March 2, 2013
Better Writing and Your Career
The newspaper "Investor's Business Daily" carries a daily series on "Leaders and Success." Monday's installment (March 4, 2013) falls under the category of "How You Think is Everything" with an article on how to lift your career with the correct choice of words. One expert quoted in the article is Bryan Garner, who is the editor of Black's Law Dictionary, the author of numerous books and countless articles, and a board member of Scribes -- The Society of American Legal Writers.
The article has these two points from Bryan. Although the article is geared toward business writing, it applies as well to legal writing:
1. "Sink the Clunkers." Some people trying to make a good impression use technical jargon, but the audience is often left wondering what was said. Garner notes that jargon isn't always negative, and that it began as a way to streamline communication within a company or industry. But he says that "what is bad is when you start using this jargon outside your specialized realm. Then it becomes inconsiderate insider talk."
2. "Boil it Down." Garner notes that two great communicators -- Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. -- could "hone a message to powerfully simple missive." To achieve similar clarity, Garner suggests condsidering "How would I explain this to a high school student?" He also added: "When you simplify your ideas -- still keeping the substance pure -- there's no better way to seem like a smart writer."
The Monday issue of Investor's Business Daily has some other tips in that article by Sonja Carberry, "Lift Career With a Smile."
Mark E. Wojcik (Board Member of Scribes - The Society of American Legal Writers)
March 1, 2013
Friday Fun: Law School Parody Music Video!
Chocolate Ghost House has produced a "Law School" parody of the song "Payphone" by Maroon 5. You don't need to know that song to enjoy this video (4 minutes, 18 seconds of non-stop smiles for you!). Great lyrics: "If the eighth Amendment does exist, how are they allowing all of this?" Congratulations to Tyler Murray and all of the students who made this video. We understand from Professor Grace Wigal that you are students at West Virginia University College of Law in Morgantown. (You're admissions office will probably start using this to recruit students!) Well done!
Hat tip to Law School Memes.
See two other legal writing videos in the post below.
Videos for classes on oral argument
In preparation for oral arguments, I plan to show my classes two videos that many legal writing professors have used. One is a 3-minute piece by comedian Taylor Mali, who pokes fun at verbal tics like "Y'know." The other is a 2-minute interview with Chief Justice Roberts, who talks about responding to judges' questions.
Here is the video from Taylor Mali:
And here is the video from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, which was taken in 2009 in an interview by C-SPAN:
February 28, 2013
A retired chief judge talks about legal writing courses
In a lecture at Indiana University on legal education, retired Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye recently offered some observations about the teaching of legal writing. The legal writing course she took in law school—a pass-fail course taught by a part-time adjunct—gave Kaye the impression that it was “acceptable—even recommended” to devote little attention to the class. Calling that approach “a pity,” Kaye praised today’s legal writing courses as offering valuable individual feedback. She also urged law schools to cover legal writing with short papers in every course. And she stressed that law schools can reflect the importance of legal writing courses through “the quality of and respect accorded to those who teach them.”
February 27, 2013
ALWD teaching grant winners announced!
Congratulations to the winners of this year's ALWD teaching grants:
Heidi Brown, at New York Law School, for her proposal to teach strategy and theory of civil discovery through an upper level writing course.
Jennifer Rosa, Michigan State University, for her flipped classroom project.
hat tip: Elizabeth Fajans
February 26, 2013
Justice Thomas on Concision and Accessibility
In a fascinating exchange recounted by the Atlantic, Justice Thomas tied editing and concise writing to the Court's duty to deliver the law in an accessible way:
What I tell my law clerks is that we write these so that they are accessible to regular people. That doesn't mean that there's no law in it. But there are simple ways to put important things in language that's accessible. As I say to them, the beauty, the genius is not to write a 5 cent idea in a ten dollar sentence. It's to put a ten dollar idea in a 5 cent sentence.
That's beauty. That's editing. That's writing.
The editing we do is for clarity and simplicity without losing meaning, and without adding things. You don't see a lot of double entendres, you don't see word play and cuteness. We're not there to win a literary award. We're there to write opinions that some busy person or somebody at their kitchen table can read and say, "I don't agree with a word he said, but I understand what he said."
Whatever may be said about Justice Thomas's ideology or jurisprudence, I cannot help but be struck by the eloquence and thoughtfulness of his approach. Clarity in legal writing, particularly when you are a Supreme Court justice, serves an undeniable social good.
How's this for a guest lecturer in your legal writing class? The students in my Lawyering Skills I class at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago had a visit from Sheila Simon, the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois! She spoke to the students about the importance of clear communication in legal writing.
Sheila, as many of you know, taught legal writing at Southern Illinois University School of Law in Carbondale before she became the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. She is now the second highest executive officer in Illinois. In that role, she is leading efforts to increase college graduation rates, to inspire a strong ethical culture in government, and to protect the state's environmental treasures in its waterways and rural areas.
I had the chance to hear her speak on higher education in Illinois. Sheila has recently finished a statewide tour of every community college in the state. She also released a report on how to make colleges more affordable and how to increase graduation rates. The report is available through her office website by clicking here.
Mark E. Wojcik (mew)
February 25, 2013
The Law Library of Congress Road Show Hits the ABA in Big D
The Law Library of Congress is a fantastic resource. Really. They have everything. Beyond everything. And they want to help you, dear members of the legal researching public, to know what's in their collection and to learn how to access it.
Matt Braun, one of the ace Law Librarians in the Law Library of Congress, did another Road Show for the Law Library of Congress during the midyear meeting of the American Bar Association, held earlier this month in Dallas. And he did a great job. (Many of you will remember Mr. Braun from the field trip that the Association of American Law Schools Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research did in January 2012.)
The presentation was great -- those attending got a lot of information about how to use the resources of the Law Library of Congress (even without going to Washington DC). The crowd was standing room only, something you don't always see for a presentation on legal research. And the presentation wasn't even held in the main ABA hotel in Dallas -- you had to walk about 10 minutes to get to the other hotel where this presentation was! This is a committed audience!
Thank you, Law Library of Congress, for continuing to share information about the great resources you offer to researchers throughout the United States (and, indeed, around the world).
Mark E. Wojcik (mew)
February 24, 2013
Save the Date! The Burton Awards are on June 3, 2013
The Burton Awards for Legal Achievement is without a doubt the most glamorous evening dedicated to legal writing. The black tie gala is held in Washington D.C. in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress -- the most beautiful building and room in the United States. And Ralph Brill looks just great in a tux.
The entertainment last year was Bernadette Peters. This year the entertainment will be a performance by Emmy, Grammy and Tony Nominee Vanessa Williams.
The 2013 Burton Awards will be held on Monday, June 3, 2013. The event begins at 4:45 p.m. with award presentations followed by a reception and gala dinner in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.
The Burton Awards are designed to reward major achievements in the law, ranging from literary awards to the greatest reform in law. The awards are selected by professors from Harvard Law School, University of Pennsylvania Law School, and the University of California at Irvine School of Law, among others. Judge Richard Posner (7th Circuit US Court of Appeals), Chief Judge Alex Kozinski (9th Circuit US Court of Appeals), U.S. Senator John Cornyn, U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr., U.S. Senator Mike Crapo, Chairman Spencer Bachus, Judith Kaye (Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals) (retired), Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan of California, Thomas L. Sager (Senior Vice President and General Counsel of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company) and Sabine Curto (Senior Director of Administration, Kirkland & Ellis LLP) are honorary members on the Board of Directors.