Friday, May 10, 2013
The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, in a somewhat curious use of Star Trek references, offered an opinion that addressed a pornography downloading issue and included a Google maps screenshot and an elaborate chart (see pages 7 and 9 of the opinion) to aid understanding. Read the first paragraphs below (highlighted language added)--or read the entire opinion.
The judge started with a quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and then said, "Plaintiffs have outmaneuvered the legal system.They’ve discovered the nexus of antiquated copyright laws, paralyzing social stigma, and unaffordable defense costs. And they exploit this anomaly by accusing individuals of illegally downloading a single pornographic video. Then they offer to settle—for a sum calculated to be just below the cost of a bare-bones defense. For these individuals, resistance is futile; most reluctantly pay rather than have their names associated with illegally downloading porn. So now, copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow, starving attorneys in this electronic-media era to plunder the citizenry. Plaintiffs do have a right to assert their intellectual-property rights, so long as they do it right. But Plaintiffs’ filing of cases using the same boilerplate complaint against dozens of defendants raised the Court’s alert. It was when the Court realized Plaintiffs engaged their cloak of shell companies and fraud that the Court went to battlestations."
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Lisa McElroy of Drexel University has been awarded tenure. An active member of the legal writing community, Lisa has been on the boards of directors of both LWI and ALWD. She has also written about Supreme Court practice, contributed op-ed pieces in the national media, and written for the Plain English section of SCOTUS blog. Congratulations, Lisa!
Hat tip: Terry Seligmann
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Amy Sloan of has been appointed Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Amy's dedicated involvement in the legal writing community is legendary--she is a past president of the Association of Legal Writing Directors, and among her many publications is a book on legal research. Now she continues a trend of legal writing professors assuming positions of leadership in law schools. Congratulations, Amy!
hat tip: Eric Easton
Digitization of legal materials has its pitfalls, as West Virginia’s legal writing director Hollee Schwartz Temple explains in the May ABA Journal. Contrary to popular belief, not everything is available in digital form—and budget cuts are exacerbating that situation. And uniformity is a continuing problem as librarians grapple with how to ensure perpetual access to legal materials. Read more in Temple’s article, Fading Fast.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Judge Richard A. Posner offers insights on federal court opinions and advocacy in his recent article Judicial Opinions and Appellate Advocacy in Federal Courts—One Judge’s Views. His observations about how judges decide cases and write opinions will be of particular interest to law graduates who are about to start judicial clerkships. Posner criticizes typical “formalist” case opinions, often drafted by law clerks, as including useless facts, unhelpful bromides, and uninformative string citations. Such opinions display “a tendency to overkill, to repetition, to tedium, and the clutter of citations, facts, quotations, and boilerplate . . . .” Posner’s antidote for these flaws is “economy of expression.”
In his advice for advocates, Posner advises that they put themselves in the judge’s place. Because the typical judge has little time for each case and is seldom an expert in the subject matter, the judge “is badly in need of advocates’ help.” And at oral argument, the advocate should be ready with “simple, common-sensical points.”
In one particularly interesting section, Posner criticizes the Supreme Court for referring to dissenting opinions in majority opinions and for displaying “pseudo-learning[ ] and uncontrolled verbosity” that make many of its opinions “extremely painful to read.”
For more of Posner’s inside information, read the full article at 51 Duquesne Law Review 3 (2013).
The Lawyerist has a nice post on three grammar rules that you ought to forget. It turns out that your grade school grammar teacher may have perpetuated some bad, or at least unnecessary, habits.
First, you should use “and” and “but” to begin a sentence. From the post:
Using “and” to start a sentence is not only grammatically correct, it’s often the best choice. Compare this:
The defendant had a loaded pistol in his jacket. And he was high on methamphetamine.
The defendant had a pistol in his jacket. Additionally, he was high on methamphetamine.
Which sentence has a greater impact?
And (see, I’m already catching on) you should use prepositions at the end of some sentences:
[The preposition] rule comes from a few Latin-obsessed writers in the 19th century. But English sentences are not structured like Latin. Forcing the preposition into the sentence leads to bad results:
What is the new tool used for?
For what purpose is the new tool used?
Head over to the original post for the third rule that your elementary school teacher misled you with. The fall will be here before we all know it (gasp), and this piece might make a good starting point for a sentence-level writing discussion with your 1Ls.