Thursday, May 31, 2012
The LWI conference location in Palm Desert is beautiful, and I've already gotten lots of great ideas. At right is Ken Chestek, who argued that good legal analysis is only half of what it takes to be a good lawyer. Pathos--engaging the audience's emotions--is the other half, he said. He presented ways to cover pathos in our courses.
More than 500 attendees are enjoying the biennial conference of the Legal Writing Institute. We hope to bring you some photos and news of the conference . . . but we've been too busy here so far to post anything! It's been another great LWI event.
If you're attending the conference and have pictures or news to share, we welcome your contributions too.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
John Prebble and Julia Caldwell, both at Victoria University of Wellington, have written an article on "Zotero - A Manual for Electronic Legal Referencing". If you're like me, you might not have heard of Zotero yet. Here's how they explain it in their abstract:
"This manual explains how to operate Zotero.
"Zotero is a free, open-source referencing tool that operates by “enter once, use many." It captures references by one-click acquisition from databases of legal materials that cooperate with it. Users enter other references manually, with similar effort to typing a footnote.
"Zotero’s chief strength is multi-style flexibility. Authors build libraries of references that are pasted into scholarly work with one click; authors can choose between legal referencing styles, with Zotero automatically formatting references according to the chosen style. Ability to format seamlessly across a potentially unlimited number of styles distinguishes Zotero from competing referencing tools. Zotero afficionados regularly add more styles.
"The present manual is thought to be the only full manual for non-technical users of Zotero. It employs the New Zealand referencing style for examples, but its principles are the same for all styles."
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Scribes -- The American Society of Legal Writers -- will hold its annual luncheon and awards ceremony in Chicago on Friday, August 3, 2012. The event will be held at the Union League Club at the start of the annual meeting of the American Bar Association. Awards to be presented include the lifetime achievement award, the Scribes book award, and others.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
The Second Draft was the newsletter of the Legal Writing Institute. It recently got a production upgrade, and now it's a magazine. But despite that change, it continues to share news of your promotions, publications, presentations, and noteworthy program developments of your school's legal writing program. They will appear in the "Program News and Accomplishments" section in the upcoming issue of The Second Draft, the Official Magazine of the Legal Writing Institute.
Submit your news before July 1, 2012. Send it in an email to email@example.com. And have the subject line read "Program News and Accomplishments."
Hat tip to Harris Freeman and The Second Draft Editorial Board
We love the (new) legal writer. It's a great blog, with lots of useful information for legal writers and those who teach them. Its latest post shares with us a website that helps track down the origins of phrases. Click here to have a quick look. Really, that phrase is a Klingon proverb?
Hat tip to Raymond Ward, the appellate lawyer in New Orleans who runs the (new) legal writer blog.
Friday, May 25, 2012
If you like to give your students tips about outlining, check this short article by Melissa Henke of the University of Kentucky. She presents good reasons to outline before writing a document and offers some ideas about the outlining process. Henke also gives this helpful suggestion: write an “after-the-fact outline” as an effective way to check a document’s structure and logic.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
The Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law expects to hire at least one legal writing professor next year. If you are attending the LWI conference next week, look for Cynthia Adams, Jim Dimitri, Allison Martin, Debby McGregor, or Joel Schumm. They can answer your questions about the position.
Hat tip to Joan Ruhtenberg
Phillip Sparkes of Northern Kentucky University has published an informative piece on English word order. As an example, he presents this confusing sentence “Many linguists, that modern languages from a common ancestor came, accept.” A speaker of contemporary English can barely understand that sentence because its words are out of the expected order. Sparkes’s article may help students understand why some sentences are awkward. It also contains a helpful discussion of the passive voice, explaining why it is hard to understand and when it may be appropriate.
Last Friday, I had the opportunity to observe closing arguments in a local capital murder trial. I was impressed with the advocacy and was moved by the arguments I heard. One disturbing aspect of the process, however, was the reading of the jury charge. The judge read the charge out loud to jurors who dutifully took notes and flipped through the document as he read. I was struck by how poorly it was written. This wasn't the fault of the judge or lawyers in the case because the charge was taken, in large part, from pattern instructions.
The instructions were rife with style problems and legalese. The definitions were arcane and incomprehensible to jurors without legal training. As a result, little of the argument turned on the jury charge. This was a wise move by the lawyers in the case -- the poorly written charge would never lead the jurors to clarity or truth. But an unfortunate byproduct of the lawyers being forced into this path was the subjugation of law to gut instinct, reason to passion. All of this in one of the most solemn settings our justice system faces: a man on trial for his life (in this case life without parole) for taking the life of another.
We can do better. Plain English in jury instructions should be a priority for those in the legal writing community. In 1998, Professors Steele and Thornberg published an article, Jury Instructions: A Persistent Failure to Communicate. The article "report[ed] on an empirical study of juror comprehension of pattern jury instructions. It demonstrated that comprehension of the original instructions was poor, but that rewriting significantly improved their ability to understand and explain the meaning of the instructions." Nearly fifteen years have passed since this study was dissemenated. Some efforts have been made in the area, but confusing instructions persist. If it is true that rewriting jury instructions in plain English can improve juror comprehension, then we owe it to our clients and communities to do so.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
When you finish grading final papers, calculating course grades, and straightening up your office, one good way to reflect on the past teaching year would be to read Professor Melissa Marlow’s recently published article, Law Faculties: Moving beyond Operating as Independent Contractors to Form Communities of Teachers, 38 Ohio Northern U. L. Rev. 243-255 (2011). Professor Marlow challenges us, ever so gently, to think about how law professors could function more collaboratively as teachers, to the benefit of our students and the clients they will someday serve. Many of her suggestions are easy to implement and just require a few moments to consider and commit to as you think about how you might approach your courses differently next semester. Those of you who will be at the LWI conference in California can join Professor Marlow in a discussion of this topic, on Friday, June 1, at 9:00 a.m.
For an example of a small but mighty word, take a look at “the” in the federal campaign finance law. Steven Friedland of Elon University explained its importance when he discussed John Edwards’ campaign finance trial on Diane Rehm’s radio show today. Friedland said the trial’s outcome will turn on the meaning of “the” in the statutory definition of an “expenditure” as a donation “for the purpose of influencing any election for federal office.” Bunny Mellon's gift of $725,000 to help hide Edwards' mistress was arguably for personal purposes, but it may also have been intended to influence the election. The question is whether a donation given for both personal and political purposes falls within the meaning of “for THE purpose.”
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
... to the Milani Award Competition. You can find all of the details here. The deadline is June 4th, only a couple of weeks away, and you know how even good students can get busy with their summer jobs and forget that last paper they wrote for your course. So tell them now!
Mercer's law school and the ABA host this annual writing competition in honor of the late Adam Milani, who was an excellent legal writing professor and great colleague. It is one of the few student competitions for briefs, not academic papers. And the prizes are as high as $1,000.
The briefs can be on any of these topics:
-the Civil Rights Act of 1964
-Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
-the Age Discrimination in Employment Act
-the Family and Medical Leave Actr
-a state statute or municipal ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
hat tip: Sue Painter-Thorne
Ruth Anne Robbins was selected by the graduating students at Rutgers law school in Camden (yes, still Rutgers, as she would say) as Rutgers' Lawyering Professor of the Year. It's wonderful that the school has an award that recognizes the extra miles good lawyering professors go. And it's wonderful that Ruth Anne's good work has been recognized. Congratulations!
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
If you are a member of Scribes and you or someone you know would like to be nominated to fill an opening on the board, you only have until May 31st to get your nomination in. The voting will take place at the annual membership luncheon, at noon on Friday, August 3, at the Union League Club of Chicago. To nominate someone, send the nominee’s name and contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org, again by Thursday, May 31, 2012.
hat tip: Norman Plate, Scribes Executive Director
Monday, May 14, 2012
The Spring 2012 Newsletter for the Association of American Law Schools Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research is available by clicking here. Download AALS-LWRR Spring 2012
Friday, May 11, 2012
New York lawyer Robert E. Crotty recently published Fifty Writing Tips for Commercial Lawyers in the Practical Lawyer. I particularly like his suggestions to write with basic reference books at hand, do outside reading from serious, not “slush,” books, and allow enough time to rewrite. Altogether, Crotty’s list is a good compendium of basic advice about legal writing.
Monday, May 7, 2012
In a move truly reminiscent of first-year legal writing classes, it looks like a grown-up lawyer decided to manipulate line spacing to fall under a court-ordered page limit. After being called out, it looks like he is relying on a literal interpretation of the term "double spaced." Check out the Wall Street Journal Law Blog's coverage here:
Lawyers, as good advocates, try to cram as many arguments as possible in their legal briefs, particularly when judges impose limits on how much they can say.
However, one side in a trademark dispute in Manhattan federal court involving The Gap Inc. says their adversary went a little too far.
Patterson Belknap lawyers said [the other side] used a computer program to determine that the line spacing on Fross Zelnick’s reply brief was “1.75″ instead of double spaced.
Fross Zelnick replied, “As is our usual practice, the brief employs 12 point Times New Roman font formatted in Microsoft Word with the line spacing set at exactly 24 points, i.e., double the line height.”
The judge granted Patterson Belknap’s request to file a 30-page, instead of 25-page, brief on Thursday.
Each December, the Legal Writing Institute (LWI) hosts a one-day workshop at various locations around the country. These are usually on the first Friday in December, but individual workshops may be held at other times (including the week before or the week after that first Friday).
The workshops are held around the country to allow greater participation from legal writing professors (including adjunct professors, law librarians, and persons interested in entering the field of legal writing). The sessions are highly interactive, informative, and worthwhile. It seems that almost everyone who has attended one of these workshops in the past has come away with something new and useful.
The overall focus of the workshops changes slightly each year and each individual panel may be vastly different from one location to the next. These workshops give presentation opportunities to many people and allow a great number of persons to attend who might otherwise not have an opportunity to do so. Some locations may have a special focus or event connected with the workshop.
This year, 27 law schools volunteered to host LWI Workshops in December 2012. The LWI selected 16 of those 27 volunteers to be hosts. Here are the sites selected (more or less in alphabetical order)
- Drake University Law School, Des Moines, Iowa
- The George Washington University Law School, Washington, D.C.
- Michigan State University College of Law, East Lansing, Michigan
- New York Law School, New York, New York
- Northwestern University School of Law, Chicago, Illinois
- Nova Southeastern University, Shepard Broad Law Center, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- Southern University Law Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, Fort Worth, Texas
- University of Akron School of Law, Akron, Ohio.
- The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, Tucson, Arizona
- University of California at Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall), Berkeley, California
- University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
- University of San Diego School of Law, San Diego, California
- Villanova Law School, Villanova, Pennsylvania
- Washburn University School of Law, Topeka, Kansas
- Willamette University College of Law, Salem, Oregon
The dates at each individual location are to be confirmed, but most will be held on Friday, December 7, 2012. The fee to attend will remain at $100. Presenters and faculty at host schools get to register for only $25. As in past years, tuition scholarships will be available for those who cannot afford the registration fee. The event helps support the Legal Writing Institute and its important work.
Congratulations to the host schools chosen this year.
Mark E. Wojcik, Board Member, Legal Writing Institute
Saturday, May 5, 2012