Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Colson Whitehead has a great article, titled How to Write. Much of his advice applies to writing fiction, but his fourth rule crosses genres:
Rule No. 4: Never use three words when one will do. Be concise. Don’t fall in love with the gentle trilling of your mellifluous sentences. Learn how to “kill your darlings,” as they say. I’m reminded of the famous editor-author interaction between Gordon Lish and Ray Carver when they were working on Carver’s celebrated short story “Those Life Preservers Are Just for Show,” often considered the high-water mark of so-called dirty realism. You’ll recall the climax, when two drunken fishermen try to calm each other after their dinghy springs a leak. In the original last lines of the story, Nat, the salty old part-time insurance agent, reassures his young charge as they cling to the beer cooler: “We’ll get help when we hit land. I’m sure of it. No more big waves, no more sharks. We’ll be safe once again. We’ll be home.” If you examine the Lish papers in the Lilly Library at Indiana University, you’ll see how, with but a few deft strokes, Lish pared that down to create the now legendary ending: “Help — land shark!” It wasn’t what Carver intended, but few could argue that it was not shorter. Learn to kill your darlings, and don’t be shy about softening them up in the hostage pit for a few days before you do.
Friday, July 27, 2012
Be sure to let your students know about a panel on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at the ILSA International Conference. It's called "How to Succeed at the Jessup Moot Court Competition." Click here for more information about the conference, which is being held in Chicago at The John Marshall Law School.
In the August ABA Journal, Bryan Garner argues that lawyers should abandon the use of "shall" to indicate a mandatory action. He points out that Americans seldom use the word in ordinary discourse, and that its several meanings can create ambiguities--it can mean should or even may. Garner himself avoids the word and repalces it with must, will, is, may, or is entitled to to express his intended meaning.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
In connection with the upcoming Boyd School of Law Public Interest Film Festival, I’ve
gotten to thinking about film clips for use in the legal writing classroom. We can easily identify films that highlight advocacy or client representation, but what about the struggle of the writer? These types of clips can really resonate with students muddling their way through legal writing assignments. You can find two of my favorites here and here. Happy fall semester planning!
For this post, we welcome a new contributing editor to our blog, Kristen Murray, at Temple.
I thought great writers had golden pens. As soon as they started writing, the words flowed and everything fell into place. Did Hemingway really need thirty-nine revisions of the final page just to get the words right? The answer is yes, and that happens to be the number one secret of great writers—rewriting.
An important reminder for professors finishing up summer writing projects and students getting ready to tackle their legal writing courses this fall!
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Just up on SSRN, an interesting piece from Scott Fruewald explores the relationship between teaching and modern science. From the abstract:
Legal education is changing. Law schools are incorporating skills classes into their curriculums, and law teachers are integrating new techniques into their teaching. Subjects that were never taught before are now appearing in law school curriculums. Now for the last step – turning law professors into expert teachers.
This article applies cognitive psychology and learning theory to explain how to become an expert teacher. As Best Practices has asserted, “Members of a law school faculty should base their teaching decisions on research about effective teaching, or at least hypotheses grounded in research.” More specifically, as Diane Halpern has stated, “It is clear that a successful pedagogy that can serve as a basis for the enhancement of thinking will have to incorporate ideas about the way in which learners organize knowledge and internally represent it and the way these representations change and resist change when new information is encountered. Despite all of the gains that cognitive psychologists have made in understanding what happens when people learn, most teachers do not apply their knowledge of cognitive psychology.”
This article begins by discussing the neurobiology of learning, then it uses this understanding to move onto educational theory and finally to the details on how to be an expert law teacher. Part II of this article addresses how humans learn (the neurobiology of learning) in order to provide the foundation for the rest of the article. Parts III and IV apply this learning theory to specific methods of improving teaching and learning. Part III examines the idea of “engaged teachers” and “engaged learners.” Part IV discusses how to become a “self-regulated” and “reflective” learner/teacher. Finally, Part V presents the attitudes and habits of expert law teachers, while Part VI covers what expert law teachers teach.
Happy downloading and reading!
Monday, July 23, 2012
The Harvard Business Review posted an interesting article on the relationship between grammar and hiring in the broader business community. Some notable highlights:
Grammar signifies more than just a person's ability to remember high school English. I've found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts.
I hire people who care about those details. Applicants who don't think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren't important. And I guarantee that even if other companies aren't issuing grammar tests, they pay attention to sloppy mistakes on résumés. After all, sloppy is as sloppy does.
That's why I grammar test people who walk in the door looking for a job. Grammar is my litmus test. All applicants say they're detail-oriented; I just make my employees prove it.
This is a great piece for incoming 1Ls!
hat tip: Lisa McElroy
David Hill is a Clinical Professor of Legal Methods and the Director of Academic Support at the SJ Quinney College of Law (otherwise known as the law school at the University of Utah). He's received his school's Peter W. Billings Excellence in Teaching Award, which goes annually to a full-time faculty member. Congratulations David!
Friday, July 20, 2012
Edwin Fruehwald has written an interesting piece, "Review: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman", explaining how this book may be helpful to both law professors and practicing lawyers. You might assume that lawyers have to think at hyper-speed, but not so fast (pun intended). And yeah, I know, I know, you keep wanting to change "slow" to "slowly," but try to let go and read Ed's abstract:
"This article reviews Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman for an audience of lawyers, legal scholars, and legal educators. Creating law and teaching law require accurate models of human behavior and how the mind works. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Noble Prize winner Daniel Kahneman provides a new model of human behavior and how the mind works that will change how we undertake these endeavors. Everyone in the legal field and legal education needs to be familiar with Kahneman’s ideas."
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
The Winter/Spring 2012 issue of Perspectives is now available!
Perspectives always contains lots of helpful articles for teachers of legal research and writing. In this issue, Emotional Editing by JoAnne Sweeny (pictured at left) presents a method of engaging students in the editing process by connecting with their emotions. Be the Ball ... Caddyshack's Ultimate Legal Writing Tip describes how John Schunk (pictured at right) uses a line from Caddyshack to help students see the importance of empathizing with their readers.
The table of contents lists other intriguing articles:
It's Not Purely Academic: Using Practitioners to Increase the Rigor and Practical Learning in Scholarly Writing, by Karen D. Thornton
Making Lawyers Out of Law Students: Shifting the Locus of Authority, by Timothy Casey and Kathryn Fehrman
Run to Write: How Exercise Will Make You a Better Writer, by Ben Opipari
Emotional Editing, by JoAnne Sweeny
Be the Ball ... Caddyshack's Ultimate Legal Writing Tip, by John Schunk
Opening Class with Panache, Professionalism Pointers, and a Pinch of Humor, by Almas Khan
Teaching Ourselves and Our Students to Embrace Challenge: A Review of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Tracy Turner
Mentoring Matters: Teaching Law Students the Value of the Mentoring Relationship, by Cheryl E. Zuckerman
How Do You Update the CFR Using FDsys?, by Patrick J. Charles
Legal Writing Missteps: Ethics and Professionalism in the First Year Legal Research and Writing Classroom, by Kristen E. Murray
Teaching Law Students Practical Advocacy, by Stephen V. Armstrong and Timothy P. Terrell
Incorporating Environmental Law into First-Year Research and Writing, by Royal C. Gardner
In her recently published essay on "Legal Writing Missteps: Ethics and Professionalism in the First Year Legal Research and Writing Classroom" , Kristen Murray describes an easy, effective exercise to help students take to heart our cautionary tales about the perils of poor legal writing in law practice.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
If you're currently working on a law journal article and anticipate shopping it for publication at the end of the summer, take a look at the updated charts provided by Allen Rostron and Nancy Levitt. The first chart tells you each journal’s preferences about methods for submitting articles (e.g., e-mail, ExpressO, Scholastica, or regular mail), any special formatting requirements, and how to get an expedited review. The second chart has the U.S. News rankings and data from W&L’s law review website on Information for Submitting Articles to Law Reviews and Journals.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Technology and the Teaching of Legal Research & Writing will be the focus of the Third Colonial Frontier Legal Research and Writing Conference, which will be held at in Pittsburgh, at Duquesne, on Saturday, March 16, 2013.
This conference is intended to provide legal writing professors with the opportunity to improve their use of computer technology for teaching legal research and writing. A survey last year showed attendees would like demonstrations of how to use computer software and hardware; small-group workshops using their own laptops to do something new, under the presenter’s guidance; and discussions of the positive and negative effects of using computer technology. Proposals do not have to be limited to those approaches though. We'll post the call for proposals here when it comes out this fall semester.
Sunday, July 15, 2012
You may think of Oates and Enquist as an excellent legal writing textbook -- or two, or four. But what about the people behind the books?
After more than three decades of teaching legal writing, Laurel Oates is now stepping down as director of the program at the Seattle University. The law school took the occasion to honor her as the first recipient of its Tom Holdych Award for Meritorious and Transformational Service. Laurel is one of the co-founders of the Legal Writing Institute, and she has brought best practices in legal writing pedagogy to ten other countries to date.
Assuming the role of director of Seattle University's legal writing program will be Anne Enquist, who has also taught in the program, as its associate director and writing specialist, for more than three decades. Anne has also served many functions within the Legal Writing Institute and published some of the now iconic scholarship on legal writing pedagogy.
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Friday, July 13, 2012
Catherine Koehlert-Page's new article reveals intriguing techniques that fiction writers use to control how close or distant the reader feels to a character, techniques legal writers may be able to take advantage of. Her article, "Come a Little Closer So That I Can See You My Pretty: The Use and Limits of Fiction Techniques for Establishing an Empathetic Point of View in Appellate Briefs" , has been published in 80 UMKC L. Rev. 399 (2011).
Here's her summary:
"This article starts from the premise that legal clients have individual truths. To convey those truths and create empathy for clients, appellate brief writers can use fiction point of view techniques. Literary fiction writers often believe that they are telling higher truths. In so doing, they utilize subtle degrees of distance. Thus point of view means more than just first person, third person, or omniscient. It means more than just the character from whom a story's viewpoint is told. It includes the distance that the reader feels from the story, the characters, and the viewpoint character.
"Fiction writers use a variety of techniques to establish that close or distant point of view and create or diminish empathy. I have identified some of these techniques. I have provided good examples from fiction works such as Mystic River, The Book Thief, and A Step From Heaven. I have used books such as Twilight and Eragon for the bad examples. I then provide examples of the same techniques used in actual appellate briefs."
Rutgers–Camden clinical law professor Sarah Ricks delivered an inspiring keynote address at the Empire State Legal Writing Conference on June 23. Consistent with the trend toward emphasizing skills in law school, she told listeners that “Collaboration among legal writing, clinical, and pro bono programs responds to calls to make students more practice-ready, exposes students to sophisticated legal issues they may not see in summer jobs, and helps achieve the public service mission of the law school.”
Thursday, July 12, 2012
Ben Dolnick has a nice piece in the NY Times that explores his relationship with the semicolon. What began as disdain, based largely on the crass advice of Kurt Vonnegut, later blossomed into something approaching love:
Their textbook function — to separate parts of a sentence “that need a more distinct break than a comma can signal, but that are too closely connected to be made into separate sentences” — has come to seem like a dryly beautiful little piece of psychological insight. No other piece of punctuation so compactly captures the way in which our thoughts are both liquid and solid, wave and particle.
And so, far from being pretentious, semicolons can be positively democratic. To use a semicolon properly can be an act of faith. It’s a way of saying to the reader, who is already holding one bag of groceries, here, I know it’s a lot, but can you take another? And then (in the case of William James) another? And another? And one more? Which sounds, of course, dreadful, and like just the sort of discourtesy a writer ought strenuously to avoid. But the truth is that there can be something wonderful in being festooned in carefully balanced bags; there’s a kind of exquisite tension, a feeling of delicious responsibility, in being so loaded up that you seem to have half a grocery store suspended from your body.
I am torn on the use of semicolons in legal writing. With especially complex ideas, I do not know if it is wise to hand the reader another bag. But then again, semicolons can create a nice flow within paragraphs. For me it comes down to context, but context-based lessons are the most difficult to teach students without much experience. Perhaps everyone needs to fall in love on their own.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Kendra Huard Fershee has written an article explaining why legal writing professors should be teaching law students how to write effective e-mail, in "The New Legal Writing: The Importance of Teaching Law Students How to Use E-Mail Professionally". Here's her abstract:
"Anyone who has worked in a legal capacity in the last ten years can attest to the meteoric rise in the use of e-mail as a means of professional communication. Recent empirical research demonstrates that e-mail is the most common method for professional legal communication today and that the office memorandum has declined as a tool in the lawyer’s arsenal. The reality of this change is raising questions in the legal writing community about the usefulness of the traditional written memo and whether legal writing professors should be teaching students how to distill their analysis into this new, shorter, more direct form of legal writing. The discussion has brought about an even more intense need for legal writing professors to address professionalism and effective communication in e-mail with their students.
"This Article proposes that law schools must make teaching students how to write e-mail in a professional setting as high a priority as teaching students how to write a basic legal memorandum has been since the inception of legal writing programs."
Looking for a way to liven up legal writing? Check Arthur Plotnik’s Spunk & Bite, his answer to the tamer guide by Strunk and White. Plotnik argues that writing needs flair to attract and hold readers, and he offers lots of examples to illustrate his point. The book is written for a general audience, and some of its advice is too edgy for legal writing. But Spunk & Bite is a good prod toward crisper writing.