Friday, November 11, 2011
As student writing conferences begin to wrap up for the semester, several realizations about successful writing conferences are on my mind. This year I employed the traditional writing conference model by reading drafts in advance, providing comments to the student before the writing conference, and then meeting one-on-one to discuss the draft. While the debate about the efficacy of this traditional model of conferencing vs. live-conferencing is ongoing, this post is meant to address the traditional model and not that debate.
First, a successful conference in the traditional model requires a prepared student and a prepared instructor. Students who have not reviewed drafts or have not thought sufficiently about what they need from the conference will not get as much out of the process as those who have. As a result, pre-conference instructions about how to prepare are critical. Believe it or not, many of my first-year students made it out of undergrad without ever having discussed their writing with a single instructor. So the concept of a writing conference is foreign and scary to many of them. Some basic instructions about what to expect and how to prepare for it (e.g. read the draft and think of questions you have about how to improve it) go a long way toward a successful interaction.
Second, the conference needs to be interactive. It is easy, especially in the face of an unprepared student, to simply lecture about writing during the conference. But your student will tune you out as surely as if you were lecturing in a class of one hundred. Thus, it is critical to build a conference structure that allows for interaction. Guided questions about each section of a memo or brief can bring the student into the fold. But narrow questioning and agenda setting can also stifle interactivity. Kristen Murray and Christy DeSanctis posted an article several years ago on SSRN, The Art of the Writing Conference: Letting Students Set the Agenda Without Ceding Control, that addresses the balance between structure and interactivity.
Finally, students and professors must work to create a professional, positive, and collegial environment that allows for the effective exchange of information. From the professor’s end, maintaining appropriate positivity is critical. Many students have never received individual writing criticism and can be crushed by too heavy a hand. At the same time, professors must impart reality because failing to do so is the ultimate disservice to students. Likewise, students need to engage the session in a professional manner. Addressing professionalism in the writing conference is another great use of pre-conference instructions. This year, I found that several students were distracted by their own technology. Thus, even though I provide comments electronically, in future semesters I am going to require that students bring a printed copy of their draft to the conference to mark up by hand. Mousing around on a computer screen to look for a paragraph or comment is a poor way to use valuable conference time.
After all the writing conferences are finished, I always feel exhausted but convinced that one-on-one instruction is the most important part of the semester for writing students. And I always learn as much, or more, than they do.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Deborah Epstein Henry’s recent book Law and Reorder covers the difficulties of achieving a work-life balance. But one particular section of the book will be of special interest to legal writing professors: Henry's list of core competencies for lawyers. At the top of Henry's list, which she adopted from Peter Sloan’s book From Classes to Competencies, are the subjects that form the basis of our courses: written communication, oral communication, and research and analytical ability. This is just one more source supporting the importance of legal research and writing courses.
The Awards Committee of the Legal Writing Institute announced its call for nominations for the 2012 Golden Pen Award. Any member of LWI may nominate someone for the award. The LWI Committeee ask that you submit your nominations directly to Hether Macfarlane at hmacfarlane [at] pacific.edu on or before November 15, 2011. Here's more information about the award:
The Golden Pen Award recognizes those who make significant contributions to advance the cause of better legal writing. These contributions may take any form, such as promoting the use of clear language in public documents, improving the quality of legal writing instruction, advocating for better writing within the legal community, outstanding scholarship or journalism about legal writing, or exceptional writing in law practice. The award is normally given to someone who is not an active member of LWI, but active members are considered in exceptional circumstances.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
The Third Annual Empire State Legal Writing Conference will be held at the University at Buffalo Law School on Saturday, June 23, 2012. The organizers invite proposals for presentations on a broad range of topics related to legal writing and research. Proposals may be geared to either new or experienced teachers. Possible topics include practical suggestions for classroom teaching and written exercises, techniques for teaching analysis and research, effective methods for formative and summative assessment, issues relating to professionalism and ethics, and strategies for outcome-based assessment.
Proposals are welcome from both experienced presenters and those who have not presented before. Please contact a member of the Planning Committee if you would like their help developing your proposal or you would like to see sample proposals. Individual and panel presentations are both welcome, especially where panel members are from different schools.
Proposals should be one single-spaced page and include the following:
1. Presenter(s), title(s), and school affiliation(s);
2. Title of the proposed presentation;
3. A short description of the presentation and teaching method (lecture, simulation, small group exercises, etc.);
4. A two-sentence summary of the presentation for the program brochure;
5. An indication as to whether the presentation would benefit new or experienced instructors (or both);
6. The time needed: either 25 or 50 minutes;
7. Technology needs for your presentation;
8. Contact information for one presenter, including email address, mailing address, and phone number;
9. A statement as to whether you have previously presented at any national or regional conferences.
The deadline for submissions is Thursday, January 12, 2012. Please email proposals as a Word Document attachment to: Stephen Paskey, Conference Chair, University at Buffalo Law School, firstname.lastname@example.org, (716) 645-5044, with a copy to email@example.com.
hat tip: Stephen Paskey
Monday, November 7, 2011
Here's a reminder about the Legal Writing Institute one-day workshops at various locations around the country on Friday, December 2, 2011. Registration is now open. Here is a list of the host law schools:
- 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
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Loislaw recently sent out an announcement that it will become instead Loislaw Connect. The announcement says that "exciting changes are coming soon to Loislaw." Exciting? Really? I'm supposed to get excited? Is that really the word you guys want to use? Alright then. Exciting it is!
We'll I'm going to keep an open mind on whether it really is exciting. Let's hope so. I have heard rumblings about changes at Loislaw for more than a year, but nothing really specific yet other than there might be additional databases and a mobile application for research.
Let's hope that Loislaw's exciting changes will be something we can all marvel at next year at the LWI 2012 Conference. We are blessed (or should that be overwhelmed?) with so many research options today. When one company DOES come out with something new and exciting, it spurs the other ones into action as well. We all benefit from that, and hopefully our students (and their future clients) as well.
Veteran legal writing professor Maria Crist has been selected to become the new Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Dayton School of law. She will start her new position in January 2012. A hearty congratulations to Associate Dean Crist!
hat tip: Susan C. Wawrose