Saturday, February 12, 2011

another audience for legal writing

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. 


February 12, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Two new articles on the readability of briefs

The effect of readability as measured by sentence and word length was recently studied by Professors Long 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.                          

Duncan 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.”



February 11, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How Law Profs' Preoccupation with 'Impractical Scholarship' Obstructs Legal Education Reform

Ralph Brill tipped us off to an interesting article on the Tax Law Prof Blog on the connections between traditional "impractical" academic scholarship and the need for skills education in law school.  Click here to read more.


February 9, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A federal judge’s suggestions about legal writing

Judge-Guilford 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 WriterJudge 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. 


February 9, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Another example on the importance of punctuation . . . .

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.


February 8, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Is legal writing a mixtape?

Kim_chanbonpin 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."

Reading a title like that, you have to be curious as to how it plays out (no pun intended).  Here's her summary:
"In this Article, I draw on hip hop music and culture as an access point to teach first-year law students about the academic and professional pitfalls of plagiarism. Hip hop provides a good model for comparison because most of our entering students are immersed in a popular culture that is saturated with references to hip hop. As a point of reference for incoming law students, hip hop possesses a currency as something real, experienced, and relatable even if an individual student has alternative musical tastes. Furthermore, although attempting direct analogies would be absurd, significant parallels exist between the cultures of U.S. legal writing and hip hop. Chief among these, and the central focus of this Article, is the reliance of both genres on an archive of knowledge, borrowing from which authors or artists build credibility and authority. Whether it is from case law or musical recordings, the necessary dependence on a vast but finite store of information means that the past work of others will be frequently incorporated into new work. The ethical and professional danger inherent in this type of production is that one who borrows too freely from the past may be merely copying instead of interpreting. In the academic world, this is plagiarism. Members of the hip hop community call this "biting." In neither culture is this mode of production celebrated.

"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."

February 8, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Burton Award nominations due Friday

Logo 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,, Grace Tonner,, or Nancy Schultz, nschultz@chapman.eduNominations are due this Friday, February 11, 2011.

hat tip: Anne Kringel


February 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The meaning of "dicta"

Stinson 3 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


February 7, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)