Saturday, June 15, 2013
Earlier this week, we posted about Sherri Lee Keene's important article on the role of legal writing in solving legal education's problems. She has a shorter, excellent piece on the same topic in the National Law Journal. This version is the perfect length to circulate to your faculty or dean. From the article:
Engaging in legal writing has many learning benefits. The act of writing affords the writer an opportunity to think through a legal problem, engage deeply with the law and facts, and expand her knowledge of the law and practice. By analyzing legal problems and developing her ideas through the writing process, a student better understands the substantive law and procedure relevant to an assignment. In discussions with the professor on writing assignments and from feedback received, a student learns to make professional decisions and gains confidence about the prospect of practicing law. Work on writing assignments offers a student an opportunity to apply her knowledge of the law in a practical context, with the benefit of expert guidance.
Even though many practitioners share these positive legal writing experiences, a disconnect exists between the vast potential for learning from writing and the limited role of practical legal writing in legal education. It is often seen through a narrow lens as an isolated skill to be learned in designated courses. Yet writing can provide a wealth of learning opportunities, the benefits of which can be realized by the student throughout law school and later in practice. As law schools ponder how they might better prepare students to meet the increasing demands of legal practice, they need to go back to basics and consider the greater role that practical legal writing should play in building practice competence.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Sarah Ricks of Rutgers-Camden was recently recognized for her outstanding teaching of the practical side of lawyering. Even before the current emphasis on skills training, her course Current Issues in Civil Rights Litigation engaged students through simulated legal problems. This past year, Ricks taught the course at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law and received rave reviews. As a press release from Rutgers explained, “The entire design of the course is based around engaging students beyond the traditional realm of learning doctrine. [Ricks] brought in guest speakers, provided examples about doctrine and practice from her own career, and wove in many lessons on practical aspects of being a litigator. She also encouraged debate and discussion that solicited conflicting opinions on many topics.”
Hat tip: Lisa McElroy
We're about two weeks out from the end of Google Reader. I've been a loyal Reader user for several years now, but it's time to admit I need to commit to a replacement. It seems like most people I talk to have switched to Feedly. I imported my Google Reader feeds to Feedly (this was a very easy transitional step) but I've still been doing most of my reading through Reader. Anyone made the switch and have any tips for transitioning to Feedly or any other blog-reader recommendations?
Thursday, June 13, 2013
The John Marshall Law School in Chicago has announced that its Director of Lawyering Skills, Anthony Niedwiecki, has been named Associate Dean for Skills, Experiential Learning, and Assessment. He will oversee the school’s programs in those areas. These are topics in which he has presented and written extensively. Professor Niedwiecki is also currently the President of the Association of Legal Writing Directors.
hat tip: Professor Mary Nagel, The John Marshall Law School
(njs and mew)
Stephanie Willbanks at Vermont Law School has written an article worthy of your summer reading time: "What's in a Name? Would a Rose by Any Other Name Really Smell as Sweet?"
Here's her abstract for the article:
"What do William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, and Robert Frost have in common? All are common sources for law review article titles. This compendium of titles will not necessarily help you decide on the title for your next article, but it will at least provide amusement and help you delay until another day that which you ought to be doing today. As one would expect, the works of William Shakespeare provide a myriad of titles and phrases well suited to law review article titles. So do the works of Charles Dickens. Somewhat surprisingly Hamlet is more popular than Macbeth and A Tale of Two Cities more popular than Bleak House. There are far fewer references to James Bond and Dr. Seuss than you might imagine."
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
This All Things Considered piece about what kids are reading these days paints a pretty bleak picture. It quotes Eric Stickney, the educational research director for Renaissance Learning, who says, ""The complexity of texts [high school] students are being assigned to read has declined by about three grade levels over the past 100 years. A century ago, students were being assigned books with the complexity of around the ninth- or 10th-grade level. But in 2012, the average was around the sixth-grade level."
It's an interesting read (or listen), especially as I'm starting to prepare materials for my incoming class of 1Ls. But it's also worth reading the comments, which raise some interesting counterpoints about "reading levels" and what does and should constitute "classics" when it comes to high school reading.
The Third Annual Western Regional Legal Writing Conference will take place on August 9-10, 2013 at Whittier Law School. The theme of the conference is "Lead the Change," and Richard Neumann is the keynote speaker. More information about the program and travel accommodations is available on the conference website.
h/t Andrea Funk
George D. Gopen, emeritus professor of the Practice of Rhetoric at Duke, recently advised legal writers that they must “control agency” in their writing: that is, their prose should usually identify an actor. Lawyers who choose abstract nouns and the passive voice produce vague prose that simply doesn’t explain who did what. It’s not enough to write sentences that only some readers may understand with effort. Instead, the prose should be “highly likely to lead most readers to perceive your thought.” See Gopen’s companion articles in the winter and spring 2013 issues of Litigation for some good examples that illustrate his point.
Gopen is the 2011 recipient of the Legal Writing Institute’s Golden Pen Award for his contributions to the field of legal writing.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
As the heat builds in the southern U.S., a trip to our northern climes is looking good. You too could be joining legal writing professors and directors from around the U.S. just two weeks from now at Marquette University in Milwaukee for the bi-ennial ALWD conference. It's not too late for you to join us. You can see the full program and register for the conference here.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Sherri Lee Keene at U. Maryland has articulated the centrality of legal writing for solving legal education's challenges, in "One Small Step for Legal Writing, One Giant Leap for Legal Education: Making the Case for More Writing Opportunities in the 'Practice-Ready' Law School Curriculum".
As she so aptly summarizes:
writing is more than an isolated practical skill or a law school course; it is
a valuable tool for broadening and deepening law students’ and new attorneys’
knowledge and understanding of the law. If experienced legal professionals,
both professors and practitioners alike, take a hard look back at their
careers, many will no doubt remember how their work on significant legal
writing projects advanced their own knowledge of the law and enhanced their
professional competence. Legal writing practice helps the writer to gain
expertise in a number of ways: first, the act of writing itself promotes
learning; second, close work on legal writing assignments provides a unique
opportunity for less-experienced attorneys to engage in meaningful dialogue with
more-experienced attorneys, with the assignment acting as a catalyst for the
transfer of knowledge of law and legal practice from expert to novice; and
lastly, meaningful feedback on legal writing provides an opportunity for
more-experienced attorneys to evaluate and critique a less-experienced
attorney’s thinking, including her analysis of substantive law and legal
concepts, as well as her professional decision-making. Indeed, legal writing
projects afford legal novices an invaluable opportunity to apply their
knowledge of the law, engage legal experts through work on discrete matters,
and receive useful individual guidance on the substance of their work and their
judgment on practice matters.
"While legal writing classes are well-established as fundamental courses in the modern law school curriculum, particularly during the first year, the many benefits of legal writing have not been fully realized in law school teaching. Given recent demands for law schools to produce students who are better prepared to meet the demands of legal practice, the time has come for law schools to take a fresh look at the role of writing in legal education. This Article articulates a plan for law schools going forward that will help bridge the gap that currently exists between legal theory and practice in legal education. The paper argues that to better prepare law students for practice, law school teaching must consistently go beyond the acquisition of knowledge of the law, and more frequently include the application of this knowledge to a client’s legal problem. As legal writing provides a particularly useful opportunity for students to engage in the meaningful study of law and to apply their knowledge of law in a practice context, this article brings legal writing into the current 'practice-ready' debate. This Article urges law schools to rethink the role that legal writing can play in preparing students for the challenges of today’s legal practice, and to increase the quantity and quality of legal writing practice opportunities in their curriculums."