June 18, 2011
good writing tips
The religion editor from the local Lubbock paper recently retired and offered some great writing tips in her farewell column. Among them: simple and simplistic writing are very different; strive for the former. Jargon can be used to confuse or enlighten, depending on the audience to whom the writing is directed. And this:
Clarity in language is directly related to the thinking process. Clarity in understanding ideas relates to our ability to our ability to think logically and to say what we mean.
I encourage you to read the entire column.
June 17, 2011
Just the other day, a legal writing colleague was commenting on how crazy it is that half the country mixes up plurals with possessives. And now we get wind that an attorney in Missouri has filed a motion objecting to opposing counsel's use of possessives. You can read about it here.
hat tip: David Austin
June 16, 2011
Talking with high school students about legal writing
Today I gave a talk about legal analysis and writing to the high school students in our Summer Law Institute. Earlier, I had put out a call on the legal writing listserv for good cases to cover, and I received many helpful suggestions. I finally decided on the McDonald’s coffee case (Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, which has no reported opinion). It’s a good springboard for discussing legal analysis, because so many people have only a superficial understanding of the case.
I also used the “I give you that orange” parody of legalese. (It has been attributed to both Timothy Walker and Arthur Symonds, as I explained in a recent article.) The student who best translated the parody into plain English won a prize.
Some of the students’ essays contained organizational problems and run-on sentences, comma-splices, and sentence fragments. I was disheartened when several said they are not receiving feedback on their writing. Two explained that their essays are just thrown into folders. And one bright young woman said she had never learned anything about grammar until this year. If those reports are accurate, the schools are doing the students a disservice by not preparing them better for advanced studies.
legal writing programs welcome new colleagues
Melissa Henke will be the new legal writing director at the University of Kentucky. She previously taught LRW at Georgetown, but hails originally from Kentucky and received her undergrad degree from U.Ky. She'll be U.Ky.'s first full-time legal writing director.
Cathren Koehlert will be the newest Assistant Professor of Law in the Legal Research and Writing Program at Barry University in the fall. She's already been using Skype to join the team for forward planning.
And Deborah Borman will be joining the faculty at the University of Denver as a Visiting Professor in the Lawyering Process Program this the fall. She's previously worked on the Journal of the Legal Writing Institute and taught legal writing at Northwestern, DePaul, and The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
hat tips: Diane Kraft, Dave Thomson, & Elizabeth Megale
The 12th Annual Burton Awards for Legal Writing honor judges, lawyers, law professors, and others for their skill in legal writing and their public interest service. The awards are organized and sponsored by William Burton, an amazing individual who was himself honored by the Legal Writing Institute Golden Pen Award.
In this year's installment of the Burton Awards, Professor Joe Kimble (Thomas Cooley) was honored (for a second time at the Burton Awards). He was recognized for his work as the Plain English Drafting Consultant to the Commission on Redrafting the Federal Rules of Evidence.
Also honored (and previously reported here on this blog) was Marjorie Rombauer, the first tenure-track teacher to create and teach a course in Legal Writing and Analysis. She authored one of the first books on legal writing (because there were none at the time). Ralph Brill tells us that West Publishing at first declined to publish the book because there was no market for such a course.
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer received the award for the law book of the year, and U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sottomayor encouraged law schools to teach legal writing throughout all three years. Chief Justice John Roberts also attended the event, which was held at the Library of Congress.
Hat tips to Ralph Brill (and Bill Burton!)
law librarians tank WestlawNext
Over on the law librarians' blog, you can find the results of an informal poll of law librarians about WestlawNext. Whether you work with new lawyers in a law office or you teach law students in a law school, it's worthwhile reading. The comments at the end are certainly revealing.
hat tip: Candle Wester-Mittan
June 15, 2011
Marjorie Rombauer wins Burton Award
If ever there were a deserving recipient of the Burton Award for Legal Writing Education, it's Marjorie Rombauer, the original pioneer in the field of legal writing teaching. You can read the text of the award presentation here and see her acceptance speech here. To learn more about her brilliant career, check out the videos and the interview transcripts in the LWI Archives.
hat tip: Karin Mika
happy Magna Carta day!
In the history of legal writing, Magna Carta is, as its name suggests, a document of great significance. It memorializes an absolute monarch's agreement to share power with his barons, arguably the first step in a democratizing process that's brought us all the way to this year's Arab Spring.
Magna Carta was written in medieval Latin, but you can read one of the three generally-accepted English translations here, on the British Library's website. That site also provides more context and explanations here.
June 14, 2011
Legal writing professors participate in law teaching conference
Legal writing professors are deeply interested in good teaching, so it’s not surprising that many participated in a recent conference sponsored by the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning. Held June 1-3 at New York Law School, the event’s theme was “Engaging and Assessing Our Students.” A plenary session titled “Assessment is Coming!” covered the current assessment trend.
Below, Lyn Goering and Richard Neumann present on rule drafting as a means of integrating doctrine, procedure, and skills.
Law Books by the Million
The Green Bag has published an article by George Mason law professor Ross Davies with the intriguing title: "West’s Words, Ho! Law Books by the Million, Plus a Few".
Assuming inquiring minds want to know, here's what it's about:
"This essay introduces an interesting but nearly invisible artifact of American law: A promotional pamphlet titled Law Books by the Million: An account of the largest law-book house in the world, the home establishment of The National Reporter System and The American Digest System. It was produced by the West Publishing Company in 1901 and is reprinted in its entirety below at pages 311 to 339 of this issue of the Green Bag. Professor Robert Jarvis has quite rightly bemoaned the meager public information about John West, founder of the West Publishing Company and an important figure in American legal history. A similar, albeit less severe, paucity of information plagues the West Publishing Company itself (now owned by Thomson Reuters). There isn’t much out there about the company’s early years, and what little there is can be strangely difficult to get hold of. For example, the biggest single source of West history – William Marvin’s 1969 book, West Publishing Company: Origin, Growth, Leadership – is out of print, rare, and not available on the Internet. The same goes for The Publications of West Publishing Company and The Romance of Law Reporting: Serving the Bench and Bar, pamphlets published by West in 1901 and 1934 respectively. Law Books by the Million is nearly as hard to find, but at least it is in the library and in the public domain, and therefore susceptible to reproduction here. And it is worth the trouble and expense. Law Books by the Million provides a readable, richly illustrated narrative of the processes West used to create and disseminate its products in the early years (that is, the late 19th and early 20th centuries) of those simultaneously democratizing and costly, mutually reinforcing revolutions in American law: the expansion of the
bar and the legal information explosion."
June 13, 2011
Dede Hill was recently promoted to Associate Lawyering Professor at Albany Law School. Along with the promotion, Dede was awarded a five-year presumptively renewable contract, i.e., clinical tenure. Her article entitled: Guest Worker Programs Are No Fix for Our Broken Immigration System: Evidence from the Northern Mariana Islands, was also recently accepted for publication by the New Mexico Law Review.
hat tip: Evelyn Tenenbaum
a little time for academics to reflect
Over on the website of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning, there's an article by Sophie Sparrow on why law professors might want to take a few moments at this time of year to reflect on their teaching. The article offers some tips on how best to go about that reflective process, too.
hat tip: Gerry Hess