

The New York Times admits to repeatedly misspelling Justice Ginsburg's name

In an article reporting the controversy surrounding the award by Fordham Law School, a Jesuit school, of an ethics prize to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who has written decisions supporting abortion rights, the venerable New York Times admitted in an endnote that it has misspelled Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's name at least twenty-four (!) times since 1980.   The mistake consists of substituting an "e" for the "u" in Ginsburg, the latter being the correct spelling. 

This article is the first time the paper publicly admitted the mistake.  Better late than never, I guess.

Hat tip to the ABA Journal blog.

I am the scholarship dude.


November 3, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thanks, Blog Readers

More records for the Legal Writing Prof Blog!  Last month we again broke our records for visits and page views.  We had more than 8,300 visits to the blog and more than 13,000 views of pages.  Thanks for your continued interest and support.


P.S. For those of you interested in international law issues, please pay a visit to the International Law Prof Blog.  The blog has calls for papers, conference information, U.N. and WTO updates, and news of other international law developments.

November 3, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Center for Plain Language

The Center for Plain Language will hold its 2008 Symposium on November 7, 2008, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., with a reception to follow from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. The symposium and reception will be held at the National Press Club, 529 14th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.

There are three sessions.  The first will discuss “Financial Affairs” with Dr. Susan Kleimann and Josiah Fiske.  Dr. Kleimann will discuss “Lending Documents: Bottom-Line Benefits of Plain Language” and Mr. Fiske will discuss “Plain Funny: Using Simple Language and Sophisticated Humor to Change How Employees Think.”

The second session will be on “Health Literacy,” with Dr. Arthur Culbert of the Missouri Foundation for Health, Dr. William Smith of the Academy for Educational Development, and Barb McLaughlin of Smart Source Healthcare.  Dr. Culbert will discuss “A Vision for a Health Literate Missouri: Building a Statewide Health Literacy Center.”  Dr. Smith will discuss “Health Literacy and Social Marketing.” And Ms McLaughlin will discuss how to “Cure Patients and Profits with Clear Communication.”

The third session (which is just called “other success stories” in the flier I received for the program) will have Irene Etzkorn, the “Group Director of Simplification” (how’s that for a job title?) at Siegel & Gale, and Deborah Bosley, the Director of the Center for Humanities, Technology and Science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  Ms Etzkorn will discuss “Amazingly Simple Stuff” and Ms Bosley will discuss “Unexpected Results: Usability and Redesign in TIAA-CREF’s Minimum Distribution Letter to Participants.”

More information is available from the Center for Plain Language, 3936 Rickover Road, Silver Spring, MD 20902.  You can call them at 202-942-7457 or click here to visit their website.  You can register online.

The cost to attend the symposium and reception is $250, unless you’re a member of the Center for Plain Language (in which case it is only $200).  If you want to skip the reception the cost is $150 (or $100 for members of the center).  If you go, please say hello from the Legal Writing Prof Blog.


November 3, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

recent scholarship of interest

A number of articles recently published may be interesting to blog readers. The links should take you to the article on Lexis or Westlaw, respectively. Note that Kristin and Penny have the lead articles in those issues; congratulations!

  • Benjamin Barton, Is There a Correlation between Law Professor Publication Counts, Law Review Citation Counts, and Teaching Evaluations? An Empirical Study, 5 J. Empirical Legal Stud. 619 (2008). [L][W]
  • Sidney W. DeLong, The Poetry of Law, 58 J. Legal Educ. 141 (2008). [L][W]
  • Kristin B. Gerdy, Clients, Empathy, and Compassion: Introducing First-Year Students to the "Heart" of Lawyering, 87 Neb. L. Rev. 1 (2008). [L][W]
  • Penelope Pether, Sorcerers, Not Apprentices: How Judicial Clerks and Staff Attorneys Impoverish U.S. Law, 39 Ariz. St. L.J. 1 (2007). [L][W]
  • Geoffrey Christopher Rapp, Can You Show Me How to . . . ? Reflections of a New Law Professor and Part-time Technology Consultant on the Role of New Law Teachers as Catalysts for Change, 58 J. Legal Educ. 61 (2008). [L][W]


November 3, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Are you a communication jerk?

According to this article in the New York Times, Professor Alex Pentland at MIT has developed a device to measure verbal and non-verbal cues during conversation that tells the speaker whether the audience is responding positively or not.  The so-called "smartphone" measures conversation tone, cadence and body language to understand the real communication between the parties that lies beneath the words used.  As the article points out, Professor Pentland's invention has tremendous potential for helping individuals become more effective communicators and, by implication, it may be able to help lawyers one day with a range of critical professional skills such as persuasion, negotiation, and client relations.  Professor Pentland's research appears in his recent book, Honest Signals from MIT Press

As legal writing professors explore both in the classroom and in their scholarship the roles of reason, emotion and the speaker's ethos to effective attorney communication skills, efforts such as those of Professor Pentland to quantify the influence each of these factors play is important work we should follow.

After a brief recuperative hiatus, the scholarship dude is back - larger than life and twice as ugly.


November 2, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Remembering Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel, one of the best things that ever happened to the great city of Chicago, died last Friday at the age of 96.  He was an absolutely wonderful man.  Click here to read more about him.


November 2, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)