Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why We Should Teach First Year Writing Students about Tribal Nations (Preview of an LWI Panel at Marco Island)

Kowalski, Tonya Believe it or not, we're going to start previewing panel presentations that you will be able to attend at the Legal Writing Institute's summer conference at Marco Island

One of those panels will be on a subject that most of us know very little about:  Teaching the Third Sovereign: How and Why to Include Tribal Nations and Courts in Legal Writing Courses. It will be presented by Tonya Kowalski (Washburn University School of Law), Barbara Blumenfeld (University of New Mexico ), and Samantha Moppett (Suffolk).

Intrigued?  Tonya Kowalski (pictured here) has posted a paper on SSRN that explains the topic more fully.  Here's the abstract of her paper, called The Forgotten Sovereigns:

Our U.S. federal system includes 562 federally-recognized American Indian nations, most of whom have their own sovereign lands, governments, and court systems, and who interact every day with the state and federal systems. Yet most legal thought overlooks our sovereign Native American nations and legal heritage. Although much of American law and policy intersects Tribal jurisdictions, issues affecting Native Americans generally appear (if at all) in the law school curriculum only in specialized, upper-level courses. This Article argues that the three-sovereign system should provide the fundamental framework for the United States legal system across the legal curriculum, and provides several concrete examples for how to do so. It also argues that many law courses should touch upon how their disciplines impact Tribal jurisdictions and their citizens.

By changing our fundamental orientation toward the role of Tribal sovereigns in the U.S. system, we will advance the academy’s goals of scholarship, teaching, and service. First, we will accurately represent the true structure and diversity of our tripartite federal system. Second, we can improve learning by using direct and comparative Tribal perspectives for fundamental legal principles and methods. Third, we can further the social justice mission by raising awareness of Tribal sovereignty among future advocates and lawmakers.

Click here to download the full paper.

For more information about the Legal Writing Institute's summer conference,click here.


January 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Law and Harry Potter

1972 Carolina Academic Press has published a new book on The Law and Harry Potter, with over 20 chapters by law professors on various aspects of the law in the popular book series.  At least three legal writing professors contributed chapters, including Mary Beth Beazley (Ohio State), Ruth Anne Robbins (Rutgers-Camden), and Sue Liemer (Southern Illinois), as did former legal writing professor, now dean, Darby Dickerson (Stetson).  There's a lot for lawyers and law professors who liked the Harry Potter series to enjoy in this new book.


January 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

The sad demise of Vassar's creative writing program

Here's a good essay courtesy of the Chronicle of Higher Ed explaining how much is lost when a school makes cuts to its creative writing program.

I am the scholarship dude.


January 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

RFP -- transactional skills conference

Emory University School of Law’s Center for Transactional Law and Practice has announced its second biennial conference on the teaching of transactional law and skills, Transactional Education:  What’s Next?  The conference will be held at Emory Law on Friday, June 4, and Saturday, June 5, 2010.

They are accepting proposals to speak NOW, and until 5:00 p.m., February 1, 2010,  on any subject of interest to current or potential teachers of transactional law and skills.

To find out more information about the conference or how to submit a proposal, please click here.


January 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

job opening in Texas

 Images South Texas College of Law is inviting applications for two full-time, tenure-track positions beginning in the 2010-2011 academic year, teaching Legal Research and Writing.

1. The position advertised is a tenure-track appointment.

2. The professor hired will be permitted to vote in faculty meetings.

3. The school anticipates paying an annual academic year base salary in the range $80,000 to $89,999

4. The number of students enrolled in each semester of the courses taught by the legal research & writing professor will be 46-50.

To apply, please send a cover letter and curriculum vitae (preferably by email) to Professor Tim Zinnecker, Chair, Faculty Recruitment Committee, 1303 San Jacinto Street, Houston, Texas 77019 (

hat tip: 

Sharon Finegan


January 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Scholarship alert: "Foundational Competencies: Innovation in Legal Education"

Dean David Van Zandt of Northwestern, who authored the above found at 61 Rutgers L. Rev. 1127 (2009), has also authored an article from the recent issue of the ABA's Litigation Magazine called "Client-Ready Law Grads."  I'm trying to obtain an electronic copy and will blog about it soon.  

In the meantime, here's the intro from "Foundational Competencies:"

Spurred by a rapidly changing legal environment and a desire to differentiate and maximize the success of our graduates, Northwestern Law recently completed a major strategic planning initiative resulting in a revolutionary report entitled

Plan 2008: Preparing Great Leaders for the Changing World. Plan 2008 is the most recent installment of a long-term process to enhance our student quality and programs. The new initiatives build upon a strategic plan that we have been refining since its implementation in 1998. Under the prior plan, we introduced the evaluative admissions interview and work-experience policy for applicants.  We also added a number of programs and initiatives that either introduce our students to or focus on many of the foundational competencies identified in Plan 2008. Under Plan 2008, a Working Group consisting of faculty, staff, students, and alumni, along with the assistance of Blaqwell, Inc., a legal consulting firm, gathered extensive information on legal education, legal profession trends, developmental frameworks and training programs of law firms and other professional service firms both in the United States and the United Kingdom, and alumni career trajectories, and talked directly to the lawyers affecting the trends. Managing partners, general counsel, and other leaders of top law firms, government, and nonprofits exchanged invaluable, frank perspectives with us in focus groups that took place throughout the United States (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.) and in London. To our knowledge, no other law school has undertaken such a systematic and market-driven strategic planning approach to date. This article provides a broad summary of our Working Group’s research, findings, and recommendations.

Hat tip to Professor Steven Wisotsky.

I am the scholarship dude.


January 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A list of book recommendations for attorneys interested in improving their writing

A few weeks ago, the law librarian listserv conducted an informal survey of book recommendations for attorneys, not students, who are interested in improving their writing.

Here's the list, in no particular order, sent to me by the Law Librarian Blog head-honcho, Joe Hodnicki:

  • Thinking Like a Writer: A Lawyer’s Guide to Effective Writing and Editing, by Stephen V. Armstrong and Timothy P. Terrell.
  • The Winning Brief: 100 Tips for Persuasive Briefing in Trial and Appellate Court, by Bryan Garner.
  • Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, by Joseph M. Williams (not specifically legal related) (Note: 9th ed. is now available with different title: Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, by same author). 
  • Legal Writing in Plain English: A Text with Exercises, by Bryan Garner
  • Legal Writing: Getting it Right and Getting it Written, by Mary Barnard Ray and Jill J. Ramsfield
  • Anything by Bryan Garner.

Please add your own favorites in the comment section below and if we get enough responses, we'll publish them in a separate post.


I am the scholarship dude.


January 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Updated scholarship alert: "Without stigma: using the JURIST method to teach legal research and writing"

The article we'd previously mentioned here by Abigail Salisbury of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law is now available on SSRN.

Here's the abstract:

Common to every practice area of the law is the need for clear, concise writing which conveys the relevant legal principles and precedents. However, practitioners constantly report that their new associates are unprepared for the work required of them upon graduating from law school, a dilemma consistent with data indicating that law schools are not improving students’ legal information literacy skills.

Law schools put students through legal writing programs, and writing plays an important role in helping or hindering a lawyer’s career advancement, yet students graduate grossly underequipped to meet the demands of this crucial aspect of their chosen professions. Add to these troubles the debate over skills training and the expansion of the material which is expected to fit into a first-year legal writing class, and one can see the growing need for new and more efficient teaching methods.

Continue reading

January 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Justice Scalia admonishes lawyer: "Choate ain't a word"

Picture 135 During an oral argument back in November, Justice Scalia admonished an attorney that there's no such adjective as "choate."  You know, the opposite of inchoate.  Apparently Justice Scalia has been grinding this axe since at least 1992 and "is disgusted by the term’s faulty etymological basis."  Bryan Garner, Scalia's co-author of “Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges” and the editor of Black's Law Dictionary, agrees:

Bryan Garner, editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary and the author of the Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, told the Times that Scalia takes issue with choate’s faulty etymological basis.

The in- in inchoate is not a negative prefix, Garner explains in his Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage. It comes from the Latin verb incohare, meaning “to begin, start out.” Taking away the in- from inchoate to form choate is back-formation and is part of a long tradition of removing prefixes and suffixes to find “roots” that were never there, the Times says.

Garner says choate is accepted and used even by those who deprecate its origins.

You can read the rest of the story courtesy of the online ABA Journal here.

I am the scholarship dude.


January 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

the wedding story posted below reminds me . . .

When I read my co-editor's post about the student who got married and then went to class, I was reminded of one of my favorite Texas Tech stories:

A few years ago, we had two graduating 3-L's who planned on marrying the next December, until he learned that he would be called up for military service before that.  Her family was flying in, some from England, for graduation.  So a few days before graduation, they came into the deans' suite and asked about their idea to get married the afternoon of graduation and then march a couple of hours later.  Might we help?

Yes indeed!!  So we had Professor Vaughn James, an ordained minister, officiate.  We had an associate dean, Kay Fletcher, play the organ.  The ceremony was held in the chapel at Dean Walt Huffman's church.  Our fabulous unit managers and support staff arranged for flowers, cake, etc.  The wedding went off without a hitch.

And everyone applauded them a few hours later as they marched across the stage.

As I said, one of my favorite stories from Tech--and one typical of our community here.


January 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

feeding the masses . . . or at least the class

Do you feed students?  Do you let them have class outside or in a lounge area instead of a classroom?  Why?  For me, I feed them sometimes . . . and not just the day that I hand out evaluations (actually, I avoid doing it that day!).  They seem touched by the gesture if it's a day they're stressed out and appreciative if they're simply hungry.

This article explores some of the reasons behind offering food and holding class in nontraditional settings:



January 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Paralyzed Veterans of America Writing Competition (for law professors and law students)

The Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) is holding its Sixth Annual Writing Competition for law professors and law students.  Veterans law is a branch of administrative law that usually does not get much attention, but this year's topic offers a good opportunity to discuss general theories of what role an appellate administrative adjudicator should play in system where claims are also subject to independent review.  The competition offers $3,000 prizes in both the student and professional divisions and PVA usually succeeds in having the winning articles published.  More information about the competition is available by clicking here.
The .pdf download of full submission information includes more detail on the topic that should be addressed and poses the question of what is the proper balance between independence and administrative control for agency adjudicators.  Papers are due by June 1, 2010.
For those not familiar with particulars of veterans law, a lot of useful research material (including indexes of relevant law review articles, legislative materials, oversight reports, etc.) is collected at the Veterans Law Library (click here).
My own law school has a Veteran's Clinic that works on a number of cases and issues.  This competition could be a great starting point for anyone interested in learning more and trying to help improve the process for our nation's veterans.
Hat tip to Victoria Hadfield Moshiashwili (Former Visiting Assistant Professor, College of Law, University of Illinois), Law Clerk to the Honorable Alan G. Lance, Sr. at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in Washington, D.C.

January 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Fear of writing

Over at the (new) legal writer blog, our good buddy Raymond Ward suggests that "fear" may be at the root of most bad writing.   (Mr. Ward relies on this post from the Illinois L@wyer blog):

I was reviewing my  notes from Stephen King’s On Writing that I wanted to share with you. I recently read On Writing and found that I liked King and that he really cares about his craft. (Not that anyone who sells millions of books needs my approval.) Some random advice from On Writing that might be helpful to you. (You can buy this book new for under $10.)

“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”

“Timid writers like the passive voice because it is safe. They also think it sounds authoritative.” Hmm… why write, “I have a dream” when you can write, “A dream was had by me”?

“I believe that the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” His analogy is that adverbs are like dandelions—a few are nice but not an entire field of them.

These posts reminded me of a short essay by Bryan Garner I read many years ago that talked about how writing professors undermine their students' performance when we demand too much of them at once (i.e. pay attention to citation form, large scale organization, small scale organization, active voice, grammar and syntax, etc.)  He analogized such an approach to parents who put too much pressure on their young children which turns them into stutterers.  As Bryan explained, we produce "legal writing stutterers" when we demand so much of our students too early such that fear and anxiety keep them from getting any of the words out. 

Food for thought.

I am the scholarship dude.


January 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Advice from Washington Post on writing angry letters

Columnist Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post has compiled a list of tips for writing more effective angry letters.  He was prompted to do so by one such angry letter he received over the summer in response to his comments about Dick Cheney's autobiography.  Among the columnist's humorous tips - use plenty of "all caps" to convey emotional intensity and employ multiple exclamation points to persuade.

Here's the rest of Mr. Weingarten's advice:

1) As you intuitively understand, letters that are written entirely in capitals impress us with their emotional intensity. I would advise that you adopt this form of communication for all your correspondence, particularly job applications.

2) An e-mail can never have enough exclamation points. They strengthen any argument. Here at The Washington Post, letters to the editor are prioritized for publication entirely by the number of exclamation points. You use 89, which would ordinarily just get you on a waiting list for publication. Henry Kissinger always uses at least 250.

3) You should try to be more inclusive in your use of racial, ethnic and sexual slurs. Your letter contains only one reference to sexual orientation, only one racial insult and only one ethnic disparagement. You can do better. Here are some hints: New Zealanders call Pacific Islanders "coconuts"; Australians call East Indians "currymunchers"; the British call Afro-Caribbeans "golliwogs"; French Canadians call the English "squareheads"; aborigines call white people "gwubs"; and when they do something stupid, Jews call each other "goisher kopf," which means "gentile brain." "Non-dairy creamer" is a North American term for a woman with obvious breast implants. Sprinkle these terms through your letters, particularly in correspondence with clergymen.

And finally:

4) You correctly perceive that any message will be bolstered by assurance that you are a loyal American, but you do not go far enough. Do you seriously think that merely declaring yourself an "American patriot" is enough to persuade readers that you are not secretly a terrorist, a traitor or possibly even a liberal? In the future, include the number of Confederate flags that displayed on your rotting porch, a list of your misspelled tattoos, and at least two examples of your ability to Photoshop Sarah Palin's head onto the bodies of naked teenagers.

A big thank you and hat tip to Mr. Chris Wren for sending this to me.  You're right, I did enjoy it.

I am the scholarship dude.


January 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Will the focus on learning outcomes help skills courses like legal writing?

The Chronicle of Higher Ed is reporting on the current movement towards "outcome assessments" in law school and the pressure that's being placed on law schools to produce students who have the skills employers want:

[S]upporters of the proposed revisions said law schools can no longer afford to churn out graduates who lack the skills employers want, especially when jobs are so hard to come by.

The blog Law Shucks reported last week that 12,196 people were laid off at 138 large law firms in 2009, the worst year ever for such layoffs. The job cuts included 4,633 lawyers and 7,563 staff workers.

. . . .

Among those who support [outcome assessments] is James G. Leipold, executive director of NALP: the Association for Legal Career Professionals. He said hiring partners at law firms regularly complain to him that they have to spend too much time training new associates in skills they haven't learned in law school. But he added that there is a natural tension between legal educators who favor a more theoretical-based legal education and those who are increasingly pushing for a more skills-based curriculum.

NALP, which was previously known as the National Association for Law Placement, held a round-table discussion last month in which Phillip A. Bradley, senior vice president and general counsel for Duane Reade, a large drugstore chain, likened law schools to car companies that are "manufacturing something that nobody wants."

Mr. Bradley said many law firms are developing core competencies they expect of their lawyers, but many law schools aren't delivering graduates who come close to meeting them.

"Some law schools are of the view that delivering law graduates who have been trained 'to think like a lawyer' is sufficient. It is then the law firm's responsibility to train the law graduate to 'be a lawyer,'" Mr. Bradley said in an e-mail message to The Chronicle.

In this market, clients are less willing to pay law firms the high prices they charge, in part to cover the firms' staff training costs, he wrote. He said appropriately designed outcomes testing could help firms identify graduates who are ready to hit the ground running.

With the exception of the elite schools, in this ferociously competitive market, if a dean wants employers to hire her students, her school is going to have to do more to train students to meet employers' expectations.  Otherwise those employers will look elsewhere.

You can read the rest here.

I am the scholarship dude.'


January 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Law Student Gets Married, then Goes to Legal Writing Class

Hargrove, Ruth I just finished giving a guest lecture to second semester students in a legal writing class taught by Professor Ruth Hargrove at California Western School of Law in San Diego.  (She's pictured here.  Many of you met her at the legal writing luncheon in New Orleans.)

One of her students GOT MARRIED this morning and then went to her legal writing class at 1:15 p.m.

Our other students will now have to come up with really good reasons for missing a class.  Getting married is no longer enough!  And it seems to me that Professor Hargrove may have found the most dedicated student of legal writing ever!


P.S. Click here for another law student marriage story.

January 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

The votes are in - the ABA Journal's top 15 law prof blogs

To follow up on our story about the recent ABA Journal reader poll to determine the top 100 legal blogs, the results for the "legal theory" category are reported below.  Congrats to our blog-mates at the Legal Profession and TaxProfblogs for making the top 15.  And congrats to Elie Mystal and the gang at Above the Law, who have been good friends to this blog, for taking home the top prize in the legal news category.

The votes are in for the 2009 ABA Blawg 100, and TaxProf Blog finished second among the 15 blawgs nominated in the Legal Theory category:


Volokh Conspiracy



TaxProf Blog



Leiter's Law School Reports



Feminist Law Professors



Concurring Opinions



Legal Ethics Forum






Becker-Posner Blog



Faculty Lounge



Legal Profession Blog






Empirical Legal Studies



A Failure of Capitalism





Mirror of Justice


You can see the remaining list of top blogs in several categories here.  There's sure to be something to tickle your fancy.

Hat tip to the TaxProf Blog.

I am the scholarship dude.


January 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A misplaced comma can lead to grief and then litigation

Here are a couple of stories from Ken Adams' blog on contracts, which has been recognized for excellence by the online ABA Journal, about how a misplaced comma can materially change the meaning of a document.  The first example involves a misplaced comma in the bankruptcy code which has turned into a disputed issue in the bankruptcy filing of two Philadelphia newspapers. The ruling from the Third Circuit is pending.  

The second example involves a contentious comma inserted into a United Nations global climate plan that's caused consternation among many delegates:

The Bali paragraph says treaty talks should yield “nationally appropriate” actions by developing countries to curb emissions “in the context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity- building, in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner.”

The comma after “building” was dropped and then reinserted at the Bush administration’s insistence.

Delegates from the U.S. argued for the comma to be inserted so that “actions” by developing countries and not just support from industrialized nations, would be measurable, reportable and verifiable, or MRV in UN jargon.

“It took almost two hours to debate the comma,” Quamrul Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi envoy who’s negotiated climate issues since before the Rio Earth summit in 1992, said in an interview in Copenhagen. “One comma creates a lot of trouble.”

You can read the rest of Ken Adams' coverage here, more detailed discussion of the Philadelphia comma dust-up here on the Language Log and more on the international comma crisis at here.

I am the scholarship dude.


January 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Legal writing programs are pedagogical cancer? Really?

In a provocative essay, Professor Charles Rounds of Suffolk University Law School says the reason law students are ill prepared for practice these days is because, among other things:  1. concerns about students' self-esteem and grade inflation trump classroom rigor; and 2. traditional, core subjects have been replaced by the pet interests of law professors who serve up doses of "amateur sociology" rather than teach students about the law they'll need to practice.

With respect to legal writing and clinical programs, Professor Rounds has this to say:

In response to complaints from the practicing bar that recent law graduates cannot write well and are otherwise unable to “hit the ground running,” the typical law school has beefed up its in-house clinics and legal writing programs. These politicized bureaucracies behave like labor unions. They are great at self-promotion and forging national networks. They are labor-intensive and thus frightfully expensive.

At best, these programs are pedagogically inefficient; at worst they are pedagogically cancerous. By chipping away at, or crowding out altogether, traditional core courses such as Agency, Trusts, and Equity, these clinical and legal writing programs are more than just a nuisance. One’s writing improves when one has something rational and coherent to express. Ten writing courses will not help the law student who is unable to connect the dots because he or she does not know where the dots are.

While Professor Rounds is perhaps being intentionally provocative to make his points about the failure of legal education, I think he (and many others) misunderstands what we are doing in the legal writing classroom.  I agree with him that lots of writing instruction won't help students become better lawyers if they don't know the law or how to "connect the dots."  And while there's some disagreement about this within the field, my take on legal writing is that it's not about "writing" but instead about expressing legal analysis in writing.  What we're doing is teaching students how to read and understand a series of cases, synthesize them and then apply the principles that emerge to a fact pattern just as lawyers do in practice. 

For that reason, I've always thought that the typical 1L legal writing course has more ambitious goals than the typical 1L doctrinal course.  Indeed, I'm often afraid that the course is too difficult for most first semester students because they don't yet have a good enough grounding in the law to be able to do the kind of written analysis we demand.  Thus, part of the solution to better preparing students to practice law may lie with better coordination between doctrinal and legal writing faculty in the first year curriculum.  We can work together to give them the legal grounding they need, then teach them how to apply that law to the kinds of problems real clients face and, finally, do it in a form that meets professional expectations.

As far as Professor Rounds comment about the legal writing programs acting like "unions" (in the pejorative sense, I assume) - it's interesting because I recently heard a highly respected member of the legal writing community tell me that she's afraid our credibility may be suffering in some quarters because of that perception.  What do you think?  Are these isolated perceptions or is it more widespread?  Is it something to be concerned about or ignored?   Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

Hat tip to the Law School Innovation Blog.

I am the scholarship dude.


January 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

thank you Lexis!

The Co-Chairs of the ALWD-LWI Scholarship Committee, Robin Wellford Slocum (teaching at Chapman) and Sarah Ricks (teaching at Rutgers-Camden) have announced that LexisNexis is donating $10,000 to add to the pool of grant money available to fund the 2010 scholarship grants for legal writing professors.  With this direct support, Lexis is recognizing the importance of scholarship related to legal research and writing.

In the past, individual scholarship grants through this program have varied from $2,000 to $5,000, depending on the amount of funds available. For 2009, ALWD and LWI invested $19,000 in promoting scholarship projects by legal writing and research professors; in 2008, they invested $17,500. For 2010, adding the LexisNexis contribution may bring the total support closer to $30,000. Royalties from the ALWD Citation Manual are the primary source of ALWD's scholarship funding each year.

hat tip:  Sarah Ricks


January 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)