Friday, March 22, 2013
The 2012 Green Bag list of exemplary legal writing has just been published. The only United States Supreme Court Justice to make the list is Justice Elena Kagan, for her dissent in Williams v. Illinois. In that case, the majority upheld a conviction that was based an expert's report. After reciting the reasoning of the various justices, Kagan added this pithy sentence: "That creates five votes to approve the admission of the Cellmark report, but not a single good explanation." That's just one example of Justice Kagan's incisive writing.
The Green Bag's list is always a fertile source of examples for law school classes. This year's list includes majority opinions from federal appellate and district courts, other concurrences and dissents, books, long articles, news and editorial pieces, and "Miscellany."
Monday, March 18, 2013
Bryan Garner argues in the March ABA Journal that many legal writers suffer from the “Dunning-Kruger” effect—a syndrome named after two professors who showed that unskilled persons often think they’re better than they are. His column, titled Why Lawyers Can't Write, provides support for legal writing professors who are truthful about students' weaknesses and prod them toward a higher level of skill. But Garner is off the mark when he blames law schools for providing students with “little if any feedback (on substance, much less style) on exams and writing assignments.” While some professors may be guilty of that charge, most legal writing professors are not. We give students extensive feedback.
By emphasizing the value of clear, precise legal analysis and writing, Garner helps us in our efforts to hold students to high standards. But he slights us in not recognizing that our profession is overwhelmingly on his side, as a myriad of our published articles and conference presentations have documented.