Friday, February 3, 2012

Guidelines for Law Reviews

            Those who work with law journals will want to read The Scribes Guidelines for Excellence in Law Books croppedReviews, drafted by legal writing experts Bryan Garner and Richard C. Wydick.  Published recently in The Scrivener, a Scribes periodical, the guidelines will help faculty advisors and editors set high standards for their journals. For example, they recommend requiring each member of a journal to buy and learn these basic references:

            --the citation manual (either the ALWD Manual or the Bluebook) that the journal uses,

            --Academic Legal Writing by Eugene Volokh, and

            --The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style by Bryan Garner.

            Other useful references are identified as must-haves for the journal’s office. Editorial advice includes this point: “Insist on good, idiomatic English of the kind to be found in such publications as The New Yorker or The Economist and other first-rate nonfiction publications.”  For more, check the guidelines at page 7 of the summer 2011 Scrivener.


February 3, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Outstanding Opening

While perusing my 2012 Green Bag Almanac, I came across a Kozinski concurrence that the Green Bag recognized as exemplary, United States v. Alvarez, 638 F.3d 666 (9th Cir. 2011).  What struck me about the opinion is the attention-grabbing power of its opening:

According to our dissenting colleagues, “non-satirical and non-theatrical [ ] knowingly false statements of fact are always unprotected” by the First Amendment. United States v. Alvarez, 617 F.3d 1198, 1224 (9th Cir.2010) (Bybee, J., dissenting); see also O'Scannlain dissent at 677–78; cf. Gould dissent at 687. Not “often,” not “sometimes,” but always. Not “if the government has an important interest” nor “if someone's harmed” nor “if it's made in public,” but always. “Always” is a deliciously dangerous word, often eaten with a side of crow.

The opening made me reflect on the overall importance of primacy in legal writing.  Getting the reader's attention early is critical in brief writing because the reader is also the decision maker.  But grabbing attention in judicial opinion writing sometimes seems to serve other interests, like legal writing as high art, humor, or increasing public awareness of the law.  The circuit judge also has an audience that makes decisions, most notably the United States Supreme Court.  In Alvarez, Kozinski's concurrence received attention from his audience in the form of a cert grant.  The case will be argued in a few weeks.  Mission accomplished?



February 2, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Congratulations to us!

ImagesOkay, so it may be immodest to point this out here, but we're just a few busy legal writing professors providing a service to our academic community, and we really didn't expect to be featured as the ABA Journal's blawg of the week. See what they had to say here and here.

hat tip: Chris Wren


February 1, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Outlining for a brief's table of contents

Around this time of year, I cover the format of a brief in my first-year class.  When I explain that the brief's Table of Contents is really just an outline, I somtimes find that a few students don't understand the concept of outlining. Purdue's Online Writing Lab contains some helpful basic information for them. 


January 31, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 30, 2012

call for proposals, Second Annual Western Regional Legal Writing Conference

The University of Oregon School of Law will host the 2012 Western Regional Legal Writing Conference and ALWD Scholars' Forum/Workshop on August 10 and 11, 2012, in Eugene, Oregon, just weeks after Eugene hosts the Olympic track and field trials. In accordance with the conference theme, Olympic Gold: The Teaching, Scholarship, and Service Triathlon, conference presenters are invited to share ideas for succeeding in the triathlon of teaching, scholarship, and service.

The plenary speaker for the conference will be Judy Stinson, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Clinical Professor of Law at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.  Dean Stinson will share her ideas, gained over 18 years of teaching, writing, and serving, about how to be successful in a discipline that requires each of us to balance so many different roles.

Finally, an ALWD Scholars' Forum/Workshop will be held on August 10, 2012.  The Forum/Workshop will give up to sixteen colleagues the opportunity to present their scholarship – from the brainstorming stage to developed drafts – to other legal writing faculty for discussion and feedback.

The conference webpage will be available soon, and registration will open in April.  More information is available: Download Call for Proposals and ParticipationSecond Annual Western Regiona.

hat tip:  Megan McAlpin, University of Oregon School of Law

January 30, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New "Tips" Series on the Illinois Appellate Lawyer Blog

The Illinois Appellate Lawyer Blog launched a new series that it is calling "Two Tips."  The description of it is actually pretty funny (unless they really do use "Vulcan Mind Meld") and we also note that it will appear at "random times according to a strict schedule."  Here's their announcement:

Illinois Appellate Lawyer Blog announces a new series:

♪♪♪ Two Tips ♪♪♪

Two Tips, offered by legal writing and strategy experts, will suggest ways you can improve your brief writing. The tips will be in various formats – written, podcast, video, extra sensory perception, Vulcan mind meld.

Two Tips will appear at random times according to a strict schedule. If you have two tips that might interest Illinois Appellate Lawyer Blog readers and viewers, shoot me an email and we’ll make arrangements for you to appear, or write, or sing, or however you want to transmit the information.

Click here to see the first "Two Tips."

Hat tip to Steve Merican.


January 30, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Editing Process

Typos and errors in your legal writing are not an inevitable destiny according to Kendall Gray's recent piece in the National Law Journal.  Gray correctly notes that you can reduce your error rate by changing the process through which you edit text, observing the maxim that “there is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.”  Here are a few of his interesting suggestions:

Slow down. When it comes to editing, fast and good are mutually exclusive. Hurrying or skimming means not editing well

Edit the first sentence of each paragraph. Crafting these first sentences perfectly and putting them in the right order lays a solid foundation for the entire brief and frames a sturdy structure for paragraphs. A judge reading on screen may not read much more than those topic sentences anyway

Give it to someone else. Famous authors such as Philip Roth and Jonathan Franzen need editors and proofreaders. Attorneys do, too. Every firm has that one fantastic proofreader, and everyone knows who that is. The very last thing before filing, counsel should give that person the brief. This stellar proofreader has not memorized the brief and probably doesn't know the case. If he or she thinks the brief is clear, then it really is. If he or she doesn't get it, then work remains to be done.

Other editing posts:

The Indispensability of Editing When Constructing Voice

Helpful Editing Advice

Editing Exercises on Wordiness


January 30, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Black's Law Dictionary

The Law Library of Congress Blog chose Black's Law Dictionary, first published in 1891, for its picture of the week.  Click here for a quick look.


January 29, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

nominate a legal writing professor

Logo2Want to recognize the person who taught you legal writing? Well, nominations for the Burton Award for Outstanding Contributions to Legal Writing Education are due by February 17, 2012.

This 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. The previous recipients have been Dean Kent Syverud of Vanderbilt, Dean Darby Dickerson of Stetson, Professor Ralph Brill of Chicago-Kent, Professor Laurel Oates of Seattle University, Professor Mary Beth Beazley of Ohio State, Professor Richard Neumann of Hofstra, Professor Helene Shapo of Northwestern, and Professor Marjorie Rombauer of the University of Washington.

Nominations should describe the contributions of the nominee in a few paragraphs and should be forwarded to one of the following members of the selection committee by e-mail: Anne Kringel (; Grace Tonner (; Nancy Schultz ( 

hat tip: Anne Kringel



January 29, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)