Saturday, February 6, 2010

proofread people!

ApostrophessignPA_450x300 Apparently sign engravers and legal writers share a similar occupational hazard: public typos. 


February 6, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 5, 2010

wanted: plain language nominees

The Center for Plain Language will be giving awards in April for documents that are especially well written.  There are several categories in the "good" section (ClearMark awards to the best examples of plain language), and there's also a "bad" section (WonderMark awards for the worst examples).  Please submit entries -- including legal documents -- at
hat tip:  Julie Clement

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

Friday Fun

A post from Ruthann Robson on the Constutional Law Prof Blog shows a google search from a student who doesn't understand con law.  Have a quick look.


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

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A sneak peak at the new Lexis-Microsoft legal research platform

Following up on our post yesterday about the forthcoming Lexis-Microsoft legal research partnership announced at the LegalTech conference in NYC, we've got a sneak peak courtesy of the Martindale-Hubbell Blog:

Lawyers live in Outlook.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it is the truth, (we also frequent Word, Excel, and Power Point).  Between all these programs there is search.  So at the most basic level, lawyers (1) get a communication, (2) identify action steps, (3) research for context on how to proceed, and then (4) compose a response.  This process can take hours and often involves using new associates to research and create the response for a partner who has bigger fish to fry.  Lexis for Microsoft Office takes the four steps above and creates 1-experience.  Let’s take a sneak peek at the Outlook integration.

Outlook Use Case: the partner at a law firm gets an email about a pending litigation involving a major corporate client in a case about defective tires.  He has a few choices at this point: (1) drop everything and start looking into the case, (2) delegate the task to an associate, or (3) click “Background” in Lexis for Microsoft Office.  Choosing option “3″ will highlight terms in the email that relate to the case and opens up a side panel with research results including documents from the Lexis system, firm articles, and web results, all in context.

Read the rest, along with a screen capture, here.  Also, more coverage and an official press release here at the Law Librarian Blog.

A big hat tip to Law Librarian Blog guru Joe Hodnicki.

I am the scholarship dude.


February 3, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Scholarship alert: "What Do Clients Want From Their Lawyers?"

This is a working paper from Georgia State Law Prof Clark D. Cunningham and is available here on SSRN.

From the abstract:

This working paper assembles empirical data from England, Australia and the United States indicating that individual clients do not evaluate their lawyers - as attorneys frequently assume - primarily in terms of the outcomes achieved. Rather, clients place greater weight on the quality of communication with their lawyers and are often disappointed by failure to listen carefully and explain clearly. The paper concludes with suggestive survey data that organizational clients may have similar views about the large firm lawyers that represent them. The author is the director of the Effective Lawyer-Client Communication Project and the National Institute for Teaching Ethics & Professionalism. The paper is based on a number of presentations in both the United Kingdom and the USA, most recently at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Law & Society Association.

Hat tip to Professor Mary Beth Beazley.

I am the scholarship dude.


February 3, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Here's an example of how not to prepare for oral argument

Although not a legal argument, this video clip does feature an oral argument by two attorneys seeking investment capital on a reality television show called "The Shark Tank."  I admit I'd never heard of the show before seeing it mentioned on ATL but since watching an episode on Hulu, this might become a new guilty pleasure.  The premise of the show is that entrepreneurs seeking financial capital face a panel of very successful investors who will put up their own money if they deem the contestant's venture worthy enough.  Because the panelists are prepared to make a personal investment in these businesses, they ask a lot of tough questions and it quickly becomes clear who has a well prepared proposal and who doesn't. 

With respect to the latter, he's the clip of a husband and wife lawyer team pitching an idea they have for a franchise called "The Legal Grind" that's a coffee shop where the middle class can get inexpensive legal advice.  They make just about every mistake students (and lawyers) are supposed to avoid during oral argument including not knowing their "case" very well, not anticipating the panel's questions, and becoming defensive and confrontational in response to questions.  For those reasons, it might make a good training tape to teach law students how not to handle questions from the bench during oral argument.  Bonus points for spotting the potential ethics violations "The Legal Grind" franchise might cause:

Hat tip to ATL.

I am the scholarship dude.


February 3, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Is it time to bag the whole "May it please the court" thing?

Thanks to Chris Wren for bringing to my attention this post from the Volokh Conspiracy in which the suggestion is made that we stop teaching students to prepare overly formal introductions for oral argument.

Here's the post from GW Law Prof Orin Kerr:

In law school, it’s common for students to be taught to give a somewhat grand introduction at the beginning of their moot court arguments. “MAY IT PLEASE THE COURT!”, the student is taught to announce, very slowly and formally, followed by an extended introduction that usually goes something like this:

“My name is Joe Student. I am here with my co-counsel, Jane Student. Together, we represent the Petitioner, James P. Robinson, in the case before you today. We will be dividing our argument. I will be arguing first, and I will discuss the First Amendment issues. Next, my co-counsel will argue second, and she will discuss the Due Process issues.”

Then the actual presentation begins. (See, for example, here at the 3:15 mark)

My sense is that this very formal presentation is pretty rare outside moot courts, though. In real life, it’s much more informal. In most courts, the judges have probably been hearing argument all day or even all week, and they’ve called your case and called you by name. They just need you to say for the appellate record who you are. In the usual case of an undivided argument, the whole introduction might just be a brief, “May it please the court, Joe Student for Mr. Robinson,” followed by the argument. Part of the reason for the informality is time, too: If you only have 15 minutes, even just a 30-second introduction is cutting into your precious time. 

Of course, if you’re a student in moot court and you are specifically instructed to make a formal introduction, then do it. But I thought it might be worth noting that it’s usually less formal in practice.

In response to comment about how we're presumably teaching students to model SCOTUS practice, Professor Kerr pointed out:

The funny thing about moots that model themselves after U.S. Supreme Court arguments is that you’re specifically not supposed to introduce yourself in a U.S. Supreme Court argument. The Clerk’s Office Guide for Counsel explains:

The Chief Justice will . . . announce that the Court will hear argument in the first case for argument that day. If you are counsel for the petitioner, you should proceed promptly to the lectern—do not wait for the Chief Justice to issue an invitation. Remain standing at the lectern and say nothing until the Chief Justice recognizes you by name. Once he has done so, you may acknowledge the Court by the usual: “Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court. . . .” Do not introduce yourself or co-counsel

So, is it time to rethink the whole "may it please the court" thing?

Hat tip to Chris Wren.

I am the scholarship dude.


February 3, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Breaking News: SNESL is now UMass Dartmouth School of Law

Southern New England School of Law (a private institution) today became the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth (a public institution).  

The Southern New England School of Law had failed to receive accreditation from the American Bar Association.  The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the school will donate its campus and assets to the state.


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

Scholarship alert: "Reframing Legal Education's Wicked Problems"

Having lived in Boston for 15 or so years, I can relate to this wicked cool sounding article by Professor Judith W. Wegner, found at 61 Rutgers L. Rev. 867 (2009).

From the abstract:

The essay, by one of the authors of Educating Lawyers (the "Carnegie Report") offers fresh insights as to why legal education reform is so difficult, drawing upon the theory of "wicked problems" increasingly used in public policy, engineering and a variety of other fields. It demonstrates the application of that theory with reference to the oft-told tale of Rumpelstiltskin, and draws from that tale key lessons that can be used by those seeking to create a new prospectus for legal education in coming years. It then illuminates four "wicked problems" that have plagued legal education for years: how responsibility should be allocated for lawyer preparation; why change in content alone does not result in enduring improvements in legal education; whether "thinking like a lawyer" has a continuing place in legal education; and how the upper division can be fruitfully improved. In illuminating these problems, it also offers suggestions for how they might be approached and resolved.

After providing background on the characteristics of "wicked problems" and how they can best be approached, the essay focuses on "commonplaces" that underlie professional work and accordingly should drive professional education (including legal education), thereby providing a fresh framework for actionable steps to improve legal education and the practice of law.It next S discusses the need to attend both to visible and invisible dimensions of problems in order to shape meaningful solutions and explains the importance of often unrecognized dynamics of learning and teaching as major forces that play crucial roles in legal education and curriculum reform.

The essay then discusses the power of naming, offering an in-depth look at the nuances of "thinking like a lawyer" as understood by students and faculty members interviewed at sixteen diverse law schools in connection with the site visits that informed the Carnegie Report. It stresses the specific ways that first year case-dialogue instruction forces students to deal with uncertainty, one of the critical dimensions of professional practice, and unpacks the notion of "thinking like a lawyer" in ways that should prove illuminating for students and helpful for faculty members who seek to help students understand the resulting changes in epistemology that are so central to the first year of law school. It also considers the nature of the "case-dialogue method" and explains the ways in which that classic teaching technique plays a critical role in building students‘ abilities to think analytically.

Finally, the essay considers one of legal education‘s most intransigent "wicked problems": the upper division curriculum. Using insights from the theory of "wicked problems," the essay endeavors to explain why upper division curriculum reform is so difficult. It then offers four strategies for "renegotiating" existing assumptions and practices in order to improve the upper division curriculum. These strategies (including purposeful redesign on the large scale, rethinking content, rethinking pedagogy, and re-balancing teaching and learning responsibilities) each of which are very likely need to be used in concert in order for meaningful improvements to occur. In particular, this portion of the essay incorporates insights from educational psychology and work on professional identity development in graduate students to stress the ways in which effective advanced curricular innovations should attend to the challenges faced by the current generation of students who, much more than those in past decades, face challenges in navigating changes in personal identity at the same time they confront the need to develop a sense of professional identity before leaving law school.

Hat tip to Professor Mary Beth Beazley.

I am the scholarship dude.



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

Not be outdone, Lexis announces partnership with Microsoft to change the way you do legal research

Lexis just raised the ante in the commercial legal research wars by responding to yesterday's roll-out of WestlawNext (see below) with an announcement of its own:  It's partnering with Microsoft in a venture that will change the way you do legal research according to a company spokesman.  As reported by the online ABA Journal:

Lexis will now be integrated into Microsoft Office products, allowing users to do legal and general research directly while working in Microsoft Word, Outlook and SharePoint. Users, who must have a Lexis subscription, need only click on a Lexis tab in the ribbon of utilities available in Microsoft Office 2007 and the forthcoming 2010 version to start researching, Shepardizing cases or even gathering information from Bing or Google search engines. There is no need to navigate separately to the Web and log on to Lexis or a search engine.

"If you think about where our customers spend their time, it's either in e-mails or in Word creating or reviewing documents," says Clemens Ceipek, vice president of New Lexis. "That is exactly what we are doing. As a lawyer you no longer need to go to a separate, dedicated site to get the information."

Our good buddies at Above the Law have placed a man in the field to cover this story as it unfolds at the LegalTech show in New York City which began yesterday.  More information here at  As usual, we'll keep you apprised of any future developments as they come into the Legal Writing Prof nerve center.

I am the scholarship dude.



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

The big roll out for WestlawNext

The big news this week is that Westlaw rolled out its new legal research platform on Monday - called WestlawNext - that is supposed to provide users with a more "Google-like" search experience.  I haven't yet had a chance to give it a test drive but plenty of others have and we've got the links with the skinny below.

But first a promo video from West (which was also shown in Times Square yesterday):

Our good buddies at the Law Librarian blog have done a lot of the leg work for us by collecting several links that feature WestlawNext field tests and other commentary such as this one: "WestlawNext and the future of legal research instruction."  There's also this from West's parent corp. - the Thomson Reuters blog - that collects reports from around the Blogosphere.  And there's even more field reports here at

We'll keep on top of this story.

In the meantime, i am the scholarship dude.


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

Monday, February 1, 2010

The perils of social networking when it comes to one's writing routine

Raise your hand (or click your mouse) if you get distracted by the internet when you sit down to do your professional, academic or work related writing.  For some, myself included, writing and procrastination go hand-in-hand like Jack Webb and good posture. 

If that describes you as well, this good-humored article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed may not make you anymore self-disciplined, but at least you won't feel so alone:

When I sit down to write, I follow a time-tested, meticulous protocol that facilitates concentration on the task at hand by ensuring my personal comfort.

First I clear my desk and place a glass of water to the left of my laptop. Usually a mug of robust coffee stands beside it, along with my digital tape recorder (in case I get a phone call from an important source). To my right lies my handy-dandy notebook, a pen, and my cellphone. I sit on my huge fitness ball to remind myself to practice good posture, thus avoiding back pain from sitting for several hours.

I click on iTunes and play something empowering, like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. I am prepped for success.

Then I check Facebook.

And MySpace.

And Twitter.

OK, now it's time to work.

Wait—there's my bank account, too. That needs to be checked immediately. I can't be too sure that yesterday's deposit went through. That will save me from an overdraft when I renew my daily love-horoscope text subscription, which I saw advertised on MySpace a couple of months ago.

You get the idea.  It's surprising the author even finished her column.  And if you'd like to read the rest, click here.

I am the scholarship dude.



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

Sunday, January 31, 2010

where has all the narrative gone?

Ken Chestek, at U. Indiana -- Indianapolis, posted this thoughtful analysis on the listserve for legal writing professors and graciously agreed to let us share it here:

"Citizens United, in my opinion, is a great example of the kind of absurd decision that pure logic, uninformed by narrative reasoning, can lead to. Judges pride themselves on ruling based on 'the law,' which they take to mean legal rules and logic, and to filter out emotional reasoning of all sorts. And this process often produces absurdities like this decision. 

"If one begins with the major premise that corporations are people, and the minor premise that people have First Amendment rights, syllogistic reasoning leads inevitably to the conclusion that corporations have First Amendment rights. But narrative thinking would reject the major premise: corporations are NOT people. They are fictional constructs, invented by human beings to serve the needs of human beings, and therefore should be subordinate to the needs of humans. But corporations don't have the same needs as humans. They don't need clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, healthy food to eat, etc. Instead, those things that humans value (i.e. a clean and healthy environment) actually work AGAINST the corporation's sole mission: generating monetary profits for its shareholders. 

"Thus, narrative thinking would reveal corporations to be the antagonist of the story, with human persons as the protagonists. But, since a majority of justices apparently reject narrative thinking as unworthy, we are left with a manifestly absurd decision. 

"BTW there is also a logos-based argument against the corporations-are-people premise, but the court ignored it. The notion that corporations are people with Constitutional rights is usually traced back to the Supreme Court decision in Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific, 118 U.S. 394 (1886). But that case really doesn’t stand for that proposition at all. In fact, the court’s opinion never even mentions it; the only reference to corporate constitutional rights appears in the court reporter’s syllabus, which of course is not part of the opinion and therefore has no weight of authority whatsoever. The Citizens United opinion avoids this trap by the simple expedient of not citing Santa Clara at all."


January 31, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Stephen Colbert Analyzes a U.S. Supreme Court Decision

Our blog focuses on legal writing and its teaching.  When we teach, we must teach ourt students about how to interpret and apply precedent.  On a recent sow, Comedian Stephen Colbert analyzed Chief Justice Roberts' concurrence in the U.S. Supreme Court decision that will now allow corporations to make political contributions and pay for political advertising without restriction.  He turns the word "precedent" to "prece-don't" and raises the question of whether other courts could use Roberts' reasoning to overturn that decision.   Click here to see the Colbert Show clip.

Hat tip to Richard Neumann


January 31, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)