Friday, January 1, 2010

How to draft better jury instructions

This one comes to us from our good buddy Raymond Ward at the (new) legal writer blog:

Jury instructions are too often so poorly written that even the most intelligent juror cannot understand them. That’s a serious problem. So how can we make jury instructions more understandable? Prof. Peter Tiersma offers many concrete suggestions in this article, available for free download on SSRN. If you’re a trial judge or trial lawyer, you need to read it.

A big hat tip to Mr. Ward.  Please visit his blog soon and often.

I am the scholarship dude.


January 1, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

grants to help legal writing profs write

The Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) and the Legal Writing Institute (LWI) are funding 2010 Legal Writing Scholarship Grants for professors of legal research and writing.  These grants range from $2,000 to $5,000.  Applications are due by 5 p.m. Pacific Time on February 3, 2010.

The Joint LWI-ALWD Scholarship Committee includes mentors who will assist applicants in putting together their applications and will not participate in the blind selection process.  Legal research and writing professors wanting more information should feel free to contact any of these mentors:  Christine Venter
(Notre Dame), Terry Pollman (UNLV), Karin Mika (Cleveland Marshall), Amy Dillard (Baltimore), Kathy Stanchi (Temple), Lisa Eichorn (South Carolina), and Sarah Ricks (Rutgers-Camden).  The mentors are also a good source of the application form and details, previously distributed on the ALWD and LWI listserves.

hat tip:  Karin Mika


January 1, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Friday fun on New Year's Day - The Big Lebowski is the subject of serious academic study

Ok, so there's no literal connection to legal writing, as Walter Sobchak would say, but the "Friday fun" column entitles me to some latitude.  If you're a fan of the Coen Brothers' film The Big Lebowski, then you'll really enjoy this recent article from the NYT entitled "Dissertations on his Dudeness."  And if you're not, you can probably stop reading now, man.  

The cult film that's already spawned a couple of books is also the subject of serious academic study including this collection of essays called “The Year’s Work in Lebowski Studies” published in October by the Indiana University Press.  In one essay, called "On The White Russian,"

Professor Craig N. Owens [who] teaches literature and writing at Drake University in Des Moines — divides the world into two factions: those who float the cream on their White Russians (“the floaters”) and those who mix it in (“the homogenizers”). He praises the Dude’s “middle way,” avoiding the hassle of “shaking and straining.”

At times Mr. Owens sounds as if he’s been hitting the minibar himself. He writes about how Leon Trotsky is “doubly implicated” in the White Russian, first because he helped defeat the anti-Communist White Russian army during the Russian civil war, and second because he later fled to Mexico, “Kahlúa’s country of origin.” Mr. Owens suggests that the Dude has a kind of “Trotskian positionality.”

The Times article also tries to answer the question:  Why has The Big Lebowski become "the decade’s most venerated cult film?"  Here's one explanation offered by the novelist Umberto Eco:

'What are the requirements for transforming a book or movie into a cult object?' Mr. Eco asked. 'The work must be loved, obviously, but this is not enough. It must provide a completely furnished world so that its fans can quote characters and episodes as if they were aspects of the fan’s private sectarian world, a world about which one can make up quizzes and play trivia games so that the adepts of the sect recognize through each other a shared expertise.'

. . . .

[A] cult movie must be 'ramshackle, rickety, unhinged in itself.' He explained: 'Only an unhinged movie survives as a disconnected series of images, of peaks, of visual icebergs. It should display not one central idea but many. It should not reveal a coherent philosophy of composition. It must live on, and because of, its glorious ricketiness.'

That helps explain my attraction to other cults favs like Stranger Than Paradise and Repo Man (as well as help to date myself).  But what is it about "the Dude" that appeals so much to a younger audience?  

In another of this book’s essays, “Professor Dude: An Inquiry Into the Appeal of His Dudeness for Contemporary College Students,” a bearded, longhaired and rather Dude-like associate professor of English at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., named Richard Gaughran asks this question about his students: “What is it that they see in the Dude that they find so desirable?”

One of Mr. Gaughran’s students came up with this summary, and it’s somehow appropriate for an end-of-the-year reckoning: “He doesn’t stand for what everybody thinks he should stand for, but he has his values. He just does it. He lives in a very disjointed society, but he’s gonna take things as they come, he’s gonna care about his friends, he’s gonna go to somebody’s recital, and that’s it. That’s how you respond.”

Happy New Year, Dude.

For those of you still reading, here's a special New Year's Day bonus - a recently taped, short interview with John Turturro talking about inspirations for his character "The Jesus."

Happy New Year, dudes!

I am the scholarship dude.


December 31, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

the year's last bad writing?

Perhaps it's best to put the old year to bed for good when it includes some of the writing examples recently brought to our attention over at the Feminist Law Professors blog.

Happy New Year to all!

hat tip:  Michael Higdon


December 31, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

classroom techno tips

Top_logo Click here for the December 2009 volume of the newsletter for the AALS Section on Teaching Methods.  This volume includes many short-takes on how to use technology effectively in the classroom.  Some of the ideas could be used by attorneys who frequently make presentations, too.
Nice bonus: many legal writing professors contributed to the newsletter.
Special kudos: Section Secretary, Rachel Croskery-Roberts, did all the work of putting it together.

December 31, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

What if the poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' was written in legalese?

This is what happens when I go off the grid for a few days during the holidays; I miss some good stories and that are now stale.  But maybe you can still make use of this in your legal writing classes by telling students you didn't discover it until after they left for the Christmas break. 

This post from the TaxProf Blog shows what would happen if "Twas the Night Before Christmas" was written in legalese:

Check out the original and legal versions of the classic poem, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas [click on chart to enlarge]:




A big hat tip and congratulations to the TaxProf Blog which has been named the Best Law Professor Blog of 2009 by Dennis Kennedy.

I am the scholarship dude.


December 31, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

bringing along the plugged-in generation

Whether you're training junior attorneys in a law office or teaching legal writing to law students, you may enjoy some of the ideas for reaching the plugged-in generation on this new syllabus.Images

hat tip:  Maria Perez Crist


December 30, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A great video for teaching students about library research and citations

Here's a great teaching tool that our good buddy at the Law Librarian Blog, Joe Hodnicki, suggests should be adapted to teaching students about legal research as well as citation form.  Prepared by the librarians at Cornell, it's called a "Research Minute" video that dissects for students bibliographic information to help them identify books versus compilations and other printed material.

I think Joe's idea is a great one - creating a similar video lesson(s) for the law library.  Any takers?

And if you like that video, it's just the tip of the iceberg.  Here's a website devoted to the best library videos on the web.  I don't have time to watch them all but if you find some that would translate well in the law library context, let me know and I'll link to them in future posts.

Hat tip to the Law Librarian Blog.

I am the scholarship dude.


December 30, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Top 10 "weirdest" cases of 2009

Everyone loves a "Top 10" list, right?  Here's a good one courtesy of the UK's timesonline blog. There's almost certainly some fun hypothetical writing problem material within this list that includes the case of the Florida man who "sued a men’s briefs manufacturer claiming he was injured on a beach holiday by their badly designed underwear. He claimed the briefs 'gaped open and acted like a sandbelt on my privates.'"  Another case making the list involved a UK woman who violated a local noise ordinance due to excessive screaming during sex.  

Council environmental officers were dispatched to set up recording equipment in a property neighbouring that of Caroline Cartwright to measure the level of shrieking and moaning that could be heard through the walls and outside on the street. The judge said 'At the point of climax there may be some involuntary noise but three hours of shrieking was unacceptable.

 You can read the rest of the best here.

Hat tip to the Legal Blog Watch.

I am the scholarship dude.


December 29, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

More "Top 10" legal lists for 2009

Following up on the post above, the Legal Blog Watch has compiled a list of several "Top 10" law-related lists for 2009.  They're informative, fun and may provide some good legal writing hypo fodder:

Check out any late additions to this group of "Top 10" lists right here.

I am the scholarship dude.


December 29, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Legal Writing Survey Results Now Available!

The results of the 2009 survey of legal writing programs conducted by the Legal Writing Institute (LWI) and the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) have now been published.  

Click here for the links to the results of the 2009 survey and the executive summary.  The annual survey is an important document that you will want to study. 

Hat tips to

  • John Mollenkamp (Co-Chair) (Cornell)
  • Karen Koch (Co-Chair) (Arkansas – Fayetteville)
  • Lyn Goering (Washburn)
  • Thalia Gonzalez (Denver)
  • David Krech (WVa)
  • Karin Mika (Cleveland-Marshall)
  • Judy Rosenbaum (Northwestern)
  • Jean Rosenbluth (USC)
  • Catherine Seppanen and Cicada Consulting (technical support) 
  • Ruth Anne Robbins (Rutgers Camden) (LWI President)
  • Mary Beth Beazley (Ohio State) (ALWD President)

Click here for earlier surveys.


December 29, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

tips on negotiation, suitable for class

ST7CA13T32WCAV29G07CAXNQVVMCA5HHNQRCAXAP7JPCA1L5R6OCAM4JXCDCAGL1GLGCAXV00EDCA4ANB8RCAQX7ELYCAXFQ254CAWBMI3TCAU7G3C2CAWHNBA4CAEYELVGCA2TCXB4CA9E3H8XCAOYM2R2 More and more 1L legal research and writing courses are covering additional lawyering skills, including negotiation skills.  The ABA's most recent e-newsletter includes an article by Mike Frascogna, Jr., on how to Improve Your Negotiation Skills Now.  It provides some experience-based insights that could be helpful in a 1L LRW course that introduces negotiation.


December 29, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 28, 2009

contemplative legal education

ILZCAO4KF5RCAY2Q31VCAVTT9OVCAOYJG9MCAJP97AJCAR5GOOZCAHEQA0MCAIWOEAVCAARWO49CATLKCBHCAXEC4HACA94F7V6CAL6YL8ICARVJ70LCA0II7C8CA02BBJWCAOSQ3MLCA0Q1752CADP2BJ3If you had any lingering doubts about the demise of the Kingsfield approach to legal education, as in the movie The Paper Chase, check out the growing list of ways that law schools are helping students grow into more contemplative lawyers.  Can you imagine weekly yoga sessions at the law school you attended when you attended it?
hat tip:  Stephanie West Allen  (spl)

December 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

vacation reading: attorneys in comic books

Images If you're snowed in somewhere or relaxing on a beach and want to pretend you're doing some reading related to your legal work, you might be interested in William Hilyerd's article on Hi Superman, I'm a Lawyer: A Guide to Attorneys (& Other Legal Professionals) Portrayed in American Comic Books: 1910-2007.  Hilyerd may be better known to you for the series of legal research guides he's written, also available on his SSRN page by searching his name at


December 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A good writing tip - break it in two

One of my writing tips to students is that their sentences will almost always be more clear if they can reduce the number of syllables (my so-called "fog factor" exercise which involves eliminating the "fog" in one's writing by reducing the number of syllables the reader must slog through).  For example, substituting words like "use" for "utilize," "car" for "automobile" or changing the passive "the holding of the court was . . . " to the active "the court held."  Both techniques increase pithiness and reduce reader fatigue. 

The Business Writing Blog reminded me of another "fog factor" technique I show students to help them make their writing more clear and concise.  I tell them that if they find themselves trying to explain too much in a single sentence, the solution is often to break it in two. This is frequently a problem for novice legal writers who try to explain compound legal concepts (such as the elements of a cause of action) in a single, run-on sentence.   Trying to explain too much in one sentence often leads to unnecessary complexity and reader confusion.

Below is an example from the BWB.  Because the author tries to explain too much in a single sentence, he mistakenly attributes the woman's collapse with the EMT's break:

Two EMTs are accused of ignoring a pregnant woman who collapsed and later died because they were on break.  

And here's the "fix" which avoids this confusion by breaking it in two:

Two EMTs are accused of ignoring a collapsed pregnant woman because they were on their break. The woman later died.

OK, so the BWB post is really about the need to proof-read aloud to avoid "crazy connections" as illustrated by the first sentence.  But it also reminded me of my own "break it in two" tip to students.   So there are now two take-aways from this post:  1.  Proof-read out loud your own writing to avoid confusing the reader; and 2.  break compound sentences into two to improve clarity and conciseness.

I am the scholarship dude.


December 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

ah, academics

Practicing attorneys can be forgiven for shaking their heads from time to time at those of us working in academia, especially with research reports like this one:  The author of that report expands on his original thesis at

hat tip:  Sam Jacobson


December 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)