Thursday, November 13, 2014

LWI Golden Pen Award Goes to Judge Michael Ponsor of Massachusetts

Ponsor Hanging JudgeThe Board of Directors of the Legal Writing Institute (LWI) is pleased to announce that the Honorable Michael A. Ponsor, Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, is the recipient of the 2015 Golden Pen Award. The 2015 Golden Pen will be presented at the Blackwell Award Reception on January 2, 2015, during the 2015 AALS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
Judge Ponsor is being recognized for his contributions to the cause of excellent legal writing, both in his opinion writing and in his teaching as an adjunct at Western New England University School of Law and at Yale, his alma mater. Demonstrating his commitment to teaching future lawyers, Judge Ponsor has for the last 20 years taught persuasive writing and advocacy skills in an upper-level simulation course. 
Judge Ponsor presided over the first death penalty case in Massachusetts in 50 years, and he recently wrote a well-received novel, The Hanging Judge, about the legal and moral issues involved. The nomination of Judge Ponsor recognized him as 
[a] respected and compassionate jurist as well as an exceptional writer, teacher, and mentor. . . . He has engaged the judiciary, current and future lawyers, and the public in a much-needed dialogue about two major challenges facing the criminal justice system: the death penalty and the extremely high rates of incarceration in the United States. 
PonsorThe Legal Writing Institute's Golden Pen Award honors those who make significant contributions to advance the cause of better legal writing. These contributions may take any form, such as promoting the use of clear language in public documents, improving the quality of legal writing instruction, advocating for better writing within the legal community, outstanding scholarship or journalism about legal writing or legal topics, or exceptional writing in law practice. The award is normally given to someone who is not an active member of LWI, but active members are considered in exceptional circumstance
The 2015 Golden Pen will be presented during the Blackwell Award Reception, which honors the recipient of the Thomas F. Blackwell Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Legal Writing and is scheduled from 8-10 p.m. Friday, January 2, 2015, in the Capitol Ballroom, Lobby Level, Omni Shoreham Hotel.
The LWI Awards Committee recommended Judge Ponsor for the 2015 Golden Pen, and the LWI Board unanimously approved this recommendation. The LWI Board is grateful for the work of the LWI Awards Committee in identifying nominees and making recommendations to the Board. The Committee includes Co-Chairs Lurene Contento and Susan Bay and members Anne Enquist, Myra Orlen, and Kathy Vinson.
Hat tips to Linda Berger, Lurene Contento, and Susan Bay

November 13, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A new way to categorize law school courses

The November issue of the Journal of Legal Education contains a thought-provoking piece by EdwardsUNLV's Linda Edwards titled The Trouble with Categories: What Theory Can Teach Us about the Doctrine-Skills Divide. Edwards identifies flaws with the usual classification of law school courses into skills courses on the one hand and doctrinal, podium, or casebook courses on the other. As she explains, that division can send inaccurate messages, because the difference between the categories is not so clean; for example, both kinds of courses cover doctrine. In order to meet the challenges currently facing legal education, Edwards proposes that law schools use the new categories of “foundation,” “bridge,” and “capstone” courses. The full article is available at 64 Journal of Legal Education 181.


November 13, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Scribes - The American Society of Legal Writers

Scribes, the American Society of Legal Writers, is a national organization of legal writers promoting a clear, succinct, and forceful style in legal writing. Founded in 1953 by New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt, Scribes creates an interest in legal writing by awarding annual writing awards, conducting writing seminars, and publishing a quarterly newsletter and the Scribes Journal of Legal Writing.

The Michigan Bar Journal has an article from a copule of years ago that introduces Scribes - The American Society of Legal Writers.  Click here to read it. 

Click here for more information about Scribes.


November 12, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Mark Wojcik appointed to ABA Advisory Commission on the Law Library of Congress

My fellow blog editor, Mark Wojcik of Chicago's John Marshall Law School, has been appointed to Wojcik-mark the prestigious ABA Advisory Commission to the Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress.  There he joins some very influential people, including Justice Samuel Alito of the U.S. Supreme Court. Congratulations, Mark!

hat tip: Anthony Niedwiecki


November 12, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

LWI One Day Workshop in Charlotte, North Carolina

The Charlotte School of Law is hosting an LWI One-Day Workshop on December 5.  The theme at that location will be “Preparing Practice-Ready Students: What Every Legal Writer Needs to Know Before Putting Pen to Paper,” and the day will include the following LWI apeakers:

  • Laura Graham (Wake Forest University School of Law), First Things First: How to Build Foundational Pre-Writing Lessons Into Your Legal Writing Class
  • Lucy Jewel (University of Tennessee College of Law) and Alexa Chew (University of North Carolina School of Law), Categories and Conventions: Teaching Students to Critically Assess Boundaries
  • Anne Burr (University of Michigan Law School), Cultural Exchange: Teaching Pre-Writing Skills to International Law Students
  • Suzanne Rabe (The University of Arizona James E. Rogers School of Law), Use of Oral Presentations and Client Interviews to Help Reach a Variety of Learners in a Legal Writing Class
  • O.J. Salinas (University of North Carolina School of Law), Think, Talk, Listen, Learn: Using Oral Exercises to Teach Case Analysis and Writing Fundamentals

Breakfast and lunch are being provided  by BNA and Lexis.

Click here for more information.  Or click here for the LWI registration link.

Hat tips to Mandana Vidwan and Heather Davis.


November 12, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

LWI's One Day Workshops Coming Up

The Legal Writing Institute's One-Day Workshops are coming up in December.  These events, spread across the country, create a great gathering space for legal writing professors, law librarians, writing specialists, and others interested in teaching legal writing.

UNLV's William S. Boyd School of Law is one of the places hosting a One Day Workshop on Friday December 5, 2014.  Our Workshop will explore the theme of "Developing and Implementing Upper-Level Legal Writing Courses," and will feature some wonderful speakers, including several current LWI Board Members.  At UNLV they are planning several interactive features, including "Lunch with Practitioners" and a "Speed Mentoring" session.  More information on the program and how to register for it is available by clicking here.

I will be one of the speakers at the San Diego One Day Workshop being held at California Western School of Law.  Hope to see some of you there!
Feel free to send us news of other LWI workshops, we're happy to post them here.
Mark E. Wojcik (mew)

November 12, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Pink Ink

Should the Legal Writing Institute formalize what was known as the Pink Ink Caucus?  That was the group of LGBT legal writing professors and allies.  It met a couple of times (but not recently).  Should LWI bring it back and foramlize it into an LWI committee?


November 12, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Working with academically underprepared students

“Legal educators don’t need empirical research to tell them what they already know—students coming Cooper to law school are ill prepared for the academic rigors of law study.” So begins an article recently posted by Jennifer Cooper of Seattle University. Cooper writes that in addressing this problem, law professors can benefit from undergraduate research showing that “retrieval [encoding and retrieving information from memory], self-testing, and periodic review are highly correlated with academic success.” To apply these concepts in law schools, Cooper recommends that professors calendar specific study steps, model case reading and synthesis in class, use practice questions and quizzes, and modeling effective use of course outlines.


November 7, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Glitch in Westlaw's Copy With Reference

This is a temporary glitch that I suppose will eventually work itself out, but in the meantime it is best to be aware of a small issue with the feature called "Westlaw Copy With Reference."  In case you don't know it, that feature allows you to copy a block of text from a case with the reference.  You can put the reference in Bluebook format or in ALWD format.  And hey, since my students figured out how to do that I can spend a little less time teaching citation format.  It works quite well and is just one of those amazing things I wish we had back when I was in law school.  Perfect citation format every time.

But here's the issue.  The current Westlaw Copy with Reference (ALWD) seems to still be set for the Fourth edition of the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation rather than the current, can't-tell-it-apart-from-the-Bluebook-anymore Fifth edition.  This means that a citation to an Illinois Appellate Court case will come out like this:

Doe v. Dilling, 861 N.E.2d 1052, 1066 (Ill. App. 1st Dist. 2006) aff'd, 888 N.E.2d 24 (Ill. 2008).

Rather than this:

Doe v. Dilling, 861 N.E.2d 1052, 1066 (Ill. App. Ct. 2006) aff'd, 888 N.E.2d 24 (Ill. 2008).

Of course it was more useful to practitioners and scholars to know the district, but that's not the format now for either Bluebook or ALWD.  And yes, I remember to good ole days when all you needed was "Ill. App." rather than "Ill. App. Ct." (because back then everyone realized it was a court.

Is this a big deal?  Obviously not.
Am I trying to avoid grading papers?  Obviously yes.
But in the meantime, Westlaw powers that be should be alerted to the discrepancy in the new edition of ALWD and it's rather fabulous copy with ALWD reference function.

Click here for an UPDATE to this post. 


November 6, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Magna Carta Exhibit Opens Tomorrow at the Library of Congress

Lincoln CathedralIf you're going to Washington D.C. this January for the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools, plan an extra day to stop by the Library of Congress which will have a special exhibit on the Magna Carta.

The year 2015 will mark the 800th anniversary of the 1215 Magna Carta, the first document to limit the power of the King and to uphold the rights of the individual.

An exhibit called "Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor" will open at the Library of Congress on November 6, 2014 and continue to January 19, 2015. It features the "Lincoln Cathedral" copy of the Magna Carta, which is being loaned by Lincoln Cathedral in England (pictured here).


November 4, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Law Library of Congress

Many readers of this blog have visited the Law Library of Congress (or at least its rather fabulous website).

While we've all been somewhat distracted with upcoming gala celebrations of the 800th Anniversary of Magna Carta, the Law Library of Congress has been undergoing a facelift of sorts with new construction in the Reading Room.  You can click here to visit the Law Library of Congress Blog to have a look at the "before" pictures of the Law Library Reading Room.  This is a major overhaul and we look forward to seeing the final results!  And yes, we're still super-excited about the Magna Carta events at the Law Library of Congress while all of this construction goes on.


October 30, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 24, 2014

What legal employers expect in new law graduates

Susan Wawrose of Dayton recently published a paper about what legal employers want in new Wawrose_susan law graduates. She conducted focus groups of selected Dayton-area lawyers and found that they expect new graduates to exemplify professionalism, have strong research skills, and be effective legal writers. As writers, the new lawyers should consider their audience, write succinctly, and organize effectively, using IRAC. As a result of her research, Wawrose has added more varied assignments—including oral and email responses—to her legal writing course.


October 24, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Job Opening: Florida International University

Florida International University College of Law, a public law school located in Miami, Florida, seeks applicants for entry-level or lateral appointments for the position of Lecturer in Legal Skills and Values. The start date for the position is August 2015.

The College of Law’s Legal Skills and Values program consists of two required courses in the first year of law school, and an additional required course by the end of a student’s fourth semester. We are seeking dedicated legal writing and skills teachers to teach legal research, analysis, and written and oral communication skills, all with a heavy emphasis on professionalism, to students in the first-year courses. 

Lateral candidates should show a demonstrated record of teaching excellence. Entry-level candidates should show commitment to excellence in teaching and significant potential as law teachers. Relevant experience from legal practice is an asset.

This is a full-time faculty appointment, with an initial one-year term, with the possibility of a three-year term and then successive five-year terms.  Anticipated salary is between $60,000 and $80,000, depending upon experience. 

Qualified candidates should send a cover letter, curriculum vitae, and three references. The Appointments Committee may request additional material such as teaching evaluations and letters of recommendation.  Review will begin immediately and continue until the position or positions are filled.

Please submit applications electronically to Professor Noah Weisbord - Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee at:  When applying please reference Job Opening ID 508683.

Hat tip to Marci Rosenthal


October 23, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Job Opening at the Law Library of Congress

Job Opening: Library Technician (Collections)

The Law Technician for Inventory and Physical Controls is supervised by the Chief, Collection Services Division, Law Library of Congress. The incumbent ensures accountability of receipts by timely check-in of each serial or monographic piece received directly in the Law Library within a prescribed number of days following receipt. Records are created in the Integrated Library System (ILS) at point of check-in, as needed, to expedite processing. This position is located Collection Services Division, Global Legal Collection Directorate, Law Library of Congress. The position description number for this position is 64208. The salary range indicated reflects the locality pay adjustments for the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan area. The incumbent of this position will work a flextime work schedule. This is a non-supervisory, bargaining unit position. Relocation expenses will not be authorized for the person(s) selected under this vacancy announcement.

GS-07 - Law Library- $42,631.00- $55,421.00
Opening Date: 21-OCT-14
Closing Date: 04-NOV-14
Availability: Open to all

October 22, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Job Posting: University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

Dual Degree Comparative Legal Writing & Research

Tenure or Tenure-Track Faculty Member

The University of Detroit Mercy School of Law seeks applicants for a tenure or tenure-track faculty position to teach Comparative Legal Writing and Research in itsCanadian & American Dual JD Program, commencing July 2015.

About the Position

The successful candidate will play a key part in the students’ introduction to the Dual JD Degree Program and will teach one section of the year-long, nine-credit hour Comparative Legal Research and Writing course.  Typically, each section consists of approximately 30 students and is supported by at least one Teaching Assistant.

About UDM Law

The School of Law is located at the Riverfront Campus in Downtown Detroit and is within  walking distance of federal, state, and municipal courts, the region’s largest law firms, and  major corporations, including General Motors, Quicken Loans, and Comerica Bank.  The School is also uniquely situated two blocks from the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, an international border crossing that links Detroit, Michigan with Windsor, Ontario, Canada. 

About the Dual JD Program 

The close proximity to Canada has allowed UDM Law to partner with the Faculty of Law at the University of Windsor (Canada) to create a Dual JD Program that is the only program of its kind in the country.  Students are concurrently enrolled at both UDM and University of Windsor and attend classes that are fully integrated and wholly comparative, and taught by faculty at both institutions.  (Typically, the commute between the Detroit and Windsor law school campuses is about 20 minutes.)  Upon successful completion of the three-year program, students earn both an ABA-accredited JD and an accredited Canadian JD, and are eligible to sit for the bar examinations in both jurisdictions.  (Completing the two degrees would require either six years of study if done independently or four years if attending other dual programs.)

About the Comparative Legal Research & Writing Course

The course is a comprehensive comparative research, writing, and analysis course that is specifically designed for the Dual JD Program.  Students learn the similarities and differences between the American and Canadian legal systems, including governmental structure, court structure, jurisdiction, procedure, and ethics. Students also learn fundamental lawyering skills and explore the research, writing, and citation protocols in each country.  The course is structured so that for every major American assignment, there is a comparative Canadian assignment. The highlight of the course involves student participation in both an American and Canadian moot court experience.

About Detroit

Downtown Detroit offers a dynamic variety of cultural, entertainment, and sporting attractions that are easily accessible from the Law School, including the Detroit Institute of Arts (housing a world-class art collection), the Detroit Symphony, the Detroit Opera House, the Detroit Zoo, the Henry Ford Museum, Eastern Market (historic farmer’s market), and major league sports teams.

About University of Detroit Mercy

The University of Detroit Mercy is an independent Catholic institution of higher education sponsored by the Religious Sisters of Mercy and Society of Jesus.  The university seeks qualified candidates who will contribute to the University's urban mission, commitment to diversity, and tradition of scholarly excellence.  The University of Detroit Mercy is an Equal Opportunity Affirmative Action Employer with a diverse faculty and student body and welcomes persons of all backgrounds.


Candidates must have a law degree from an accredited U.S. or Canadian law school, strong academic background, superior writing and communication skills, and a record or the promise of excellence and high scholarly achievement.  Preference will be given to candidates with law degrees, practice experience or significant exposure in both jurisdictions.

Applicants should send a curriculum vitae, a cover letter describing the applicant’s qualifications for the position, and details of at least three references to Professor Gary Maveal, Chair of Faculty Recruitment, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, 651 E. Jefferson, Detroit, MI 48226.  Email applications may be sent to Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled.

Hat tip to Julie St John


October 22, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court Has Gone to the Dogs

Arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court are not televised, but they can be re-enacted by dogs.  Have a look.  Really.  Click here or watch the video below.


Hat tips to Amy Vorenberg and Sarah Ricks.


October 21, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Chronicle article indicts academese

PinkerAs we noted in another post earlier this month, a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article is bluntly titled “Why Academics Stink at Writing.”  Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychology professor and author of The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, indicts much academic writing as "academese": “turgid, soggy, wooden, bloated, clumsy, obscure, unpleasant to read, and impossible to understand.” Among academics’ offenses are “shudder quotes,” quotation marks that apologize for a term, as in “But this is not the ‘take-home message.’” The quotes suggest that although the writer couldn’t think of a better way to make the point, he or she is nevertheless a serious scholar. Pinker says there are several legitimate uses for quotation marks, but “[s]queamishness about one’s own choice of words is not among them.”

Another offense is metadiscourse, “verbiage about verbiage.” Example: “The previous section analyzed the source of word sounds. This section raises the question of word meanings.” Pinker suggests writing instead, “Now that we have explored the source of word sounds, we arrive at the puzzle of word meanings.” In formal legal writing, I would avoid using “we,” perhaps writing instead, “Word sounds lead to the puzzle of word meanings.”

Legal writing professors are ahead of the curve on this: we have been steering our students away from academese and legalese for decades now. Pinker’s article serves as a reminder of particular aspects of the clear, uncluttered writing style we promote.


October 20, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Well Thank You, Hein-on-Line!

Through an agreement with the Library of Congress, the publisher William S. Hein & Co., Inc. has generously allowed the Law Library of Congress to offer free online access to historical U.S. legal materials from HeinOnline. These titles are available through the Library’s web portal, Guide to Law Online: U.S. Federal, and include:

United States Code 1925-1988 (includes content up to 1993)
From Guide to Law Online: United States Law

United States Reports v. 1-542 (1754-2004)
From Guide to Law Online: United States Judiciary

Code of Federal Regulations (1938-1995)
From Guide to Law Online: Executive

Federal Register v. 1-58 (1936-1993)
From Guide to Law Online: Executive

For more details read the announcement on the Law Library of Congress blog, In Custodia Legis, at

Hat tip Law Library of Congress


October 15, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Legal Writing Stars at the SALT Conference

SALT Legal Writing StarsThe Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) conference has just opened with three legal writing stars.

Pictured here are: Linda L. Berger, the Family Foundation Professor of Law at the Univeristy of Nevada at Las Vegas, who is the current President of the Legal Writing Institute (LWI);
Mary-Beth Moylan of the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, who is the current President of the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD); and Olympia Duhart of Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center, who is Co-President of the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT).

Hat tip to Suzanne Rowe, official cheerleader of the legal writing community.


October 10, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Two new interdisciplinary articles

KDC head shot 2012 croppedTwo new articles, both by University of Wyoming law professors, identify ties Smith_michael_rbetween legal writing scholarship and other subject areas. Kenneth Chestek’s The Life of the Law Has Not Been Logic: It Has Been Story echoes an Oliver Wendell Homes quote, which ended, “It has been experience.” Chestek (pictured at left) posits a world in which a computer decides Supreme Court cases by formula. He thus illustrates that formulas alone won’t work—“narrative reasoning” is important. He explains that “recent work in cognitive science and narrative theory” can underpin the work of the legal writing professors as they explore how lawyers persuade.

Michael R. Smith (pictured at right) cites sociological insights that can inform legal writing scholarship. In The Sociological and Cognitive Dimensions of Policy-Based Persuasion, Smith states that “social science scholarship offers many insights into human behavior that can assist legal advocates in improving the persuasiveness of their policy arguments.”


October 7, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)