Friday, November 5, 2010

Congratulations Sheila!

Simon It's not every day that you get to type a blog post like this:

Legal writing professor Sheila Simon is going to be the next Lieutenant Governor of the state of Illinois.  As Sheila herself would say, woo hoo!

To see her faculty web page, click here.  To see coverage of her opponents' concession speeches, click here.




November 5, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

George Gopen wins the Golden Pen Award!

The President of the Legal Writing Institute, Ken Chestek, has just released this announcement:

"It give me great pleasure to announce that the 2011 recipient of LWI's Golden Pen Award is Prof. George Gopen, Professor of English at Duke University. 

"Professor Gopen was originally hired in 1975 at Utah as an undergraduate professor of English. Because of his J.D. degree, he was asked to design a special writing course for Pre-Law Students at Utah. He then wrote to eighty-six law schools to find out what types of Legal Writing programs existed to better enable him to decide what should go into a Pre-Law course. He discovered that most law schools did not have organized Legal Writing programs. Many of those who responded expressed frustration or despair over the poor writing skills of those admitted to their law schools. Mr. Gopen then designed a course in Composition for Pre-Law Students and published an article about it in the Journal of Legal Education, A Course in Composition for Pre-Law Students, 29 J. Legal Ed. 222 (1978), and another criticizing the few existing writing courses in the law schools he had investigated, A Question of Cash and Credit: Writing Programs at Law Schools, 3 J. of Contemp. Law 191 (1977). In 1978, he wrote one of the first text books suitable for a law school course on Legal Writing, Writing From A Legal Perspective (West 1978).

"When he moved to the Loyola English Department as Director of Writing Programs, he fortuitously met "Professor Joe Williams (a previous winner of the Golden Pen Award). Together, they formed a consulting firm, Clearlines, and thereafter were hired by law firms and corporations throughout the country to hold four-day seminars teaching lawyers the writing skills they lacked. He continued as a solo consultant at Clearlines when Williams left the company.

"During those years, Professor Gopen formulated the theory of legal writing he has honed to perfection through the years. His approach has been labeled the “Reader Expectation Approach.” At the heart of this approach is the theory that the writer should focus exclusively on reader expectations. He asserts that the structural location of a word is more important than word choice in a reader's interpretation of a piece of writing. Readers gather contextual clues based not on what specific words mean, but on where those words appear in the structure of a sentence or paragraph. The writer then needs to be concerned with placing the key thoughts in the “stress position.” Most commonly, and against previous notions of what constitutes effective writing, Professor Gopen concluded that those thoughts should appear at the end of every sentence. As he explains, writers know intuitively as readers themselves that “certain kinds of pieces of information are expected to appear in certain kinds of structural locations. . . .  The writer can ask far more pointed questions, like, “Does the word or phrase that I want the reader to emphasize most appear in a Stress position? If the answer to that question is “no,” then the odds are high that a significant percentage of readers will not perceive with emphasis that which the writer wanted to present with emphasis.”

"By all accounts, Professor Gopen was highly successful in his work for Clearlines. As one participant stated, Gopen is “simply brilliant.  . . .  [O]ne of the best teachers I’ve had. You WILL be a better writer if you do what he says. Revolutionary. I used to be pretty cocky about my writing, but now I know I didn’t know anything until taking this class. Now I’m extremely cocky, but rightfully so!”

"With the formation of the Legal Writing Institute, Professor Gopen jumped into our field with vigor and made an instant impact. He was keynote speaker at one of the first Legal Writing Institute conferences, and elaborated, to glowing reviews, on his Stress Position theory. The LWI speeches he gave then and at later meetings encouraged legal writing teachers to recognize that they were doing more than teaching students the format and style of legal documents: that they were actually teaching the art of effective writing. They were writing professionals, trying to instill the best abilities and skills, not just those that would satisfy a reader looking at the words used and the basic grammar.

"Professor Gopen added to his luster within the legal writing world by publishing The Current State of Legal Writing: Res Ipsa Loquitur, 86 Mich. L. Rev. 333 (1987), widely distributed to prospective law students by several law schools for recruitment purposes. In that article, he analyzed the various types of programs and their weaknesses and the strengths of a few law school programs that he felt were exceptional. He said, “From the few successes we have seen to date, it appears that success in constructing legal writing programs remains a question of cash and credit. Certain elements are required for a writing program to work at a law school:

1) Sufficient money must be expended on competent faculty specialists (that is, on people trained or experienced in the teaching of writing);
2) Sufficient credit must be given to students for their labors to allow them to expend as serious an effort on improving writing as they do on learning Torts or Trusts or Tax law;
3) A certain amount of writing instruction must be made available, preferably required, in all six terms of law school, not just in the first half of the first year;
4) Perhaps most importantly, a consistent methodology must be adopted by the program as a whole, so that students of any one section or year may talk intelligibly with any faculty member and all other students about the standards of cohesive and coherent prose.
Id. at 357-58.

"The fact that the ABA is, in 2010, seriously considering outcome assessments as an accreditation standard demonstrates how far ahead of his time was Professor Gopen. What a novel idea–to measure the quality of a legal education based upon what professional students are actually able to do when they join the profession.

"Professor Gopen joined the Board of the LWI for several terms. In that position, he encouraged the use of an annual survey to determine the status of programs from year to year and to enable directors or teachers to use the data to try to gain enhancements to their programs. At the 1986 LWI conference, in perhaps his most passionate plenary LWI speech, he implored the members of our profession to respect themselves and to demand respect from the rest of the legal education academy.  At the time this was a unique posture; he did not teach legal writing, at least not in the sense that we know it today, yet, he is one of the most influential individuals in our profession because his scholarship has focused on improving the deficiencies in legal skills training and on the plight of the underclass, which always seems to be required to do the heavy lifting. It is his eloquence and passion that have caused so many to take notice. He has been vocal in explaining to administrators and practicing attorneys exactly what type of writing training should be occurring in law schools and how the legal profession should be treating its writing professors. In many respects, he has given us our identity as professionals.  As a result, he is one of the true heroes of the legal writing community.

"Because of his willingness to share his brilliant insights into the teaching of great legal writing, because of his support and encouragement to members of the legal writing profession to fight for respect, and because of his individual efforts in improving the legal writing of hundreds of lawyers in firms and corporations that hired him, George Gopen is a highly deserving receipient of the Golden Pen Award.

"The award will be presented at a joint reception for both the Blackwell Award and the Golden Pen Award at the AALS Annual Meeting in San Francisco. The reception, co-sponsored by ALWD and LWI, will take place from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 7, at a site TBD. Please make plans to join us in San Francisco to honor George!"

hat tip:  Ken Chestek


November 5, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

visiting scholar in rhetoric and writing

Phelps Vermont Law School has posted a glowing description of Terri Phelps's visit there.  The post notes that:

"Her visit to VLS was funded by a grant from the Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors' Visiting Scholars in Rhetoric and Writing Program. The new grant program is funding visiting scholars at four law schools this year to encourage scholarship that focuses on the study and practice of professional legal writing."

Congratulations to VLS, Terri, and J. ALWD!

hat tip:  Mary Beth Beazley




November 4, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Call for Proposals: Empire State 2011

From the Empire State Legal Writing Conference Planning Committee:


The Second Annual Empire State Legal Writing Conference will be held at the St. John’s University campus in lower Manhattan on Friday, May 13, 2011. We invite proposals for presentations on a broad range of topics relevant to those teaching legal writing and research.  We hope to provide attendees with practical teaching suggestions to implement in their own classrooms.  Some possible topics include the following: experiences in the first years of teaching, preparing students for practice, best practices for teaching written legal analysis, and effective responses to student questions.  We seek proposals from those who have previously presented at legal writing conferences and also from those who have not presented before.  Please feel free to contact any of the Planning Committee Members so that we may assist you in developing your proposal, or if you would like to see sample proposals.  Individual and panel presentations are both welcome, especially where panel members are from different schools.   

Our plenary speaker this year will be Stephen Younger, Esq., President of the New York State Bar Association and partner at the law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP. He will be addressing a topic of importance to the bar and classroom: practical skills training of lawyers.

Please limit your proposal to one page, single-spaced, and include the following information:
1. Presenter(s), title(s), and school affiliation(s);

2. Title of proposed presentation;

3. A paragraph description of proposed presentation and the teaching method for the presentation (lecture, simulation, small group exercises, etc.);

4. A two-sentence summary of your presentation for the program brochure;

5. Indicate whether this presentation would benefit new or experienced (or both) LRW professors;

6. Time needed for presentation -- 25 minutes or 50 minutes (we will try to accommodate requests, but cannot guarantee);

7. Technology needs for your presentation (please describe);

8. Contact information for one presenter including email address, mailing address, and telephone number;

9. State whether you have previously presented at any national or regional legal writing conferences.

The deadline for submissions is Monday, December 20, 2010. We hope to have program selection completed before the end of March.  Please email Proposals as a Word Document attachment to:

Robin Boyle, Conference Chair, St. John’s University School of Law, (718) 990-6609, with a copy to Christine Patrizzo, at


November 2, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Call for Proposals: Rocky Mountain 2011

From Sara Gordon at UNLV:

The Eleventh Annual Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference will be held on March 25 & 26, 2011 at The University of Nevada Boyd School of Law in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Program Committee invites participants to submit proposals for conference presentations.  Presentations may be on any subject of interest to those teaching legal writing and research.  Presenters have two options regarding time: 

            1. We encourage presenters to suggest ideas for 25-minute slots.  These are often practical presentations on teaching methods or assignments that have been especially successful for you.  We have many of these slots available.

            2.  We also anticipate having a few slots open for 50-minute presentations.

 The deadline for proposals is Wednesday, January 12, 2011.  To submit a presentation proposal, please send the following information to Sara Gordon at and Jean Whitney at

  1. Contact information for all presenters and co-presenters
  2. Title of presentation
  3. Brief (one-paragraph) description of the presentation
  4. Time needed for presentation (25 minutes or 50 minutes)
  5. Technology needs for the presentation

Registration information and more conference details will be available soon.  As always, registration is free, though we will need all participants to register so we have an accurate head count.  Thanks, and we look forward to receiving your proposals and seeing you at the conference!


November 2, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Postcard from the Edge (of the Country)

I just received a lovely postcard from the University of Oregon School of Law, highlighting six of its faculty members who teach legal writing:

  • Elizabeth Frost
  • Rebekah Hanley (soon going on sabbatical)
  • Lance Long (visiting from Stetson)
  • Megan McAlpin
  • Joan Malmud Rocklin and
  • Suzane Rowe

How nice to see all of your smiling faces!


November 2, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)