Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Scribes Book Award Deadline is May 1
Scribes -- The American Society of Legal Writers -- holds an annual book award competition. The award will be presented at the Scribes Annual Meeting, held during the American Bar Association Meeting in San Francisco, on Friday, August 9, 2013. The award is an important recognition for authors (and the publishers who love them). The deadline to submit books is May 1, 2013. Information on how to submit a book for consideration for this award can be found at the webpage for Scribes.
Mark E. Wojcik (Board Member of Scribes)
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
NYT on Nominalizations
The Draft blog at NYT explores some writers' tendency to convert verbs to nouns and concludes that, perhaps, the practice has been unduly villified. While I disagree in part, the piece explains a concept that invariably confounds some 1Ls:
“Do you have a solve for this problem?” “Let’s all focus on the build.” “That’s the take-away from today’s seminar.” Or, to quote a song that was recently a No. 1 hit in Britain, “Would you let me see beneath your beautiful?”
If you find these sentences annoying, you are not alone. Each contains an example of nominalization: a word we are used to encountering as a verb or adjective that has been transmuted into a noun. Many of us dislike reading or hearing clusters of such nouns, and associate them with legalese, bureaucracy, corporate jive, advertising or the more hollow kinds of academic prose. Writing packed with nominalizations is commonly regarded as slovenly, obfuscatory, pretentious or merely ugly.
It is easy to decry nominalization. I don’t feel that a writer is doing me any favors when he expresses himself thus: “The successful implementation of the scheme was a validation of the exertions involved in its conception.” There are crisper ways to say this. And yes, while we’re about it, I don’t actually care for “Do you have a solve?”
Still, it is simplistic to have a blanket policy of avoiding and condemning nominalizations. Even when critics couch their antipathy in a language of clinical reasonableness, they are expressing an aesthetic judgment.
Aesthetics will always play a part in the decisions we make about how to express ourselves — and in our assessment of other people’s expression — but sometimes we need to do things that are aesthetically unpleasant in order to achieve other effects, be they polemical or diplomatic.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Scribes Brief-Writing Competition Deadline is April 19
Scribes -- The American Society of Legal Writers -- holds an annual Brief-Writing-Award competition. The competition began in 1996 to help identify and celebrate excellent student-written briefs. The competition covers the current school year -- September 2012 to May 2013. The award is for briefs that have already won Best Brief in a regional or national moot court competition, so it is a "Best of the Best" competition.
The winning author or authors will be recognized at the 2013 Scribes Annual Meeting, which will be held during the American Bar Association's Annual Meeting in San Francisco on Friday, August 9, 2013. Plaques will be awarded to the authors and their school.
Pictured here (at right) are award winners from 2011: In the photo Scribes Board member and Brief-Writing-Award Committee member Charles D. Cole, Jr. (a.k.a. Dewey Cole) presents the 2011 Scribes Brief-Writing Award to the University of Mississippi School of Law students Rachel Mullen and Robert Parrott
Submissions for the 2012-2013 Brief-Writing Compeition are due by April 19, 2013. Visit the Scribes website for more information about Scribes. And click here for more information about the Scribes Brief-Writing Competition.
Mark E. Wojcik (Board Member, Scribes)
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Save the Date: Scribes Annual Meeting Luncheon will be Friday, August 9, 2013 in San Francisco
Scribes -- The American Society of Legal Writers -- will have its annual luncheon on Friday, August 9, 2013 in San Fransisco during the annual meeting of the American Bar Association. The Scribes annual luncheon traditionally includes award presentations for book authors, brief writers, and moot court briefs as well as a luncheon speaker.
Pictured here (at left) is the current Scribes President, Dean Darby Dickerson of Texas Tech University School of Law.
If you are not a member of Scribes you should consider joining as an individual member. And if your law school or court is not an institutional member, you can have them join too. And if you've been a member in the past, you're always welcome back. Membership benefits include the oh-so-fabulous Scribes Journal (seriously, it's a law review that you will pick up for leisure reading!) and the Scrivener Newsletter, as well as the chance to attend Scribes programs and to have the individual prestige of being a member of Scribes. Click here for more information about Scribes including information on how to join.
Mark E. Wojcik (Board Member of Scribes and Chair of the Scribes Membership Committee)
Friday, April 12, 2013
co-editor Fischer promoted!
Congratulations are in order for our blog co-editor, Judy Fischer, who was granted tenure last year and now has been promoted to the rank of full Professor at the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law. In addition to her many helpful blog posts here, she has written a book on Pleasing the Court: Writing Ethical & Effective Briefs, numerous practical columns for the Kentucky Bar Association journal, and scholarly articles as diverse as Abraham Lincoln as a Legal Writer and The Supreme Court and Gender Neutral Language. Judy is a highly dedicated legal writing professor, one of the folks in the trenches, working hard year after year to train law students in the skills they'll need to be good lawyers. Kudos, Judy!
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Student Lawyer publishes law reviews' errors
The Student Lawyer’s April issue has published Garner's Annual Parade of Law-Review Horribles, in which legal-writing legal expert Bryan Garner highlights law reviews’ blunders from the past year. His list consists of usage errors like “communication between he and his client” and is set up as a quiz so readers can test themselves. The list is “all in fun,” Garner says, pointing out that numerous error-free passages appear in law reviews every year. Still, he recommends good law-review training to give law students some basic knowledge about English usage.
Monday, April 8, 2013
a new genre?
Over on Above the Law, Mark Herrmann has identified a new genre of writing, which he calls "big firm mediocre." It might be more of a "style" than a "genre," but I'm sure you'll recognize it. All I could think of as I read Mark's post was how glad I am, once again, that I turned down the offer for permanent employment in BigLaw, three weeks into my 3L year.
Friday, April 5, 2013
Rocky Mountain report
I got some great ideas at the conference!
Debby McGregor (Indiana) offered a list of YouTube videos to illustrate specific concepts and to inspire/entice students generally.
Judith Popper and Wanda Temm (UMKC) described a week of cross-curricular skills training in the first year that draws on the content of core doctrinal classes, but presents them in the context of real life, with accident/scene investigation, expert guest speakers, etc. The program takes considerable administrative coordination and the cooperation of all the professors in one section, but also energizes the students and helps them to appreciate the context in which law is applied and the skill that go along with its application.
Suzanne Rabe (Arizona) and Terrill Pollman (UNLV) talked about those things that the LRW community *doesn't* talk about: do we cheerlead even when not merited? do we support without question? is there a party line, and how do we deal with those who think differently?
It was a good afternoon!
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference
The University of Colorado Law School recently hosted the Thirteenth Annual Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference in Boulder, Colorado on March 22nd and March 23rd. Although an unexpected storm dumped about a foot of snow, that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those who braved the weather. Participants were inspired by an opening session, led by Mary Beth Beazley, Lyn Entrikin, and Richard Neumann, concisely titled “Emerging Theories in Normative Transgression and the Etymology of Gasconadish Phenotypes, Situationally Induced Puerility, and Counter-Consonance within Scholarly Discourse Communities.” And the next morning Mimi Wesson talked about compelling storytelling in a presentation titled “Writing the Hillmon Case: An Instance of the Legal Storyteller’s Predicament.” About 100 participants from around the Rocky Mountain West, the rest of the nation, and as far away as Australia and Qatar attended.
Pictured below are CU law school engagement coordinator Amy Griffin and legal writing professors Corie Rosen Felder and Natalie Mack, conference co-chair. Chatting on a stairway are Gabrielle Stafford of CU and Mary Beth Beazley of Ohio State.
The unexpected snow
Photo credits: Karin Mika and Natalie Mack
Monday, April 1, 2013
A new article on English verbs moods
Professor Phillip Sparkes of NKU Chase College of Law has written a helpful explanation of verb moods in the latest Kentucky Bench and Bar magazine. Of the three English verb moods—indicative, imperative, and subjunctive—the most troublesome is the subjunctive; often, writers don’t know when it's appropriate or how to construct it. But, as Sparkes points out, the subjunctive mood is useful for, among other things, expressing a situation that is hypothetical or contrary to fact: “If I were the defendant, I would settle the case.” The subjunctive verb “were” cues the reader that the writer is not actually the defendant. But Sparkes also explains that not all clauses beginning with “if” concern matters contrary to fact. For example, a verb that merely expresses uncertainty about the past needs to be in the indicative, not the subjunctive, mood. Here’s my example: “If I was at that meeting, I’ve forgotten it.” The indicative “was” cues the reader that the statement is not hypothetical or contrary to fact, but could be true.
Friday, March 29, 2013
a little Peep-ing levity
Vote for your favorite law-themed Peep diorama at http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/peeps2013_voting. Here's a sample of the candy creativity called "Peepemptory Challenges":
Thursday, March 28, 2013
R.I.P. Anthony Lewis
As some may have noted from earlier in the week, pioneering legal journalist and author of Gideon’s Trumpet, Anthony Lewis, died earlier this week. Mr. Lewis is widely credited for reporting many of the Warren Court’s seminal decisions in concise, accessible language. From the Washington Post:
Anthony Lewis, an indefatigable champion of civil liberties who became known during his half-century with the New York Times as one of the most trenchant legal journalists of his generation and was twice a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, died March 25 at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was two days shy of his 86th birthday.
By the time he retired in 2001, Mr. Lewis was widely recognized as the dean of liberal American columnists and had written a book that is regarded as the seminal account of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright.
As a Times columnist for 32 years, he wrote his most noted work on First Amendment rights and the American justice system. In a crowded field of columnists, many of whom were at times enticed to bloviate, Mr. Lewis distinguished himself with the consistent lucidity of his writing and his reportorial approach to the job.
Taken together, [Mr. Lewis’s two] Pulitzers reflect the two most salient themes of Mr. Lewis’s career: a self-professed affinity for the underdog and seemingly infallible command of the law, despite his limited formal training in the field. “I was probably made to be a lawyer,” he once said. “It just didn’t turn out that way.”
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Hitting the Links
I'm playing catch-up this week...I finally got around to reading some interesting links that came my way over the past week or so and I thought I'd share.
- I finally got around to reading this Chronicle of Higher Education post on the "damage done by No Child Left Behind," which Judy blogged about earlier. It's definitely food for thought, though I tend to think there are a lot of factors at play here, not just federal education policy.
- Professor Deborah Merritt has this post up at the Law School Cafe (hat tip: Mary Beth Beazley), where she talks about finding the right "core faculty" for today's law schools. Here's a teaser:
There is room for many types of teaching and scholarship on law faculties. Our biggest error, perpetuated at most law schools, has been keeping legal writing and clinical courses at the periphery of the curriculum and faculty. If we move those professors and their courses to the core, where they belong at any institution devoted to teaching students to think like lawyers, we would solve many of the pedagogic problems plaguing law schools today. We could teach doctrine and new “practice ready” skills, while improving the ways we teach traditional methods of thinking like a lawyer.
- Looking for a (legal) laugh? My colleague Laura Little blogged about her work on the legal regulation of humor for The New Yorker online.
- And finally, Oregon Law has its own tribute to Mary Lawrence, recipient of the Burton Award for Legal Writing Education.
Annoyed by law review editors’ insistence on citations for everything?
There’s help for scholars who are annoyed when law review editors insist on citations for everything. The Green Bag offers a short piece with a suitably generic title for authors stuck without a citation for an obvious point. A citation to The Theory of Law, by Professor Orin S. Kerr, will lead readers to this authoritative statement: “If you have been directed to this page by a citation elsewhere, it is plainly true that the author’s claim is correct.” The Green Bag’s micro-symposium on Kerr’s piece offers other trenchant observations on the citation problem.
Friday, March 22, 2013
New Green Bag list of exemplary legal writing
The 2012 Green Bag list of exemplary legal writing has just been published. The only United States Supreme Court Justice to make the list is Justice Elena Kagan, for her dissent in Williams v. Illinois. In that case, the majority upheld a conviction that was based an expert's report. After reciting the reasoning of the various justices, Kagan added this pithy sentence: "That creates five votes to approve the admission of the Cellmark report, but not a single good explanation." That's just one example of Justice Kagan's incisive writing.
The Green Bag's list is always a fertile source of examples for law school classes. This year's list includes majority opinions from federal appellate and district courts, other concurrences and dissents, books, long articles, news and editorial pieces, and "Miscellany."
Monday, March 18, 2013
Garner column both helps and slights legal writing professors
Bryan Garner argues in the March ABA Journal that many legal writers suffer from the “Dunning-Kruger” effect—a syndrome named after two professors who showed that unskilled persons often think they’re better than they are. His column, titled Why Lawyers Can't Write, provides support for legal writing professors who are truthful about students' weaknesses and prod them toward a higher level of skill. But Garner is off the mark when he blames law schools for providing students with “little if any feedback (on substance, much less style) on exams and writing assignments.” While some professors may be guilty of that charge, most legal writing professors are not. We give students extensive feedback.
By emphasizing the value of clear, precise legal analysis and writing, Garner helps us in our efforts to hold students to high standards. But he slights us in not recognizing that our profession is overwhelmingly on his side, as a myriad of our published articles and conference presentations have documented.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Mary-Beth Moylan, director of the legal writing program at Pacific McGeorge School of law, was recently elected to the Board of Directors for the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. An article in the Washington Post shows how impressive this year's inductees are.
hat tip: Hether Macfarlane
legal writing profs in the New York Times
Legal writing professors Chris Coughlin & Lisa McElroy have co-authored a letter published on NY Times.com, calling for more experiential legal education. It's nice to hear LRW voices in the main stream media!
hat tip: Sarah Ricks
Friday, March 15, 2013
Empire State Legal Writing Conference information
Posted on behalf of Empire State Legal Writing Conference Organizers.
Albany Law School is hosting an ALWD Scholars’ Forum on Friday, April 19th, 2013, the afternoon before the Fourth Annual Empire State Legal Writing Conference, to be held on Saturday, April 20th. This is a terrific opportunity to present and discuss an idea you are currently considering turning into an article or receive critiques on an article you are currently drafting – (or, rehearse your presentation for another conference!) Lunch will be served and fantastic assistance from our wonderful Empire State Legal LW Conference committee will also be provided. We are thrilled to announce that Robin Boyle of St. John’s University School of Law will be facilitating the forum. Robin Boyle is the Assistant Dean for Academic Success and Professor of Legal Writing at St. John’s Law School in Queens, NY. She has taught legal writing for 19 years and additionally teaches Drafting: Litigation Documents and Contracts and also Contracts I for conditional admission students. She has served as a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of the Legal Writing Institute and as a Director and Secretary for the LWI Board of Directors. She has published on topics of pedagogy and learning styles.
To apply for the forum, please submit the following information by March 28, 2013: (1) your name, title, law school affiliation and contact information; (2) an article abstract; and (3) a description of where you are in the writing process. For example, do you have an outline, a partial first draft, a full first draft? Please send submissions and any questions at all about the forum to Dede Hill: firstname.lastname@example.org. (As an alum of the LWI Writers’ Workshop at the 2010 Biennial, I can attest to how motivating and useful these gatherings can be to guide you through the sometimes daunting process of writing an article!)
In addition, registration for the Fourth Annual Empire State LW Conference will go live very soon. The Conference will be held on Saturday, April 20, 2013, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Albany Law. We hope the 10:00 a.m. start time will encourage those of you who would prefer to make this a one-day outing to join us. For those who wish to spend more time in Albany, we are reserving a bank of rooms at a hotel right across the street from the law school for Thursday night (for those participating in the ALWD forum) and for Friday and Saturday nights (for those attending the conference – or both events). We plan to organize an informal dinner for Friday night. Stay tuned for an e-mail with a registration link for the conference and more details.
We hope to see many of you in April!
Dorothy (Dede) Hill, Associate Lawyering Professor, Albany Law School, email@example.com
More about student preparation for university and graduate work
A post on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog continues the discussion about students’ preparation for university education. Michele Goodwin cites Kenneth Bernstein’s warning (discussed earlier on this blog) that students are poorly prepared because K-12 teachers perceive a need to “teach to the test” instead of cultivating higher-order thinking. Goodwin laments that those poorly-prepared students have now arrived at the university level. She also charges that “law schools are complicit” as they allow—or promote—grade inflation.
I see poor preparation reflected in some of my students’ appellate briefs. The Table of Contents for a brief is essentially an outline, but many students don’t know how to draft a coherent outline, even after I cover the topic in class and provide outside resources. When I started teaching legal writing 23 years ago, students understood outlining and I didn’t need to devote much class time to the topic.
Hat tip: John D. Edwards