September 10, 2011
Ten Years Ago Today . . .
Remembering a class discussion about 9/11
In my class on September 12, 2001, it didn’t seem right to plunge immediately into the scheduled subject matter. So I asked the students if they wanted to talk about the previous day’s events. One asked, “Did the attacks happen because the attackers were angry about the U.S. support of Israel?” A student who had been a soldier in the Middle East said, “That’s not the primary issue. Many are angry because of the U.S. presence in the Middle East, especially near the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.” Another said, “We ought to go into Afghanistan and send them back to the middle ages.” The response: “That’s already been pretty much accomplished by many years of war there.” Then the question arose: “Will our country treat the attacks as crimes, or as acts of war?” We spent some time discussing the pros and cons of each approach.
The government decided, of course, to treat the attacks as acts of war. Our soldier was called up for duty. Fortunately, he later returned and graduated.
As I reflect on our discussion ten years later, I remember learning from it. And in retrospect, the students’ comments look quite insightful.
September 8, 2011
Rational Responses to Plagiarism
Rob Jenkins has a nice piece in the Chronical of Higher Education about the pedagogical issues surrounding plagiarism enforcement. An excerpt:
"Either you can be a teacher or you can be the plagiarism police. I choose to be a teacher. As such, part of my job involves catching the occasional plagiarist. When that happens, I chalk one up for the good guys. Otherwise, I don't worry about it. I find that I'm much happier and more productive that way. True, some students may 'get away with' cheating, for the time being, but I believe they'll get their comeuppance eventually."
The article was written, at least in part, in light of the experience of Professor Ipeirotis (NYU Business) who blogged about his dissatisfaction as a teacher serving in the plagiarism police role. Still, I'm not sure about the cosmic-justice theory of plagiarism enforcement that Jenkins espouses, especially in legal education. Working to detect and report unethical future lawyers, if not a duty, would seem to be at least a moral or professional requirement in law teaching.
Good vocabulary is a basis for good writing
In a recent column in the Student Lawyer, Bryan Garner tells aspiring legal writers, “You need words at your disposal. Lots of them. Interesting words. Apt words.” Garner is not advising students to load their writing with long words. Quite the contrary: if they have good vocabularies, they will be able to see where they can replace an arcane word with an everyday equivalent.
Garner writes that a good way to start expanding vocabulary is to “consider it a mortal sin to read past a word you don’t know.” Note all unfamiliar words, look them up, and then use them within 48 hours.
The (New) Legal Writer
For those of you who don't already know the site, we recommend regular visits to the (new) legal writer. The blog is from Raymond Ward, an appellate lawyer in New Orleans who loves langauge and everything about clear communication in English. The (new) legal writer is a website that collects resources for lawyers and other writers. Have a look.
September 7, 2011
Google Ngram and Legalese
Google has introduced a new research tool into the mix. The Google NGram Viewer allows users to research the frequency with which a particular word appears in books during particular time periods. NGram Viewer creates a cool graph of the findings automatically. Just for grins, I searched for the term "legalese" in Google's book universe from 1800 to 2008:
Interestingly, usage of the word legalese peaked sometime right after the turn of the century. Since that time, its use has fallen off sharply. One way to interpret the results is that they represent nothing more than a coincidence and are meaningless. But perhaps, as some have suggested, we have begun to defeat legalese in a meaningful way. In either case, NGram Viewer is a fun tool for people who love words.
Legal Writing -- the journal
The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute (“Legal Writing”) is the peer-edited, scholarly publication of the Legal Writing Institute. The journal is seeking articles from other disciplines that extend the boundaries of legal writing, as well as those that seek to improve pedagogy and scholarship in the field of legal writing through interdisciplinary and empirical research.
These articles can involve a broad range of disciplines, including classical rhetoric, linguistics, composition, psychology, communication and ethics. They can also encompass a broad range of skills, including analysis, research, interpretation, drafting, storytelling, and related skills.
The journal publishes articles, research reports, empirical studies, book reviews, and critical commentary from persons interested in both the theory and the practice of legal writing, or writing issues that have application to the field of legal writing, the design of courses and curricula, and in teaching techniques for the classroom and law office. These articles should address a gap in existing literature and be based on theory and/or original research.
Manuscripts: Legal Writing welcomes the submission of unsolicited manuscripts. Send the manuscript to the Editor-in-Chief, Kristin Gerdy, as a Word attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send a copy of your article with all identifying information removed to facilitate our blind review process. Citations must comply with the ALWD Citation Manual (ISBN 0-7355-3640-6) and the journal will conform your footnotes if you follow a different system of citation.
Submissions for Volume 18 must be received by September 15, 2011.
hat tip: Kristin Gercy
Rejecting a Citation Example from the Bluebook
The current edition of the Bluebook uses the following example to illustrate Rule 1.6(c). If you have a current Bluebook nearby, you can find this example at the bottom of page 61:
Milnot Co. v. Richardson, 350 F. Supp. 221 (S.D. Ill. 1972) (construing Filled Milk Act § 1, 21 U.S.C. § 61 (2006)).
It's an odd example, and here's why. A case decided in 1972 is obviously not construing a federal statute from 2006. True, the text of the statute may be exactly the same as it was when the court looked at it 34 years ago, but it could be just as likely that the statute has since been amended (perhaps even as a legislative response to the court case that construed it).
Sooooooo . . . . .
Despite what the Bluebook says, I think I should tell my students to keep the original date of the statute when it was construed. In a separate sentence, they can tell their readers whether the statute has been amended or whether the language is the same.
September 5, 2011
More about fonts
A new book about type styles is out: Simon Garfield’s Just My Type. An NPR review touts the book as an “engaging history” about fonts, of which the book showcases more than 200, presenting stories about people behind them. Garfield himself does not advocate a single favorite but proposes different fonts for different uses. The book is set in Sabon, which Garfield finds “one of the most readable of all book fonts.” Alas, my word processing program does not offer Sabon, so when not on this blog, I’ll just have to stumble along with Century Schoolbook—or should I switch to a sans serif font?
Hat tip: Deborah L. Borman
September 4, 2011
Newsletter for the AALS Legal Writing Section
The latest issue of the newsletter for the Association of American Law Schools Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research is available here. Download AALS-LWRR 2011-1 Newsletter. It is 22 pages long and filled with information of interest to legal writing professors. The editor for this issue (and the next one for that matter) is Judy Rosenbaum of Northwestern University School of Law.
If you are planning on attending the AALS Annual Meeting in Washington DC in January, be sure to register early so that you can get a ticket for the section's field trip to the Law Library of Congress. If you click on the registration link at the AALS website, you can see how many tickets are still available. When I last checked there were only 94 tickets left. The event is expected to sell out.
Mark E. Wojcik, Chair, AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research