Thursday, August 12, 2010
Earlier this summer, I was reading a weekly small town newspaper in New England. That town happens to have a cricket team that is doing very well in its league this summer. I read the newspaper’s account of the team’s latest success, in English, my first language, but I had no clue what the news report was talking about. The familiar syntax was there, most of the vocabulary was ordinary English, but the key words that described the action were meaningless to me. I might as well have been reading Jabberwocky. Or Pierson v. Post for the first time.
That’s when it struck me that this is exactly what it’s like to be a brand new 1L reading legal cases in the first week of law school. You can read the words that explain the procedural posture of a case, but you don’t know what they mean or what’s being described. You don’t know the context, the jargon, or the players. It’s just like me reading a news account of cricket.
To see what I mean, try googling "cricket news." Click on any link and read a few paragraphs. If you are training new legal writing professors or teaching assistants, you could create a simple exercise for them. Have them read a paragraph from a news report of a baseball game. Then have them read a paragraph from a news report of a cricket match. Then compare these two reading experiences to the first time they read Pierson v. Post. (Of course, if you are a legal writing professor in the U.S. who happens to know the game of cricket, you will need to pick a different sport.)
For other tips on creating an exercise to help teachers get back in the mind set of new 1Ls, see Being a Beginner Again: A Teacher Training Exercise, 10 Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research & Writing 87 (2002).