Friday, July 19, 2013
The Indiana Law Review recently published Judge Patricia Wald’s address at Indiana University’s 2012 commencement. Judge Wald, who sat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, advised the graduates, “Whatever you do, learn to write well--succinctly, clearly, and persuasively.”
Lawyers write the words that compose the laws that flood our courts with issues of interpretation and proper construction. We are told to hold with the “plain meaning” or “plain language” of the statutes, but in too many cases the meaning and the language are far from plain; the syntax is convoluted, surplusage and redundancy abound, participles dangle, and pronouns twist aimlessly in windy speech. . . . The best language conveys ideas clearly and completely. The road to legal limbo is paved with good intentions, sloppily articulated.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Neil Dilloff (Maryland) has an interesting, timely new article (available on SSRN) out in the Stanford Law and Policy Review. From the abstract:
Over the past several years, there has been a plethora of articles by law school administrators, faculty members, legal foundations, practicing lawyers, judges, various commentators, and national, state, and city bar associations about the perceived gap between what currently is being taught in the nation's law schools and what various practicing members of the legal profession believe needs to be taught. In addition, law schools have conducted various symposia in which law school administrators, faculty, and practitioners have met and discussed ways to improve law school curricula so that what a student learns is immediately useful to the student, and to his or her employer, when the student enters the workplace.
The backdrop for the renewed attention to making legal education more practical has been the dismal job market for lawyers, which is now entering its fifth year. Law graduates are scrambling for jobs in a buyer's market. Employers are looking for applicants who have the training, legal maturity, and experience to become instant contributors to the productivity of the firm, corporation, or agency. While few employers expect recent law graduates to be able to meet job demands without some acclimation and on-the-job training, many employers no longer have the time, will, or finances to dedicate to training new lawyers. Accordingly, those law schools that are able to turn out "finished" work-ready graduates will move to the head of the pack, and their graduates will have a leg up in this uncertain job market. This Article will explore ways for law schools to accomplish this mission.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
This afternoon, I'm digging into this survey about technology and writing from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. The survey asked about 2,500 middle and high school teachers about how digital technologies have affected student writing.
From the Overview:
According to teachers, students’ exposure to a broader audience for their work and more feedback from peers encourages greater student investment in what they write and in the writing process as a whole.
At the same time, these teachers give their students modest marks when it comes to writing and highlight some areas needing attention. Asked to assess their students’ performance on nine specific writing skills, teachers tended to rate their students “good” or “fair” as opposed to “excellent” or “very good.” Students received the best ratings on their ability to “effectively organize and structure writing assignments” and their ability to “understand and consider multiple viewpoints on a particular topic or issue.” Teachers gave students the lowest ratings when it comes to “navigating issues of fair use and copyright in composition” and “reading and digesting long or complicated texts.”
The Washington Post's report on the survey notes that "teachers weren’t thrilled about students using casual writing in formal assignments" (including "tech talk" and "shortening"). One survey response highlights this problem:
Texting has spilled over into so much of my students' writing that trying to decipher what they are writing has become difficult. They don't see the problem, and feel that as long as they have written something, it should be accepted no matter how it's written.
(h/t to my friend Brendon, who used technology to tweet a link to the survey to me this morning)
Monday, July 15, 2013
Christine Bartholomew, at SUNY-Buffalo, has written a very helpful article onTime: An Empirical Analysis of Law Student Time Management Deficiencies. She acknowledges LRW professors' role on the front line of teaching time managment and provides information and ideas that every law professor should find helpful. Here's her abstract:
Article begins the much needed research on law students’ time famine.
Time management complaints begin early in students’ legal education and
generally go unresolved. As a result, practicing attorneys identify time
famine as a leading cause of job dissatisfaction. To better arm
graduating students, law schools must treat time as an essential
component of practice-readiness. Unfortunately, most law schools ignore
their students’ time management concerns, despite growing calls for
greater 'skills' training in legal education.
"To date, legal scholarship has overlooked psychological research on time management. Yet, this research is an essential starting point to effective instruction. Rather than viewing time management as a singular concept, this research shows it is actually multi-dimensional, compromised of multiple time structure skills and behaviors. This more nuanced understanding of time management means each dimension can be isolated, measured, and remediated. Rather than a shotgun approach, law schools can tailor instruction to law students’ specific deficiencies.
"To help identify these deficiencies, this Article presents a psychometric study of 1Ls – the first study to ever quantify law students’ time management problems. The study identifies five specific dimensions 1Ls lack: perceived control, present orientation, structured routine, goal setting, and mechanics. Using this information, the Article offers tailored advice on incorporating skills across the curriculum to help remedy these deficiencies. By learning foundational time management skills during law school, students have at least a fighting chance of managing time famine in practice."
Pamela Keller of the University of Kansas recently reminded lawyers to pay attention to typography. In an article in the June Journal of the Kansas Bar Association, Keller stresses the importance of visual presentation, discussing points like font choice and the importance of white space. Weighing in on a topic previously discussed on this blog, Keller urges legal writers to insert one space, not two, between sentences. The two spaces, she explains, are a holdover from typewriter days.
Since I last posted on the topic, I have repented of my Luddite ways, and I now place only one space between sentences.