Saturday, February 12, 2011
Every time my legal writing students start to work on a research and writing project, I insist they return to two basic concepts that they worked on as undergraduates in freshman comp (or, in 10th grade English, if they had a good teacher): audience and purpose. After all, it's hard to know what to write about and how to write it if you don't know who you're writing to and why you're writing. I often point out that one of the challenges of legal writing is the multiple audiences who will be reading their writing, and as a class we'll discuss the reading goals of each possible audience for a particular document. But today as I was reading a post on Inside Straight, I realized there is one audience I've been neglecting to discuss with my students: in-house counsel. So in the future I'll be adding those readers, too, to the list of audiences my students need to be aware of. Oh, and if you happen to be an academic and you check out that post, read the comments and you'll remember why you chose the academy.
Friday, February 11, 2011
The effect of readability as measured by sentence and word length was recently studied by Professors Lance N. Long of Stetson (pictured at right) and William F. Christensen of Brigham Young University. In Does the Readability of Your Brief Affect Your Chance of Winning an Appeal? An Analysis of Readability in Appellate Briefs and Its Correlation with Success on Appeal, they report their study of 882 briefs filed in federal and state courts and conclude that readability does not have a statistically significant effect on case outcome. This may be partly due to another of their findings, that there was not much difference in the readability of the briefs they studied. The article includes other interesting findings and ends with helpful suggestions for brief writers.
Formatting for readability is the topic of Best Dressed Briefs—Why Appearance Matters, by Professor Susan Duncan of the University of Louisville. This bar journal piece discusses the effect of such characteristics as typeface, white space, and underlining, and notes that courts can be “passionate about how the brief looks.”
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
A federal judge provides helpful suggestions about legal writing in a recent California Bar Journal article titled Legal Writing: A Contract between the Reader and the Writer. Judge Andrew Guilford advises lawyers to imagine they’re writing to an “unsophisticated person sitting at the breakfast table.” This tactic should remind them to aim for simplicity and cogency and to incorporate themes and transitions in their writing. The judge also suggests avoiding gender-biased language, which might be offensive to some readers.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
I received an email message that said "Please see the attached invitation for futher information." But there was no attachment.
A few minutes later I received a follow-up email that said: "Sorry this email has the attached invitation."
Of course, that should be something like this: "Sorry. This email has the attached invitation."
The original follow-up message is so funny that I used it in class to show the importance of punctuation. Please feel free to do the same, and to use our "comment" function here on the blog to add your own examples of sentences with punctuation problems.
In a beautiful use of the extended metaphor, Professor Kim Chanbonpin, at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, has written an article on why "Legal Writing is (Not) a Mixtape: Plagiarism and Hip Hop Ethics."
"My goals for this project are two-fold. First, as a law professor, I want to ameliorate the problem of plagiarism that I have seen growing worse each year. Second, as a scholar, I would like to contribute to the growing body of literature on hip hop and the law. This Article marks the beginning of my attempt to theorize a hip hop ethics and develop its application to the teaching, the academic study, and perhaps eventually, the reform of the law."
Monday, February 7, 2011
For over a decade, the Burton Awards for Legal Achievement have recognized excellent legal writing done by lawyers and law students.
For the past seven years, the Burton Awards have included an award for Outstanding Contributions to Legal Writing Education. The award is given annually to an individual or group that has made an outstanding contribution to the education of lawyers in the field of legal analysis, research, and writing, whether through teaching, program design, program support, innovative thinking, or writing. The contributions considered may be significant single achievements or the accumulated achievements of a career.
Nominations should describe the contributions of the nominee and should be forwarded to one of the members of the selection committee by e-mail: Anne Kringel, firstname.lastname@example.org, Grace Tonner, email@example.com, or Nancy Schultz, firstname.lastname@example.org. Nominations are due this Friday, February 11, 2011.
hat tip: Anne Kringel
Professor Judith Stinson of Arizona State University has written a thorough and lucid explanation of the meaning of “dicta” in an article titled “Why Dicta Becomes Holding and Why It Matters.” Her article demonstrates that lawyers and even courts often misuse the term, leading to misconceptions about what is controlling law. The piece contains enlightening analysis and suggestions for addressing the problem.
Hat tip: Terri LeClercq