April 23, 2011
students use of WestlawNext
A couple of articles worth noting, for and about students using WestlawNext:
Shawn G. Never, "WestlawNext: Westlaw's Next Generation Research System", 39 Student Lawyer 12-13 (Dec. 2010).
"Written for Student Lawyer magazine, this legal research column introduces students to Westlaw's newest iteration – WestlawNext. The author touches on several of WestlawNext's important features, including strengths and weaknesses of the new system."
"When Thomson Reuters debuted its WestlawNext legal research platform a year ago, many predicted that law students would prove to be the biggest fans of this 'googlized' version of Westlaw. And in the six months that the Next platform has been available to law students, anecdotal evidence has suggested that students are indeed abandoning the two major traditional platforms (Westlaw and Lexis) in mass numbers. However, no empirical study has confirmed this trend.
"In this study, I survey the four hundred first-year law students at the University of Texas School of Law to determine which database each uses most often, and what factors are taken into account in making the choice. Preliminary results indicate that the majority of students are using WestlawNext most of the time. When one considers that very few practitioners even have access to WestlawNext, the implications for the effective preparation of law students for the workplace are considerable.
"In this paper, I review the results of my survey and offer proposals as to how law schools can incorporate the seemingly addictive WestlawNext into their research curriculum while still ensuring that students will be effective when working with the limited resources available at the average law office."
hat tip: Nolan Wright
April 22, 2011
Posner and Yoon on lawyers' competence
An interesting assessment of lawyers' competence appears in a recent Stanford Law Review article titled What Judges Think of the Quality of Legal Representation. Judge Richard Posner and University of Toronto law professor Albert Yoon surveyed both state and federal judges for their opinions about lawyers' competence. On a 5-point scale, the scores for overall legal representation were between 3 (fair) and 4 (good) for each group of judges.
Some of the data are especially relevant for legal writing professors. To remedy lawyers' generally mediocre performance, the judges' top suggestion by a wide margin was that law schools should include "more course work on pratice-oriented skills." The survey also revealed, again by a wide margin, that judges are more influenced by written argument than by oral argument.
April 20, 2011
Thirty years of changes in legal writing
Los Angeles lawyer Scott Bovitz recently compared today’s law practice with the practice when he got his J.D. in 1980. His observations about legal writing mention some well known changes like the demise of carbon paper and the adoption of on-line research. Possibly less well known is that lawyers are now acting as deputy clerks of the court who can make on-line docket entries (sometimes with unwelcome advocacy). And a few techno-savvy lawyers are dictating documents right into their computers, which type them out simultaneously.
April 18, 2011
the final uphill push
Back in January, we commented on the legal writing roller coaster. Now it seems many of us are gearing up (pun intended) for the final uphill push, putting all the organizational pieces in place for 1L oral arguments, and then spending a week or so working intensely with our students in the courtroom. Here's wishing the best of luck to all the professors and students alike!
If you wouldn't say it, why write it?
Alabama lawyer Andrew L. Brasher recently proposed ways to spiff up legal writing. Tips for More Conversational and Effective Writing, For the Defense 62 (January 2011). Brasher’s theme is “If you wouldn’t say it, why write it?” One of his suggestions is to avoid introductory “mumbo-jumbo” that wastes a valuable opportunity to get the court’s attention. He also advises against an error I see with increasing frequency in student papers: placing a comma after a coordinating conjunction.