Saturday, December 31, 2011

Nominees for AALS Legal Writing Section Officers and Executive Committee

AALS logoThe nominating committee of the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research has announced the following slate of candidates to be voted on next Thursday at the Section's Business Meeting during the AALS Annual Meeting.  The nominees are:

Nominations for the Executive Committee- January 2012

Chair:               Kathleen Elliott Vinson (Suffolk)

Past-Chair:       Mark E. Wojcik (The John Marshall Law School--Chicago)

Chair-Elect:      Judy Rosenbaum (Northwestern)

Secretary:         Kimberly Y.W. Holst (Arizona State)

Additional Members of the Executive Committee:

  • Jennifer Murphy Romig (Emory University)
  • Jo Ellen D. Lewis (Washington University School of Law- St. Louis
  • Mary Bowman (Seattle)

Congratulations to the nominees.  If you're attending the AALS meeting next week, be sure to come and vote at the Section Business Meeting.  Here's a link to the Legal Writing Dance Card.

Mark E. Wojcik, 2011-12 Section Chair, AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research

December 31, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Indispensability of Editing When Constructing Voice

Pulitzer Prize winning author and creative writing professor Richard Rhodes has a great piece in the Wall Street Journal exploring the distinction between self-talk and the various constructs of voice.  He argues that quality editing is essential to the process of converting disorganized self-talk into a coherent, clear written voice.  Some highlights:

When I'm teaching students, then, I focus first on voice. It's never occurred to most of them that they use a constructed voice when they write. Because they're transcribing their self-talk more or less, they think that they're writing in their "own" voice.

I point out that they use different voices for different forms of writing, from school papers to emails home to cellphone texts. I tell them that the voice of a school paper is an invented voice, as much as the voice of the narrator in a novel.

The work of writing, I tell them, isn't simply copying down their self-talk. If they think so, I say, try transcribing a conversation and see how much is redundant or extraneous.

No, the work of writing is deliberately choosing a voice, a fictional construct, in which to argue or narrate, and then, through draft after successive draft, composing and editing a translation of their self-talk into prose that others can read and understand.

Teaching proper voice to first year law students is difficult because the voice they need to construct must be tailored to reach an audience that they are still struggling to understand -- judges and other attorneys.  This reality makes teaching effective writing process imperative.  At a certain point, it clicks for students, sometimes in the first year of law school and sometimes during the first several years of practice. When it does, students who remember sound writing process can use it to reach the intended audience.  Sound revision and editing skills are undoubtedly essential in doing so.


December 30, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Your "Legal Writing Dance Card" for the AALS Meeting

AALS logoThe Association of American Law Schools holds its annual meeting from January 4-8, 2012 in Washington, D.C.  This year's meeting is filled with activities for legal writing faculty and friends.  Here is your official "Legal Writing Dance Card" for the AALS meeting.  Print out this "dance card" and bring it with you to Washington.  You should also print out a copy of the Fall Issue of the AALS Section Newsletter.  Click here to do that.  Download AALS-LWRR 2011-2 Newsletter

Members of the Legal Writing Section's Welcoming Committee will be scattered around and about at the various annual meeting events (field trip, sessions, and receptions).  If you are new to the section or just looking for someone to talk to, feel free to strike up or join a conversation with a member of the welcoming committee.  They will be wearing stickers on their name tags so that you may more easily identify them as members of the welcoming committee.  The welcoming committee is chaired by Kimberly Y.W. Holst Wojcik, Mark(Arizona State University) and includes Susan Sockwell Bendlin (Barry University), Lurene Contento (The John Marshall Law School--Chicago), Jennifer Lear (Widener), Jo Ellen Lewis (Washington University St. Louis), Jane Scott (St. John's University), and Grace Wigal (West Virginia).

Mark E. Wojcik, Chair, AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research


Thursday, January 5, 2012

9:15 a.m. -- Field Trip to the Law Library of Congress.  If you are one of the lucky 110 ticket holders for the section's first field trip, you should gather at the 24th Street entrance of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel to grab a bus for the Law Library of Congress.  Please be early so that we can get everyone on board and leave on time.  You'll also see members of the section's welcoming committee.  (We have not yet selected any official bus songs for the trip.)  If you purchased a ticket and are no longer going, please let me (MARK WOJCIK) know because there are a whole bunch of people waiting to get a ticket for this.  We have some pretty great stuff planned for this trip and I know you'll have a great time. We will have special welcomes followed by substantive presentations on the magic of the Law Library of Congress. 

BrodyRayJust before lunch we will present the section awards to Susan Brody (pictured at left) and Mary Barnard Ray (pictured at right).  The awards will be presented by the legal writing comedy team of Richard Neumann and Ralph Brill, who are themselves previous award winners (and who served as members of this year's awards committee.  (Anne Enquist of Seattle and Helene Shapo of Northwestern also served on the Section Awards Committee, which was chaired this year by Ardath Hamann).  Hey, please bring your camera to take pictures of the award presentations (as well as our first field trip at the Law Library of Congress!). 

Law Library of CongressAfter lunch we have oh-so-special surprises for you during the afternoon sessions at the Law Library.  We will be in small groups and you'll have a chance to choose from the following activities (and you'll be able to do a couple of these):

  • Training session on "How to Teach THOMAS."  If you will attend this breakout session, you are encouraged (but not required) to bring a laptop.  This is a practical session that will help you teach often overlooked resources for federal legal research.
  • Comparative Legal Research Tips for the European Union, Africa, and Russia
  • Comparative Legal Research Tips for China, Germany, and Mexico
  • Tour of the Law Library Stacks (very cool)
  • Law Library Rare Book Presentation (more cool stuff)
  • Tour of the Thomas Jefferson Building
  • Tour of the Asian Division Reading Room
  • Tour of the Manuscript Division

We will leave the Law Library at 4:30 p.m. and head back to the hotel (and probably arrive at the hotel sometime between 5:00 and 5:15 p.m. depending on traffic).  The members of the section's Law Library Field Trip Committee are Juli Campagna (Hofstra), Cara Cunningham (Detroit-Mercy), Christy DeSanctis (George Washington), Eric Easton (Baltimore), Laurie Lewis (Catholic), and Grace Wigal (West Virginia).  

6:30 p.m. -- Legal Writing Section Business Meeting.  A great place to meet legal writing friends and to see how you can get involved in the work of the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research.  Our meeting is in Park Tower Suite 8223, Lobby Level, Washington Marriot Wardman Park Hotel.  We'll elect new officers and executive committee members, discuss the section committees, and explore program ideas for the 2013 AALS meeting in New Orleans.  If you have a program idea for next year, bring it with you to this meeting! 

After the section business meeting, visit the law school receptions before heading to the next event . . .

Rowe, Suzanne8:00 to 10:00 p.m. -- ALWD/LWI Blackwell Award Presentation and Reception. The Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) and the Legal Writing Institute (LWI) will honor Professor Suzanne E. Rowe of the University of Oregon School of Law as the winner of the 2012 Thomas F. Blackwell Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Legal Writing.  The reception will take place in the Delaware Suite A, Lobby Level, of the Marriott Park Wardman Hotel.  It's open to everyone, so please stop by (and bring your dean).  The event is a "must attend" for legal writing professors and supporters of legal writing.  Tom McDonnell recommends having a look at this issue of the AALS newsletter from 2002.  Start at page 10 of that newsletter for some lovely memories of a wonderful man whose memory we will honor with the award.


Friday, January 6, 2012

8:30 to 10:15 a.m.  Our friends at the AALS Pro Bono Sectionhold a Friday morning program on what we hope we are teaching (and what our students are learning) through pro bono and service learning programs. Professor Sandy Ogilvy, Catholic Law School, will discuss basic skills that students learn from such experiences. Sue Schechterfrom Berkeley will describing service learning and pro bono programs as a means of teaching leadership skills. Sarah Ricks and Eve Klothen, both of Rutgers-Camden, will present ways to pair students with real legal research needs in the public interest community: as a pro bono program, as a hybrid clinical/writing course, and as a student-run program.  The Pro Bono Section will hold its Business Meeting at the conclusion of the program. 

9:45 a.m. (or thereabouts).  The AALS Legal Writing Section Welcoming Committee will meet up for an informal coffee around 9:45 (before the formal section session begins at 10:30 a.m.  They plan on meeting at the coffee shop in the hotel.  Join them for some great conversation before you head off to the next session, which is . . . .

10:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.  AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research Program in the Marriott Hotel Lobby Level, Delaware Suite A.  Because everyone cannot make it on the Thursday library tour, we'll begin the Friday program by briefly recognizing our section award winners Susan Brody and Mary Bernard Ray.  Our section program will follow moderated by me and VinsonSection Chair Elect Kathleen Elliott Vinson from Suffolk University (pictured at right).  The program begins with a joint presentation by Mary Bowman, Lisa Brodoff, and Sara Rankin, all of Seattle University School of Law, on "The Integrated Future of Legal Writing and Clinical Education."  They'll be followed by the charming and talented Ruth Anne Robbins of Rutgers-Camden, former president of the Legal Writing Institute, who will present "Extreme Makeover: Moot Court Edition."  She'll be followed by presentations from secret world traveler Tracy Bach of Vermont Law School (speaking on "Problem-Based Service Learning in a Capstone Predictive Writing Project") and the delightful Grace Calabrese Tonner of UC Irvine (speaking on "Live Client Intake Interviews for First-Year Students").

Over lunch, the section's diversity committee meets for an informal lunch.  This is an unofficial event of course, as there is the official AALS lunch during this hour.  So if you're not going to that, contact Professor Kim Chanbonpin at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago for details about this event.  Other members of the Diversity Committee include Dionne Anthon (Widener), David Austin (California Western School of Law), Stacy Blasko (Capital), Cara Cunningham (Detroit Mercy), Rosa Kim (Suffolk), Lisa Mazzie (Marquette), Teri McMurtry-Chubb (LaVerne), Amanda Smith (Widener), and Melissa Woods (Charlotte).

From 4:00 to 5:45 p.m. there is a program on "Law as a Discourse Community," co-sponsored by the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research and the AALS Section of Law and Interpretation.  It will be in the Wilson C Room, Mezzanine Level, Marriott Hotel.  The moderator is David Ritchie (Mercer) and the speakers are David Caudill (Villanova), Peter Goodrich (Cardozo), Angela Onwuachi-Willig (Iowa), and Teresa Godwin Phelps (American).


Saturday, January 7, 2012


From 3:30 to 5:15 p.m., the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Researchco-sponsors a two-part panel with the AALS Section on Graduate Programs for Non-U.S. Lawyers.  The panel topic is "Teaching Legal Writing and Reasoning to Non-U.S. Lawyers."  The first part, on China, is moderated by Mark Schulman (Pace) and features Howard Bromberg (Michigan), Anne Burr (Wayne State), and the dyanamic Robin Nilon (Temple).  The second part is on teaching LL.M. candidates from civil law systems.  The moderator is Khary Hornsby (Minnesota) and features the incredible team of Teresa Brostoff, Nancy Burkoff, and Ann Sinsheimer (all of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law) and the fabulous Michael Murray (Valparaiso).


Sunday, January 8, 2012


The Sunday Morning Superstars present three hours of practical exercises and teaching tips for legal writing professors.  Judy Rosenbaum and Mark Wojcik (hey, that's me!) will serve as moderators.  The speakers are:

Part 1:  Teaching Digital-Age Students 

  1. Kristen Konrad Robbins-Tiscione, Georgetown University Law Center:  “The Impact of Digital Media on Current Law Practice"
  2. Sarah J. Morath, University of Akron, C. Blake McDowell Law Center: "The Mini Email Memo"
  3. Elena Margolis, Temple University, James E. Beasley School of Law, and Kristen E. Murray, Temple University, James E. Beasley School of Law:  "Information Literacy"
  4. Lisa A. Penland, Drake University Law School and Melissa H. Weresh, Drake University Law School:  “Teaching Professionalism in Electronic Communication” 

Part 2:  Student Assessment Tools

  1. Carrie Sperling, Arizona State University, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law:  “Feedback is not a One-Way Street: Preparing Students to Embrace Your  
  2. Lisa Black, California Western School of Law:  “Looking Backward, Looking Forward: Turning Students into Life Long Learners."
  3. Hilary Stirman Reed, Pepperdine University School of Law and Mireille Butler, Pepperdine University School of Law:  “Clearing the Bar: Methods and Benefits of Teaching the Bar Exam Performance Test” 
  4. Jenean M. Taranto, Albany Law School and Rosemary Queenan, Albany Law School:  “Meeting with the Partner: Learning to Organize and Draft Meaningful Legal Arguments in the Objective Memo Through Oral Discussion.” 

Part 3:  Fun and Useful Exercises

  1. Amy R. Stein, Hofstra University School of Law: “All the News That Fits.”
  2. Louis J. Sirico, Jr., Villanova University School of Law: "Writing a Back Story to a Case."
  3. Jodi S. Balsam, New York University School of Law:  “Material Facts Game: Teaching Case Synthesis and the Primacy of Facts”       
  4. Heidi Brown, New York Law School:  “Interpreting Statutes with Real-Life Cases”

The AALS Section Program Committee Chair was Lurene Contento (The John Marshall Law School—Chicago).  Serving on that committee were Charles Calleros (Arizona State University), Betsy Lenhart (Cincinnati), Deborah McGregor (Indiana-Indianapolis), Ellie Margolis (Temple), Katy Mercer (Case Western), Samantha Moppett (Suffolk), and Mimi Samuel (Seattle).

The AALS Executive Committee consisted of the Section Chair (Mark Wojcik, The John Marshall Law School-Chicago), Section Chair-Elect Kathleen Vinson (Suffolk), Section Secretary Judy Rosenbaum (Northwestern), and immediate past section chair Martha Pagliari (DePaul), as well as Charles Calleros (Arizona State University), the amazing Karin Mika (Cleveland-Marshall), Craig Smith (University of North Carolina), Jo Ellen Lewis (Washington University in St. Louis), Christie DeSanctis (George Washington University), Sarah Ricks (Rutgers-Camden), and Jane Scott (St. John's University School of Law).

Mark E. Wojcik, Section Chair, AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research. 

December 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Reason and passion in legal writing

Abrams-dProfessor Douglas Abrams recently published a short Precedent article discussing reason and passion in legal writing. The piece begins by focusing on West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, which Judge Richard Posner has identified as perhaps “the most eloquent majority opinion in the history of the Supreme Court.”  Abrams explains how, in Barnette, Justice Robert Jackson employed both reason and passion to defend Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right not to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. Abrams ties Jackson’s rhetorical approach to the ancient Greeks, the founders of the United States, and more recent writers, including former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and President Barack Obama.


December 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gobbledygook Has Gotta Go

In 1966, an employee of the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, writing under the name "Mr. Gobble D. Gook, Esq.," authored a book called "Gobbledygook Has Gotta Go."  It was published and sold by the U.S. Government Printing Office. 

Although it was written 45 years ago, it has some gems that still apply today for government writers.  For example, "Perhaps many of us write technical jargon because of a feeling of inferiority.  We know we can't write simple, straight-forward English without a lot of effort, so we automatically fall back on our technical jaron where we feel safest; this kind of writing is easiest for us to do."


December 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

another analogy for teaching

Legal writing professors use a lot of analogies to help our students hone their skills. For example, sometimes a student who is too verbose on one paper overcorrects and produces choppy prose on the next paper. When they express frustration, I tell them it's like riding a bicycle. The first time you take off the training wheels, you might fall to the right. So then you overcompensate and fall to the left. But eventually you find your balance. Simple analogies like this one seem to help students a lot more than reassuring them that in time they'll find their "voice" as a legal writer; few students really know what that means.

SgeorgeSo today I was happily surprised to discover a new analogy to use in class, as I was perusing the winter 2011-2012 edition of the newsletter of the AALS Section on Teaching Methods. The newsletter includes some short essays with teaching tips, all potentially helpful for legal writing professors. The analogy that caught my eye was in Shailini George's essay on Editing: More than Just Icing on the Cake. She compares a student's draft paper to a cake. The cake and the paper may be very good, but "readers might not even want to taste their cake if it's not iced perfectly." After all, a cake with a sloppy icing job can be pretty uninviting. But a beautifully iced cake beckons you to dig in. Prose is much the same. A few sloppy mechanical errors catch the eye, and it's not very inviting. But both a cake and prose benefit from having the time to cool off, and only then having the finishing touches put on. Shailini's essay includes good advice on to use the analogy. Now I'm going to have to bake some cakes and take some photos for new PowerPoint slides.


December 27, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Plain Writing Act of 2010

Do you remember the Plain Writing Act of 2010?  Predident Obama signed the Plain Writing Act on October 13, 2010. The law requires federal agencies to use "clear Government communication that the public can understand and use."  Here's a website with links to that statute, some executive orders implementing it, and a model plain language web page.


December 27, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 26, 2011


ImagesCAQ5MFNS"Good writing is like a windowpane."

~ George Orwell






December 26, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)