February 10, 2012
Legal writing tips from the Chief Justice of Canada
The Right Honorable Beverly McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada, presented some thoughts about legal writing at a 2011 Scribes luncheon. The bad news about legal writing, she said, is that it is “difficult to do well.” The good news is that “legal writing is getting better.” She then offered four guidelines, each of which begins with the word “understand,” to emphasize her overall conclusion: “Good thinking and good legal writing are one and the same.” Read a transcript of her talk at page 9 of the Late Fall 2011 Scrivener.
February 9, 2012
teach legal writing, live by the beach
Florida Coastal School of Law is seeking applications for multiple Lawyering Process faculty positions for the academic year beginning in Fall 2012. Legal writing teaching experienced is preferred. Candidates should have distinguished academic qualifications, a record of accomplishment in the legal profession, and a commitment to excellence in teaching, student mentoring and collegiality.
The Faculty Appointments Committee will review candidates until the open positions are filled. Interested candidates should send a resume and cover letter to: Professor Brian Foley, Faculty Appointments Committee Chair, Florida Coastal School of Law, 8787 Baypine Road, Suite 255, Jacksonville, FL 32256, or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. The position advertised may lead to successive long-term contracts of five or more years.
2. The professor hired will be permitted to vote in faculty meetings.
3. The school anticipates paying an annual academic year base salary in the range $50,000 - $69,999.
4. The number of students enrolled in each semester of the courses taught will be 36 - 40.
Celebrating a New Legal Dictionary
"The world of law is a world of words." So says Stephen Michael Shepard, a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, who served as the general editor of a new edition of the Bouvier Law Dictionary, recently published by Wolters Kluwer.
The new work brings back to life the American law dictionary first published in 1839 by John Bouvier. I'm not a Bouvier scholar by any means, but I can at least let you read part of the wikipedia entry about John Bouvier so that you can appreciate the importance of this law dictionary:
John Bouvier (1787–1851) was born in Codogno, France, but came to the United States at an early age. He became a U.S. citizen in 1812, was admitted to the bar in 1818, and began practicing law in Philadelphia. During his years of practice and study, he noticed the lack of a solid American law dictionary. He decided to fill this need, and worked on a new law dictionary incessantly for 10 years. One of his main goals was to distinguish American law from its Englishantecedent. He finally presented it for publication in 1839. Like many of his generation, Bouvier used his preface to justify his work, stating the irrelevance of English legal dictionaries to the American legal system of the United States. He wanted to create a totally new law dictionary that would address the American legal system, so he derived his definitions almost wholly from customs, court decisions, and statutes of the United States.
So that's the book that Professor Sheppard has now updated. The Bouvier Law Dictionary was the one used by Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, John Marshall, Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes, and all of the other great early American jurists and lawyers.
This new edition of the Bouvier Law Dictionary was well received at the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools, where Professor Sheppard kindly signed a copy for me. Actually the new dictionary is being published in three versions, a desk edition, the compact paperback version, and an electronic version.
John Bouvier drew on material for his first dictionary from all of the sources that influenced American law. This new edition of the Bouvier Law Dictionary "is an entirely new book, with new definitions for every term, based on quotations and entries from tens of thousands of new cases, books, and statutes, as well as on Bouvier's final text and other classic materials." (Preface, at page ix). I had to laugh at Professor Sheppard's acknowledgment page, where he thanked his student research assistants by saying that his "sincere thanks go to each of you, and I remind all of you who haven't returned some of my books that is never too late to do so."
The dictionary entries are easy to read and often provide a little more information about particular legal terms than you might find in other dictionaries. We will still use our other law dictionaries, but we now have a second source that we'll also consult.
The ISBN Number for the Compact Paperback Edition of the Bouvier Law Dictionary is 978-0-7355-6852-5.
Mark E. Wojcik (mew)
February 7, 2012
Mercer's legal writing faculty news
First, congratulations to Jennifer Sheppard! The faculty at Mercer has voted to grant her tenure, as of July 1st.
Second, congratulations to Teri McMurtry-Chubb! She will be joining the Mercer faculty as an Associate Professor of Law in July.
And third, congratulations to Mercer -- for having such a strong legal writing faculty.
hat tip: David Ritchie
“First Aid Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim.” That’s just one of the ambiguous sentences quoted in a recent article by Richard Wydick. Wydick provides plenty of cautionary examples to illustrate the importance of precise drafting. I especially appreciate his endorsement of the serial comma (the comma after the next-to-last item in a series). As he points out, omitting the serial comma can create a troublesome ambiguity in legal writing. Read the whole article at page 5 of the Late Fall 2011 Scrivener.
February 6, 2012
Was Dickens Right About Lawyers?
For those who teach professionalism as part of their legal writing courses, a first-year lawyer, Joseph Tartakovsky (Clerk, 10th Circuit), has an outstanding op-ed in today's NY Times. The piece asks whether Charles Dickens's negative characterization of lawyers, in novels like "Bleak House," was correct. Some highlights:
[Dickens] invoked every known indictment of the profession: sorcerers who command the law to harm others, nitpicking complicators of life (“red tape,” in Dickens’s time, still bound legal papers), chicaners who exploit procedure to free the guilty, and prolix corrupters of the English tongue.
But before we resign our bar licenses in shame (and I only got mine in November), let us call, for the defense, Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Federal District Court in Manhattan. He tells me lawyers are scorned because “they think there are two sides to most stories, while many people think there is just one side: theirs.”
Are attorneys just amoral mouthpieces? Samuel Johnson, the great critic who himself once hoped to enter the bar, knew better: “A lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause” — that is “to be decided by the judge.” The best means we have of discovering truth is to take opposing sides and let them tango. If a lawyer had to believe in the client’s cause, most people would go undefended.
The piece would be a great jumping off point for a discussion of the value of lawyers to society or an excellent read for students in need of a boost.
Article on writing point headings for a brief
Recently on this blog, I explained that when we discuss a brief's point headings in my class, I refer the students to Purdue’s general site on outlines. I also refer them to a judge's advice that's specifically tailored to brief writing. In 2010, Judge Gerald Lebovits of New York published an article full of helpful suggestions about point headings. Among them: Keep the number of major headings to no more than three or four; don’t exaggerate; and “don’t order judges around” by telling them what they “must” do.
Hat tip: JoAnn Sweeny
Registration Now Open for LWI Biennial Meeting
Registration for Legal Writing Institute's 15th Biennial Conference is now open. Click here for information about the program, the hotel, and how to register for the conference.
summer research grants for legal writing professors
The Association of Legal Writing Directors, the Legal Writing Institute, and Lexis are once again teaming up to provide a limited number of grants for legal writing professors to pursue scholarship in the summer. See all the details here. The process is quite competitive, and the application is definitely not just pro forma, so leave yourself enough time to meet the March 15 deadline.