Saturday, December 25, 2010
Having finished grading memos, for the first time I caught a TV show called Auction Hunters, where the contents of abandoned self-storage units are auctioned off. During the auction, when the door to a unit is opened up, the potential buyers have only a few minutes to try to see what's inside. They can't walk into the storage unit, and they can't touch anything. They bring flashlights, stand at the door, and try to take a good look at what they can see inside. And then they have to assume, based on what's visible, what the value of the unseen items might be. Based on that quick look and speculation, they figure out what price they're willing to bid on the contents of the storage unit.
So it occured to me, peeking in the storage unit for a few minutes is a bit like skimming a student's memo during a legal writing conference. Legal writing professors who have fifty or more students may only be able to meet with each student for ten or fifteen minutes. In that situation, all too familiar to many of us legal writing professors, there's just not enough time to give each draft a careful read. An experienced professor can skim the paper to make sure it meets the technical requirements (no sections missing, etc.) and follows the expected analytical structure (IRAC or CREAC or whatever). Well-prepared students who show up with a list of questions can help the professor home in on particular problems. And the professor can offer many helpful suggestions for filling research gaps, strenghtening the organizational scheme, and keeping the analysis appropriately focused.
But when the professor sits down to read carefully the final, submitted papers, it's a bit like the auction buyers sorting carefully through the partially-seen stuff they just bought. There are always some surprises, some things that disappoint and something that turns out better than you expect. The auction buyer may find a box full of odds-and-ends with little value, and the legal writing professor may find a paragraph of conclusory arguments that still lack detailed support and explanations. The next box the auction buyer opens, however, may contain valuable antique items, while the next paragraph the legal writing professor reads may contain a really creative argument supported by the facts and the law in an unexpected and highly effective way. There are always interesting surprises as we dig through student memos!
Friday, December 24, 2010
So it's Friday, and it just happens to be the day Santa flies around the globe. Thanks to NORAD (yes, the alliance responsible for aerospace security over Canada and the United States), you can track Santa's progress all day today. You can also see photos and videos of a lot of little-known places around the globe, making for a good geography lesson or a preview of your next vacation destination.
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Research Grant Program funds research on a wide variety of topics related to the mission of the LSAC. Specifically included in the program's scope are projects investigating precursors to legal training, selection into law schools, legal education, and the legal profession. To be eligible for funding, a research project must inform either the process of selecting law students or legal education itself in a demonstrable way.
The program welcomes proposals for research proceeding from any of a variety of methodologies, a potentially broad range of topics, and varying time frames. The next application deadline is February 1. At the LSAC website, you can see the wide range of topics previously funded. They are not all topics about law school admissions; if you are thinking of a project related to legal education or the legal profession, it may well qualify.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
A law review article by legal writing professor Maria Crist (University of Dayton) is cited in a story in the December ABA Journal Tech Report.
Very telling is the comment afterwards by a courthouse staff attorney, who reports that multi-line headings in all caps are hard to read. That attorney blips right over such headings and catches up with the argument where the regular text starts again. I always tell my students that the text of a document must make sense when read without the headings; the headings don't replace text. Often you need to say essentially the same thing in the first sentence after the heading as you say in the heading. And keep those headings short. A short one or two line heading may end up being read, even if it is in all caps.
hat tip: Gail Stephenson
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
"Lawyers can avoid committing many common brief writing errors if they are more able to put themselves in the place of their intended readers, the busy judge and the often inexperienced law clerk. Understanding recurring brief writing misconceptions and errors can assist lawyers in assessing the effectiveness of a brief from the perspective of the intended reader."
hat tip: Nolan Wright
The American Bar Association's Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession is a diverse group of committed lawyers promoting leadership and economic opportunities for racially and ethnically diverse lawyers within the ABA and the legal profession. The Commission announced that it will be presenting awards to a number of individuals on February 12, 2011 during the ABA Mid-Year Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.
Among those being honored will be Professor Charles Calleros of the Sandra Day O'Connor School of Law at Arizona State University. Also being honored is his colleague, Kevin Gover, Director of the National Museum of the American Indian, who is also a professor at ASU. They are the fourth and fifth professors from the ASU College of Law to receive the award in its 16-year history. Click here for more information about the award and the list of other 2011 award recipients.
Hat tip to Ralph Brill.
And hey, want to know a secret? Unlike the ABA Annual Meetings, registration for ABA midyear meetings is FREE!!! Click here for more information about the ABA Midyear Meeting in Atlanta. If you're going (or live near there), stop by to honor our colleague!
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Peter Tiersma has written an interesting book chapter as an overview of the interaction between the way we write, physically, and what we end up writing as lawyers. Here's his summary of his introduction to Parchment, Paper, Pixels: Law and the Technologies of Communication:
"This ... introductory chapter ... discusses the impact that technological revolutions (in particular, writing, printing, and the Internet) have had on civilization in general and our legal system in particular. Wills, for instance, are quintessentially written text. The legal profession has developed distinct literary conventions regarding the drafting and interpretation of wills, often to the befuddlement of individual testators. If the textual practices of willmaking are often too strict, those relating to contracts may sometimes be too lax. Electronic contracting has taken off with vengeance and, while convenient, can sometimes make it too easy to "agree" to terms hidden under a computer icon. Statutes, like wills, are highly textual. The rule of law has been promoted by having them written down or, in modern times, being made widely available in printed form or on the Internet. Yet what they gained in stability they have lost in flexibility. Finally, judicial opinions or judgments, which were once considered a type of unwritten law, are rapidly becoming textualized, especially in the United States, but also to a lesser extent in England. As a result, legal reasoning may eventually be supplanted by close reading of the text, a trend likely to be exacerbated by accessing opinions online.
"It therefore matters - sometimes a great deal - whether a law or legal transaction is chiseled into stone, written on parchment, printed on paper, or embedded in pixels on a computer screen."
Well here's something to ask the West Publishing reps about when you see them at the AALS exhibit hall. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that a federal jury in Philadelphia has ordered the West Publishing Corporation to pay $2.5-million in punitive damages (and $90,000 in actual damages) to Professors David Rudovsky (University of Pennsylvania) and Leonard N. Sosnov (Widener University).
West had put their names on a supplement to a criminal procedure book, but the professors had not worked on that book since 2008, when West cut their fee from $10,000 to $2,500. Instead of paying them the full amount, West instead simply used their names to help sell the supplements. The professors said that doing so damaged their reputations when readers discovered that the supplements contained little new material. West said it will likely appeal.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Ralph Brill (Chicago-Kent) turned 75 yesterday! A surprise party was held for him yesterday in Chicago, including birthday greetings from more than 150 legal writing professors around the country and videos of LWI workshop participants singing "happy birthday."
We extend our own birthday wishes again to Ralph Brill -- a man who has done so much to advance the cause of legal writing and its teaching. Have you ever seen his entry in Wikipedia? Click here!
(Cake photo courtesy of Karin Mika)
For the answer to that question, take a look at Taking Note of Notes: Student Legal Scholarship in Theory and Practice, by Andrew Yaphe at Standford Law School.
As he puts it, his article "does two things, neither of which appears to have been attempted by anyone hitherto. First, it offers an extensive critique of the leading guidebooks for aspiring student authors (e.g. Eugene Volokh’s Academic Legal Writing), which are taken to task for their narrow conceptions of student scholarship. Second, it provides an empirical analysis of recent student notes, enabling the reader to get an overview of the forms that student scholarship has actually taken over the past few years."
The Second Colonial Frontier Legal Writing Conference will be held on Saturday, March 5, 2011, at the Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, PA. The theme of the conference is The Arc of Advanced Legal Writing: From Theory through Teaching to Practice. There will be six presentations:
- The three lead presenters are nationally-renowned scholars of advanced legal writing: Michael Smith (Wyoming), Elizabeth Fajans (Brooklyn), and Mary Ray (Wisconsin). Articles based on these three presentations will be published by the Duquesne Law Review this coming spring.
- Sheila Miller (Dayton), Susan Wawrose (Dayton), Victoria VanZandt (Dayton), and Johanna Oreskovic (Buffalo), will speak about their extensive surveys of the bench and bar, and report on the advanced writing skills that lawyers and judges believe new attorneys should have.
- Julia Glencer (Duquesne), Erin Karsman (Duquesne), and Tara Willke (Duquesne) will describe the team-taught advanced legal writing "law firm simulation" course they created, which was supported by an ALWD Research Grant.
- The closing session will be a panel of law firm partners addressing how law firms can be agents of curricular change, encouraging law schools to implement advanced legal writing courses.
Aspen Law & Business is the prime sponsor for the event. Attendance at the conference is free to law school professors, and Duquesne will provide free on-site parking to conference attendees. A continental breakfast, buffet lunch, and closing reception will be available to all attendees. Pittsburgh is an easy drive or short flight from many cities. CLE credit (5 hours) will be available for all attendees.
For information on accommodations, the conference registration form, and more, click on the link at the beginning of this post.
hat tip: Jan Levine
Bennie Wilcox, the former law Dean of Legal Studies for Kaplan University, has been found guilty of writing threatening emails to students and other employees of the online law school in 2007. He now faces up to 18 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.
Kaplan University appears to be the "doing business as" name of the Iowa College Acquisition Corporation.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
The AALS Section on Legal Writing, Research, and Reasoning has announced its secretary elect is Judy Rosenbaum. The officers of the Section automatically advance up the ladder each year, so Judy will be the Section Chair in a few years. She served as the Program Committee Chair this year. Judy has been teaching legal writing at Northwestern University for over 24 years, and she is a former director of their LRW program. Congratulations, Judy!