Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Monday, October 20, 2014
As 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.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
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 http://blogs.loc.gov/law/2014/10/free-public-access-to-federal-materials-on-guide-to-law-online/.
Hat tip Law Library of Congress
Friday, October 10, 2014
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.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Two new articles, both by University of Wyoming law professors, identify ties between 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.”
Saturday, October 4, 2014
Bryan Garner's latest article in the ABA Journal is titled Ten Tips for Better Legal Writing. Some of his tips are especially appropriate for law students, who could appropriately paste "Don't rely exclusively on computer research" on the wall by their work space. That would serve as a reminder that unfocused computer searches are like a box of chocolates--you never know what you're going to get. Garner also advises legal writers to be neither too tentative nor too cocksure in their conclusions, both of which are hazards for beginning law students. And Garner's tenth tip would improve the professionalism of many a student paper: "Proofread one more time than you think necessary."
Friday, October 3, 2014
An article by Professor Steven Pinker in the October 3, 2014 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education laments the unfortunate state of academic writing. Not legal writing (as readers of this blog would know), but academic writing in general. He notes that outside the academy bad writing is seen as a deliberate choice, and that some scholars may "spout obscure verbiage to hide the fact that they have nothing to say." Although he does not deny that having nothing to say may be true for some professors, others simply have writing that stinks.
His essay on this is worth reading, including its observations on metadiscourse, professional narcissism, abstraction, hedging, and the "Curse of Knowledge." He also notes, for example, that "Few graduate programs teach writing. Few academic jounals stipulate clarity among their criteria for acceptance, and few reviewers and editors enforce it."
Professor Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard, is also the author of The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, published by Viking Press.
In concluding his essay, Professor Pinker admonishes that: "Our indifference to how we share the fruits of our intellectual labors is a betrayal of our calling to enhance the spread of knowledge. In writing badly, we are wasting each other's time, sowing confusion and error, and turing our profession into a laughingstock."
Professor Pinker, I think you'll find a lot of agreement from readers of our blog.
The October 3, 2014 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education reminds us that the number of law school applicants has plummeted 45 percent from 2004 to 2014, citing preliminary figures from the American Bar Association. The Chronicle states that law schools were reaching deeper into the applicant pool and that bar pass rates were taking a hit.
Some schools have shown particularly large enrollment drops. Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, notes the article, went from 422 entering students in 2010 to only 242 students in 2014. That's a drop of 43 percent. See Katherine Mangan, Struggling Law School May Be a Canary in the Coal Mine, Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct. 3, 2014, at A8. Another school cited in the aritcle is Thomas Cooley, which saw a drop of 41 percent in its enrollment. Citing a report from the National Jurist, the Chronicle reports that Thomas Cooley had 3,931 enrollments in 2010 but only 2,334 in 2013.
The number of ABA-accredited law schools has grown in the past 15 years, growing from 182 schools in 1999 to 204 today (three of which are provisionally accredited).
Monday, September 29, 2014
Phillip Sparkes offers some good advice about paragraphing his recent article, Thinking in Paragraphs. He explains that we see paragraphs more than we hear them. Concerning length, he states, "A good paragraph is as long as it needs to be." The requirements of unity and coherence necessarily limit length, though, and as reading habits change, "it is probably a good idea to keep paragraphs short." For more helpful advice, see the full article at page 30 of the September 2014 Kentucky Bench and Bar Magazine.
Monday, September 22, 2014
Stetson's Kirsten Davis recently published an article arguing that the traditional legal memorandum is not dead. While some lawyers may read a memo on a computer screen instead of on paper, Davis argues that on-screen reading does not change the essential nature of the objective memo, which "facilitate[s] deliberative decision making." Today's memo might include more visual cues because it may be read on a screen, but it can still encourage depth of analysis and avoid the shortcomings of more superficial forms of communication.
Friday, September 19, 2014
Professors Philip B. Stark and Richard Freishtat of Berkeley have posted a new article pointing out flaws in the use of student evaluations of professors. Among their criticisms, they point out biases in the ratings and argue that students are not qualified to evaluate such matters as instructor effectiveness. They also identify flaws with the statistical methods applied to the ratings. For example, if two students rank Professor Smith at 3 and 7 on a 10-point scale, and two other students each rank Professor Jones at 5, both professors have a 5 average. But can those averages be equated? Stark and Freishtat say no, and they argue that “averages of rating scores should not even be calculated, much less compared across instructors, courses, or departments.” Instead, other kinds of evidence should be used along with student ratings “to provide more meaningful and reliable formative and summative assessments of teaching.”
Hat tip: Bruce Ching
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Retired U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice paid a visit today to The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, where he met with members of the Stevens Inn of Phi Delta Phi Legal Honor Society. Pictured here is Justice Stevens in the Justice Arthur Goldberg Courtroom (named for a John Marshall Law School Professor who was elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court).
Justice Stevens is being welcomed to the law school by Marie Sarantakis, Magister of the Stevens Inn Chapter of Phi Delta Phi Law Fraternity at The John Marshall Law School.
Earlier in the day, Justice Stevens spoke at a luncheon held at the Chicago Bar Association, where he responded to reviews of his latest book, Six Amendments.
Drexel University School of Law announced this week that Thomas R. Kline, a trial lawyer in Philadelphia, would give the law school $50 million to help it reach the top ranks of legal education. Drexel was established only eight years ago. Click here to read more.(mew)
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
The tenth edition of the Global Legal Skills Conference will be held in Chicago, Illinois on May 20-22, 2015.
GLS-10 will be co-hosted by The John Marshall Law School (where the conference originated) and Northwestern University School of Law. It will also be co-sponsored by a law school in Mexico, the Facultad Libre de Derecho de Monterrey (which twice hosted the conference in the past).
The Global Legal Skills Conference is a unique, international conference that brings together professors who teach skills, professors who teach substantive law (and especially international law), practicing attorneys, judges, and law students from around the world. At the last GLS conference (held in Verona, Italy) there were 180 participants from more than 20 countries. The conference has also been held in Costa Rica and in Washington D.C.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Professor Josephine Potuto of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln recently posted a critique of the law review editing process. After hearing the “moans and groans” of colleagues whose work has been subjected to illogical student edits and suffering through the process herself, Potuto wrote the article to “reform or at least inform student editors as they edit our work.” She criticizes student editors’ insistence on lengthy introductions and extensive footnoting. She also charges student editors with “making changes just because they can.” Potuto then presents a list of senseless editorial changes—for example, a change from “the debate roiling” to “the debate boiling.”
She concludes with a list of ten suggestions for law review editors. Among them is that editors should imagine explaining each edit in person to the author. They should make a change only if they would be willing to do that.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
The conference is called "Beyond Carrots and Sticks: Motivating Students to Do Their Best Work" and it will be held on September 19 and 20, 2014 at Stanford Law School.
Please register for the conference before Thursday September 11. Click here for more information and to register.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
The U.S. Feminist Judgments Project seeks contributors of revised opinions and commentary for an edited collection entitled Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Opinions of the United States Supreme Court. This edited volume is a collaborative project among feminist law professors and others to rewrite, from a feminist perspective, key Supreme Court decisions relevant to gender issues. Editors Kathy Stanchi, Linda Berger, and Bridget Crawford seek prospective authors for 20 to 25 rewritten Supreme Court opinions covering a range of topics including reproductive rights, equal protection, the state’s use of criminal power, privacy, the family, women’s political participation, Title IX, employment discrimination and substantive due process. The editors also seek authors for commentaries of 1,500 to 2,500 words to put into context each of the rewritten cases.
The U.S. Feminist Judgments project was inspired by the successful collection and publication in Britain of Feminist Judgments: From Theory to Practice, edited by Rosemary Hunter, Clare McGlynn, and Erika Rackley. This volume, which included feminist versions of twenty-three key British decisions from the Court of Appeal and House of Lords, was published in 2010 and has been very well received. Like the sister project in Britain, the U.S. Feminist Judgments Project endeavors to pioneer “a new form of critical socio-legal scholarship” that illustrates how cases could have been decided differently had a feminist method been employed. We believe that U.S. Supreme Court law is ripe for this kind of scholarly treatment.
Those who are interested in rewriting an opinion or providing the commentary on one of the rewritten opinions must apply by September 15, 2014 at 5:00 p.m. eastern. Click here for the application.
Editors will notify accepted authors and commentators by October 7, 2014. First drafts of rewritten opinions will be due on February 1, 2015. First drafts of comments on the rewritten opinions will be due on March 15, 2015. The editors are in the process of identifying a publisher; publication of the final volume is anticipated for late 2015.
Applicants may indicate their preferences among the list of cases posted here. Applicants also may suggest other cases for rewriting. The tentative cases were chosen with the input and advice of an Advisory Panel of distinguished U.S. scholars including Kathryn Abrams, Katharine Bartlett,Devon Carbado, Mary Anne Case, Erwin Chemerinsky, April Cherry, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Martha Fineman, Margaret Johnson, Sonia Katyal, Nancy Leong, Catharine MacKinnon, Rachel Moran, Melissa Murray, Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Nancy Polikoff, Dorothy Roberts, Dan Rodriguez, Susan Ross, Vicki Schultz, Dean Spade, Robin West, and Verna Williams.
h/t Kathryn Stanchi (mew)
Monday, September 8, 2014
The deadline for renewing memberships in the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) is September 15th at 5:00 p.m. Register by that date to be included in the new list of members on the DIRCON listserv. The basic ALWD membership rules can be found at http://www.alwd.org/membership/). The rules include these points:
- ALWD has members and delegates (members may also be delegates and vice versa), but only delegates can vote.
- ALWD encourages schools to select up to two delegates for your school.
- Programs with directors may have up to two member/delegates.
- Programs without directors may have as many members as they have LRW faculty, but only two of those members may be designated as delegates.
- Membership is $50 a year per member.
Hat tip to Kristen K. Tiscione
Request for Proposals
Presentation of Scholarly Works in Progress
NECASP has designated time for the presentation of scholarly works in progress at its December conference on Hybrid Learning and Flipped Classroom Principles. The subject of the work to be presented must be related to Law School Academic Support or Bar Study/Passage.
If you wish to present a “work in progress” the proposal process goes like this:
- Submit your proposal by September 26, 2014, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org .
- Proposals may be submitted as a Word document or as a PDF
- Proposals must include: a. Name and title, of presenter b. Law School c. Address, Email address, and telephone number d. Title of work in progress to be presented e. Abstract of your scholarly work in progress, no more than 500 words f. Statement regarding the status of the work; i.e., whether in outline form, early draft, or near completion). g. Media or computer presentation needs.
- The NECASP Board will review the proposals and reply to each by October 3, 2014.
- The conference will be held in Boston in December.
Hat tip to Myra G. Orlen, Associate Professor of Legal Research and Writing and Director of Academic Success Programs at Western New England University School of Law