November 4, 2011
I'm just sayin'...
Thank you to Hillary Burgess, who has written about "Why Skills Ain't Easy: The Deceptive Difficulty Discovered in the Cognitive Taxonomy of Legal Learning Objectives", in the spring 2012 issue of The Law Teacher.
Here is how she summarizes her work:
"When looking at many courses that are dubbed 'skills' courses, many law professors have the initial reaction that they are 'easier' than doctrinal courses. In my forthcoming article, The Taxonomy of Legal Learning Objectives and Outcome Measurements, I demonstrate that skills are both more difficult to teach and more difficult to learn than concepts. Concepts include doctrine, policy, theory, and facts.
"Many law professors might be reluctant to accept this hierarchy of difficulty. However, there is general consensus across the most widely accepted educational taxonomies that skills are harder to learn and harder to teach than concepts. So, the question becomes, why do law school 'skills' courses appear easier to teach and learn than courses that teach doctrine and theory?
"This article explains why skills courses appear to be easier, but aren't. The article also discusses the factors that force professors who teach skills to create skills learning objectives that are sometimes entry-level skills."
November 3, 2011
Who succeeds in legal writing courses?
Professor Karin Mika of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law has uploaded an informative article about the backgrounds of legal writing students. Based on data she collected from her students during eighteen years of teaching, she looked at the relationship between various factors and grades in legal writing. Her analysis showed a correlation between the students’ legal writing grades and their law school grades. But there was no clear correlation between particular undergraduate majors and success in legal writing, with one exception: an undergraduate economics major was a valid predictor of success. Mika also looked into the effects of other factors such as age and graduation from public versus private colleges. Click here for more details about her conclusions.
November 2, 2011
LWI One-Day Workshops - Registration Now Open!
The Legal Writing Institute will hold one-day workshops at various locations around the country on Friday, December 2, 2011. Registration is now open. Here is a list of the law schools confirmed to host:
- California: Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
- Florida: University of Miami
- Georgia: Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School
- Illinois: Chicago-Kent College of Law
- Massachusetts: Northeastern University School of Law, Boston
- Minnesota: Hamline University School of Law
- Missouri: University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
- New York: Brooklyn Law School
- Ohio: The Ohio State University
- North Carolina: Campbell University Wiggins School of Law, Raleigh
- Pennsylvania: Temple University Beasley School of Law, Philadelphia
- Tennessee: University of Memphis Humphreys School of Law
- Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia: George Mason University School of Law, Arlington, Virginia
Passing the giggle test
Earlier on this blog, I reported that the Second Circuit had applied a “straight face test” when evaluating an argument. Jim McElhaney's article in the November ABA Journal offers a similar “giggle test.” McElhaney's fictional Judge Wallop criticizes new lawyers as not having “the common sense to know when an argument is a loser.” Under Wallop’s giggle test, a lawyer should submit only arguments that can be made “with a straight face”—that is, arguments that are “factually and emotionally plausible.” That’s good advice for legal writing students too.
November 1, 2011
are legal writing professors likeable?
"Does the appearance of an instructor and the format of the class influence student grades and learning? We tested this question with 861 undergraduate students who completed an online questionnaire rating their instructors. Students were equally spread across class year and were from different majors. We used multiple regression analyses and found that likable, good-looking, well-dressed, and approachable teachers had students who said they learned more, had higher grades, and liked the class better."
Read more here.
hat tip: Stephanie West Allen
October 31, 2011
Not-So-Spooky Advice from Stephen King
Over at The Faculty Lounge, a timely post for Halloween recognizes the writing wisdom of one of America's creepiest writers, Stephen King. This gave me the idea to compile some of the wisdom from his book on writing, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, as fright night draws to a close.
Thoughts on word choice:
One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you're maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed. Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you'll never use 'emolument' when you mean 'tip'...
Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.
Writing as an earnest craft:
You must not come lightly to the blank page.
Even if you are not working on the Great American Horror Novel, King's advice hits the mark. Hopefully whatever you and your students are writing this fall is more of a treat than a trick.
Justice Scalia's style
A recent short article focuses on Justice Antonin Scalia’s rhetorical skills. Jeffrey Shaman of DePaul University College of Law describes Scalia as “one helluva stylist,” whose work is “distinguished by a flair for being strikingly sharp and clever.” Shaman recounts Scalia's use of pointed language to criticize other justices—for example, when he called one of Justice Kennedy’s opinions “tutti-frutti.” And Shaman points out that despite Scalia's opposition to citing foreign law, the Justice does use foreign phrases. He may twist one for effect, as when he morphed "Pax Romana" into “Pax Roeana” to describe the effect of a decision on abortion.