Friday, August 31, 2012
The September ABA Journal has an informative interview with Justice Elena Kagan on legal writing. The article continues Bryan Garner’s series of interviews with Supreme Court Justices that appeared in the 2008-2009 issue of the Scribes Journal of Legal Writing. In this latest article, Garner asked Justice Kagan what one thing she would reform about legal writing. She responded, “Well, I think everybody says the same thing: The most important thing in a brief is clarity.” She expanded on that in the full transcript of the interview:
If there’s one thing about brief-writing you could reform, it’s confusing briefs—briefs where you’re working too hard to try to figure out what the point is and to figure out how the argument goes. There are two really important things about brief-writing. One is you have to know your best arguments. Second, you have to say those arguments clearly. Sometimes it’s frustrating, because you’ll be reading a brief and there will be good arguments there, but it’s just so hard to get them out of this brief. You have to do so much work by yourself or with clerks to do that. It’s a disservice to the real arguments that are there.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Yale has now sent a response to the letter about its troublesome reference to legal writing professors (discussed previously on this blog). The text of the response is below.
Text of letter from Yale
Dear Professor Vorenberg,
Thank you for your feedback, which was forwarded to me by Dean Post, concerning the advice I provided to aspiring Yale transfer students on the 203 Admissions Blog in June 2011. I would like to respond to your concerns and I hope you will share my response with the legal writing community.
As you may know, the admissions process at Yale Law School is a holistic process, in which letters of recommendation are one of many factors considered in evaluating a student’s potential. Our process is a faculty-driven one, in which individual faculty exercise enormous discretion to weigh various parts of an application according to their own criteria. No one factor is determinative, and all parts of the application that provide evidence of a student’s ability are welcomed and considered in their entirety.
My purpose in writing the June 2011 post was to give practical advice to potential applicants, not to articulate Yale policy. There is in fact no formal evaluative policy. I was describing, based on my experience reading almost 20,000 JD admissions files and almost 1,000 transfer files, the kind of application that is typically successful in gaining admission to Yale Law School. I believe such transparency furthers the interests of both applicants and the Law School by allowing promising students to put together the most effective possible applications. Because I am writing for a general audience, my advice is designed to offer broad, rule-of-thumb guidelines that will likely maximize a student’s chance of admission.
In providing this advice, I did not intend for my post to cast doubt on the important role and valuable contributions of legal writing professors in legal education. It seems clear to me that the concerns raised by the legal writing community highlight significant issues that are quite beyond the scope of my post. In trying to address these issues, I have been unable to find a way to accurately revise or supplement my original blog post without making it too complex to be of any practical use for a potential applicant. In the interest of staying true to both the practical purpose of my advice and the unique nature of our admissions process – which I believe is fair and respectful to applicants and all those who speak on their behalf – I have chosen, after much deliberation, simply to remove the post from the blog.
Please feel free to write or call me directly if you have any questions about our admissions process. I especially encourage you, as I do all faculty members, to reach out to me if you are personally recommending any students whom you feel would be strong candidates for transfer to Yale, and I would be happy to ensure that those students receive close consideration in our process.
Yale Law School
As the school year begins, don't forget about Burton's Legal Thesaurus, a helpful place to find synonyms for law-related words. I just looked up the word disdain, because I write about judges' reactions to errors in legal writing. Among the many synonyms listed are abhor, decry, deem unbecoming, and reject, all of which might be helpful in discussing courts' views of lawyers' infractions.
I always remind students to be discriminating in using a thesaurus. As Mark Twain said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." There's a real risk of choosing the almost-right word from a Thesaurus, so students must devote some thought to selecting the best phrasing.
hat tip: Ralph Brill
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
The University of Michigan Law School seeks applicants for the full-time position of Clinical Assistant Professor of Law to teach in its Legal Practice Program beginning in the 2013-2014 academic year. The Law School will be hiring at least one professor, and maybe more. The Legal Practice Program is a first-year, five-unit, two-semester program that integrates legal analysis, research, writing, advocacy, and other aspects of the practice of law.
Applicants must be available to begin teaching in the Law School’s Summer Starter program in late May 2013.
Legal Practice faculty teach two sections of approximately 21-23 students, with each section meeting twice a week. They also supervise upper-class students taking the “Senior Judge” seminar, who assist faculty teaching the Legal Practice course sequence. In addition, after an initial period Legal Practice faculty may have the opportunity to teach upper-class skills courses. Legal Practice classes generally have a similar number and scope of assignments, but faculty members have flexibility in designing the details of the course. The faculty members meet regularly during each term to exchange ideas.
Candidates must have superior academic records, at least three years of professional experience, and expertise in legal research and writing. Prior teaching experience is preferred. Applicants should include a letter of interest, CV, a list of three references, a writing sample, and, for recent graduates, a law school transcript.
Materials should be submitted to Professor Philip Frost, Director, Legal Practice Program, The University of Michigan Law School, 625 South State St., Ann Arbor, MI 40109, or by email to email@example.com by October 15, 2012.
The University of Michigan is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.
1. The position advertised:
__ a. is a tenure-track appointment.
XX b. may lead to successive long-term contracts of five or more years.
Additional information about job security or terms of employment, any applicable term limits, and whether the position complies with ABA Standard 405(c):
The position is a twelve-month, non-tenure-track contract appointment.
The initial contract length is two years, potentially longer depending on teaching experience. Professors are then eligible for additional contract renewals, which may culminate in successive three-year and then seven-year renewable contracts.
2. The professor hired:
XX a. will be permitted to vote in faculty meetings.
XX b. will not be permitted to vote in faculty meetings.
Additional information about the extent of the professor’s voting rights: Legal Practice faculty with three- and seven-year renewable contracts have voting rights.
3. The school anticipates paying an annual academic year base salary in the range checked below. (A base salary does not include stipends for coaching moot court teams, teaching other courses, or teaching in summer school; a base salary does not include conference travel or other professional development funds.) ___ over $120,000 ___ $110,000 - $119,999 ___ $100,000 - $109,999 ___ $90,000 - $99,999 ___ $80,000 - $89,999 XXX $70,000 - $79,999 XXX $60,000 - $69,999
Additional information about base salary or other compensation:
Compensation to be based on experience and other factors.
4. The number of students enrolled in each semester of the courses taught by the legal research & writing professor will be:
__ a. 30 or fewer
__ b. 31 - 35
__ c. 36 - 40
XX d. 41 - 45
Additional information about teaching load, including required or permitted teaching outside of the legal research and writing program: Professors teach two sections of Legal Practice. Each section typically has 21-23 students. Legal Practice faculty have taught other courses at the Law School, but they are not required to do so.
Monday, August 27, 2012
Golden Gate University School of Law invites applications to fill an anticipated tenured/tenure-track faculty position as Associate Professor and Director of First-Year Legal Writing and Research Program beginning fall 2013 and seeks applications from candidates with a record of scholarly distinction (or significant promise) as well as a commitment to excellence in teaching.
Golden Gate offers students a three-semester, seven-credit required writing program. The Director is responsible for administering the first-year component of the program, consisting of two credits in the fall and three credits in the spring. Students take Appellate Advocacy in the second year. This course is part of Golden Gate’s Advanced Legal Writing Program, which is administered separately from the first-year program.
The first-year program serves approximately 260 students in day and evening sections. Individual sections of fewer than 20 students are taught by adjuncts and full-time faculty. The Director hires, trains, and supervises the adjunct faculty; updates the syllabus; prepares lesson plans; and creates the major writing assignments used in all sections. The Director works closely with the law librarians to develop the research portions of the course. In addition, the Director coordinates a variety of activities with Student Services, Law Career Services, the Registrar, and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. The Director is responsible for teaching one section of the course.
Candidates must have a J.D. degree from an ABA accredited law school. Candidates should also have at least four years experience teaching in such a program and preferably would have experience directing such a program. Applicants should have a distinguished academic background and should be able to demonstrate strong organizational, administrative, and interpersonal skills.
Golden Gate is a private university located in downtown San Francisco with a strong commitment to public interest, practical and clinical education, and advancing diversity within the legal profession. Golden Gate University is an Equal Opportunity Employer. The University has a strong commitment to the principles of diversity and inclusion, and to maintaining working and learning environments that reinforce these practices. The University welcomes and encourages applications from women, minorities, people of color, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQI community.
Interested persons should submit a vitae and other relevant materials to the law school via email (preferred) to: firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail to Associate Professor Laura A. Cisneros, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, Golden Gate University School of Law, 536 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105. Applications received by October 1, 2012 are assured consideration. Additional information about Golden Gate University School of law is available at: http://law.ggu.edu/.
1. The position advertised:
_X_ a. is a tenure-track appointment.
2. The professor hired:
_X_ a. will be permitted to vote in faculty meetings.
3. The school anticipates paying an annual academic year base salary in the range checked below. (A base salary does not include stipends for coaching moot court teams, teaching other courses, or teaching in summer school; a base salary does not include conference travel or other professional development funds.)
_X__ over $120,000
4. The number of students enrolled in each semester of the courses taught by the legal research & writing professor will be:
__ a. 30 or fewer
_X_ b. 31 - 35
__ c. 36 - 40
William Burton is the author of Burton's Legal Thesaurus, a winner of the Legal Writing Institute Golden Pen Award, and the mastermind behind the annual Burton Awards held annually at the Library of Congress. He contributed these thoughts in the comment section of our blog, and we're reposting them here to make them easier for you to read.
I join in the rising crescendo of voices against the message expressed by Associate Dean Asha Rangappa of Yale Law School.
If she is correct, recommendations received at Yale Law School from “core subject area professors" are preferred by their admission committee members over those submitted by legal writing teachers.
Again, if true, this attitude and approach shows a failure to appreciate the importance of legal writing and the indispensible role that legal writing teachers play in educating law school students. Indeed, legal writing affects every subject area of law, not just one. Its impact is, therefore, pervasive.
As importantly, effective legal writers possess the essential attributes necessary for success in law school and later, in the practice of law.
Writers are almost certainly dedicated to their task, well-organized, knowledgeable , methodical, and capable of analyzing the most complex concepts. These are essential qualities that can be assessed by both legal writing teachers and core subject area professors.
I, therefore, ask that the posting by the Associate Dean be corrected and that Yale Law School express its unwavering commitment to consider equally in its admission process of transfer students, letters of recommendation from both legal writing teachers and core subject area professors.
William C. Burton, Esq
Our comments section allows you (and other readers) to submit comments on our posts. From time to time, we'll also publish those comments here so that you can read them more easily. Here's a post from Professor Ralph Brill of Chicago-Kent College of Law:
PrawfsBlawg has picked up an ongoing conversation on the Legal Writing listserv based on the Yale Law Dean of Admission's advice to students who seek to transfer to Yale. http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2012/08/yls-admissions-blog-unapologetically-elitist-gratuitously-insulting.html#comments. She advises: “The other part of your application that is going to carry a significant amount of weight is your law school recommendations (we require two). We use these references to place your grades in context and also to determine what kind of student you are. A common mistake on this front is to make one of your two required recommendations from a legal writing instructor -- most students do this because they've usually had much more one-on-one interaction with their legal writing instructor than with their other professors, and so the instructor usually knows them well. There's nothing wrong with this per se, but the Admissions Committee generally likes to have at least two letters from one of your first year core subject area professors, who can speak to your ability to keep up with the subject material, contribute to class discussion, and think through difficult concepts (a third letter from your legal writing instructor is fine). Letters from professors who went to YLS -- who as you probably know are ubiquitous in the legal academy -- are often especially helpful, since they usually discuss why the applicant would fit into the academic and cultural experience here. But don't go stalking a Yale alum just for this purpose -- just pick professors from classes in which you have performed very well and you'll be on the right track.”
The Admission Dean is to be commended for trying to give transfer applicants accurate information on their chances of being accepted.. But her candor has hit the nerves of an entire class of law school teachers – Legal Writing professors.
Two lines of responses have occurred on both the LW listserv and Prawfsblawg. One group believes that the Yale blog is pretty derogatory of legal writing professors since, inter alia, it strongly intimates that their recommendations are worthless since they do not teach “core subject matter,’ their classes do not involve full-blown discussions, the “subject” does not require deep legal analysis, and the teachers are apt to not be true “professors” but rather “instructors”, “student teaching assistants,” or “adjuncts.” Another group defends the blog for at least giving some transparency to the transfer process at a school which admittedly does not value teaching legal writing as a class; Yale has no such class, and legal writing is “taught” in a two-week, non-credit format, by 3L students supervised by a non-tenure track lecturer. Some (including Yale staff and alums) also have justified the apparent slight of legal writing professionals by pointing to Yale’s admitted bias for training students for possible careers as law professors.
All of this discussion would be well and good as exuberant free speech. However, a large bit of ugliness has entered the picture. An otherwise distinguished Yale professor has actually made direct contact with some of the critics and, in the vernacular, “chewed them out” for their criticism of the Admission Dean and of the school’s policy. One would think that Yalies would have thicker skins and welcome free speech discussions of its programs and policies. Unfortunately, that seems not to be the case. I find the conduct abhorrent.
Friday, August 24, 2012
Earlier on this blog, I discussed a Yale blog post that discounts recommendations for transfer students from legal writing professors. Amy Vorenberg, Kris Tiscione, and Lisa McElroy with her team at Drexel have now sent a letter to Dean Post and the Yale admissions committee to ask them to reconsider that blog post. The letter contains almost 450 signatures. Many are by legal writing professors, but doctrinal professors and law school administrators are also represented. The text of the letter appears below. Its drafters have done a great service to our field and to legal education by composing it and collecting the signatures.
Text of letter
Dear Dean Post and members of the Admissions Committee:
As professors at law schools across the country, we write to address a blog post by Associate Dean Asha Rangappa (see P.S.B.C.: Back by Popular Demand (June 9, 2011), available at http://blogs.law.yale.edu/blogs/ admissions/archive/2011/06/09/back‐by‐populardemand.aspx). The post observes that potential transfer students make the “common mistake” of submitting one of two required recommendations from a legal writing “instructor.” Although “a third letter from a legal writing instructor is fine,” the Committee prefers recommendations from “core subject area professors, who can speak to [a student’s] ability to keep up with the subject material, contribute to class discussion, and think through difficult concepts.”
If the post represents the policies or preferences of the Yale Law Admissions Committee, many of us are concerned it sends a message that legal research and writing (“LRW”) courses are not rigorous, underestimates the ability of LRW faculty to comment on students’ cognitive skills, harms students by discounting the valuable and thoughtful insight we have to offer about students seeking to transfer to Yale, and devalues LRW professors as a whole. To the extent the advice you provide as a top tier school might be interpreted as applicable, or preferable, to a wider law school audience, we feel the statements lacking in appropriate evidentiary support need correction.
Every year, the Legal Writing Institute and the Association of Legal Writing Directors– the two professional organizations for LRW professors and those interested in the discipline– survey a number of ABA‐accredited and provisionally accredited law schools that grant the Juris Doctor degree. One hundred eighty‐four of the 200 schools surveyed responded to the 2012 survey. At least 170 of those schools require LRW in the first year and award four or more credits for a year‐long course. One hundred sixty schools grade the LRW course and incorporate the grade into the students’ overall GPA. As the survey indicates, the post’s characterization of LRW as other than a “core subject area” class is inaccurate.
The Committee may be unaware that the typical LRW course requires students to conduct research on complicated legal questions, engage in complex legal analysis, communicate well orally and in writing, conference regularly with their professors on their performance, and behave both ethically and professionally. Accurate, in‐depth legal analysis and reasoning are at the core of an LRW course.
The notion that LRW is not a core subject area class is also inconsistent with current thinking about legal education. Consider, for example, the 2007 Carnegie Report, which emphasized the importance of legal writing classes, as well as Justice Kennedy’s statement this week to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference: “[L]aw schools are questioning whether or not they are teaching students the right way, and it seems to me that the bench and the bar can engage in serious discussions with the law schools to advise them whether or not, say for the next 20 years, that [sic] they have the proper approach for teaching those whowill soon be the trustees of the law as active practitioners. That is urgent.”
Given the small size of LRW classes; our knowledge of individual students; and our familiarity with their class participation, writing, oral skills, and personality, we have a unique perspective on our students’ abilities at any given time. Here too, the assumption that we are not in the same position as a Property or a Contracts professor to comment on their ability to “keep up,” “contribute to class discussion,” or “think through difficult concepts” is inaccurate.
We recognize the primary mission of the Committee is to admit students who can compete at an elite institution. Nevertheless, discounting recommendations from LRW faculty could deprive potential transfer students of critical faculty input. LRW faculty often know 1L students the best in terms of what matters most – their achievement, motivation, raw talent, analytical skills, ability to communicate effectively, and measured progress.
Because the post reaches a far wider audience than those students who will eventually matriculate at Yale, we are concerned about the extent to which it suggests that the Yale Law faculty considers LRW professors to be lesser faculty in some sense, passing on to the next generation of law students a bias that LRW and its faculty are not worth their time, attention, or care.
For these reasons, we urge you to reconsider your practice of discounting recommendations from LRW faculty and welcome them as informed and reliable accounts of the transfer students you might soon welcome at your door. We also respectfully request that you amend the post in question accordingly.
As legal educators, we all share the goal of offering the best legal education possible to our students. Our purpose here is to clarify the contribution LRW professors make toward achieving that goal. We thank you in advance for your consideration of this letter.
As I was thinking through our system for grading first-year legal writing, I came across a great article by Leslie M. Rose, Norm-Referenced Grading in the Age of Carnegie: Why Criteria-Referenced Grading is More Consistent With Current Trends in Legal Education and How Legal Writing Can Lead the Way. The article contends that traditional curve-based grading is insufficient in many ways and that objective, or criteria-referenced, grading is more consistent with the current movement to improve legal education.
From the article:
As legal education moves toward more integration between skills and doctrine as recommended by Best Practices and the Carnegie Report, the traditional methods of law school assessment will be more difficult to justify. The changes that are starting to happen in law school make grading reform more urgent, as norm-referenced grading is largely inconsistent with the positive movement toward curricular innovation, learning goals, outcomes assessment, and the humanizing law school movement.
One author has noted that the ideas represented in the draft standards—“articulating the knowledge and professional skills that students should learn in courses, designing curriculum to serve those goals, assessing students’ progress with reference to those goals and sharing that evaluation with students”—are consistent with the “signature pedagogy of legal writing,” a pedagogy that other law school programs might find it useful to adopt.
Criteria-referenced grading will require some increased effort at the start, but it is likely to reap great rewards in both improved student well-being and academic success. It is the right thing to do for students, and for the profession as a whole. Legal writing professors can lead the way by becoming “proponents of conducting evaluation in the service of learning.”
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Thankfully, I stumbled across a wonderful piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg in the New York Times’ “Draft” series addressing just this issue. He implores young writers to “learn to play with every sentence you make in your head, shuffling words, searching for accuracy, listening for rhythm.” This piece makes a great read as we begin the semester.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
In a thought-provoking new article, Ellie Margolis and Kristen Murray urge us to "Say Goodbye to the Books: Information Literacy as the New Legal Research Paradigm".
Here's their summary:
"Legal research technology has changed dramatically in the last fifteen years, and it is time for law school legal research programs to catch up. Students entering law school are increasingly less comfortable with using print materials, and at the same time, electronic search technology is no longer modeled on a print-based system. Current legal research pedagogy, developed in the context of a print-based research environment, is waning in utility and may soon be moot. In order to give law students the skills to conduct effective legal research, and to adapt those skills to future technological development, we need to rethink how we teach and assess legal research.
"This article argues that we should make information literacy the foundation of legal research instruction. By reframing the goal of legal research instruction as increasing the information literacy (specifically, the legal information literacy) of our students, we will be able to leverage the research skills they already possess and instill in them skills that are transferable to the legal research tools of tomorrow. The article first traces the history of how legal research is taught and introduces the idea of information literacy as a new way of thinking about legal research instruction. It then presents the results of our survey of incoming law students’ research training, habits, practices, and beliefs. Finally, it discusses how the theory of information literacy and our survey results can be used to rethink the way legal research is taught. With this in mind, we can begin to develop methods of research instruction that result in an increased level of legal information literacy, no matter the students’ starting points."
Monday, August 20, 2012
Legal writing professors Lisa McElroy, Kris Tiscione, and Amy Vorenberg have prepared a letter responding to the Yale post about legal writing (which was discussed on this blog over the past few days). Subscribers to the legal writing listserv can see the letter there and click on a link to sign it if they wish to do so.
In the ongoing listserv discussion about the Yale post, Ralph Brill wrote that many doctrinal professors do not know what legal writing professors do. We may be pigeonholed as simply teaching grammar, when actually we spend little or no classroom time on that topic. Over on the Legal Skills Prof Blog, Scott Fruehwald has posted a clear explanation of our work, emphasizing that we teach students legal analysis and how to express it effectively to readers. Numerous articles and studies, including a study of judges' views, have emphasized the key importance of those skills in the legal profession.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
As the legal writing listserv's discussion about Yale’s post continues, Noah Messing, who teaches legal writing at Yale, wrote about the positive features of the school's approach to the subject:
Yale features two passionate faculty members who teach writing full-time; doctrinal faculty who invest heavily in improving the legal writing of their first-year students; remarkable third-years who are carefully coached and who work tirelessly to help their first-year students; a slew of judges who train our students to write; Judge Walker’s meetings with small groups of students; heaps of elective writing courses that have space for everyone; and the chance for students, after one semester, to work on clinical projects under the close supervision of astounding lawyers.
Friday, August 17, 2012
Inspirational presentations at the Western Regional Legal Writing Conference, held at the University of Oregon on August 10 and 11, energized attendees for the approaching academic year. Below, colleagues relax at dinner.
Top row: Greg Johnson, Anne Enquist, Charles Calleros, Terri LeClercq, Ralph Brill
Bottom row: Karin Mika, Mary Lawrence, Laurel Oates
Hat tip: Karin Mika
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
The legal writing professors' listserv is abuzz today after Lisa McElroy posted some language from the Yale Law website. It urges prospective transfer students to submit two letters of recommendation--but preferably NOT from legal writing "instructors." Instead, the admissions director advises, letters should come from "your first year core subject area professors, who can speak to your ability to keep up with the subject material, contribute to class discussion, and think through difficult concepts." Contributors to the legal writing list have found this statement objectionable on many levels. One called it the "smoking gun" that documents an attitude we all knew was out there. Another said it shows how unknowledgeable some in legal academia are about what we actually do. Keeping up with subject material and thinking through difficult concepts are key abilities students need to succeed in our courses!
List contributors have discussed formulating some kind of response to Yale's language. Watch this spot for further information.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
I came across a great blog -- Excessive Exclamation!! The blog is dedicated to posting photographs of signs that are excessively exclamatory. For example:
"Please Pay FIRST!!"
Or my personal favorite:
"You are weerd!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
The blog exposes something approaching an epidemic of ! usage and quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald's observation that "[a]n exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes." Visitors are encouraged to submit their own photos. Submit yours today!!!!!