Thursday, March 20, 2014

Today's Quote

"If books cost what they were worth, no one could afford them."

Mark E. Wojcik

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

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Don't shovel smoke--elucidate

ABAJ 3-14In his March ABA Journal column, Bryan Garner quoted this quip by Justice Oliver Wendell Homes: "Lawyers spend a great deal of time shoveling smoke."  Garner also cited nineteenth-century English barrister F.C. Moncreiff, who advised lawyers to obfuscate when they have a weak case.  But Garner says that's bad advice.  Of his mentor, a renowned lawyer, Garner says, "I never heard him try to confuse a court."  Garner concludes, "If you want to win, you can't write a 'hide-the-ball brief' or make a 'hide-the-ball' argument. That goes nowhere. You must make clear points and hope the scales weigh in their favor."

(jdf)

March 18, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Junior scholars workshop

Junior legal writing scholars can receive critiques from experts at a workshop on July 25-26, 2014. WashburnThe Washburn Junior Legal Writing Scholars Workshop will provide a collaborative environment for current and aspiring legal writing professors to receive feedback from other legal writing professors on their scholarly projects. Washburn will fund lodging for one night along with all meals during the workshop.  The workshop organizers, Emily Grant and Joseph Mastrosimone, strongly encourage scholarship submissions that are in any stage – idea outline, work-in-progress, or nearly complete and ready to submit.  

Proposals for are due by April 15, 2014. For more information about the workshop and how to apply for it, see http://washburnlaw.edu/facultystaff/juniorlegalwritingworkshop/.

Hat tip: Joseph Mastrosimone

(jdf)

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

Friday, March 14, 2014

Posner calls brief a "gaunt, pathetic document"

In a good reminder about the importance of legal analysis, Judge Posner had some choice words for the attorneys who filed the opening brief in the case of Central States v. Lewis and Lashgari.  In the opinon, which can be found here, Posner criticizes the "tiny" 118 word argument as "gaunt" and "pathetic."  All the more reason to emphasize deep legal analysis to our brief-writing students this time of year!

(ldj)

Hat tip: Ralph Brill & ABA Journal

March 14, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

New Director at Chicago-Kent

Professor Elizabeth De Armond has been named as  the new director of the Legal Research and Writing Program at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Professor De Armond earned her undergraduate degree in information and computer science from Georgia Tech. She graduated magna cum laude from Notre Dame Law School, where she served as articles editor for the Notre Dame Law Review. After law school she clerked for the Honorable Cornelia G. Kennedy of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  Following her clerkship, Professor De Armond practiced in Dallas, where she concentrated in real estate and lending transactions. She also represented battered women in family court on behalf of North Texas Legal Services. Professor De Armond later moved to Boston, where she earned an LL.M. from Harvard Law School.

(mew)

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

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

U.S. News Rankings for Legal Writing Programs

The magazine U.S. News and World Report ranks colleges and graduate schools, including law schools.  They also rank legal writing programs and a handful of other specialities.  Here's the 2014 rankings for Legal Writing.  Seattle University and The John Marshall Law School of Chicago are again ranked first and second.

1 - Seattle University
2 - The John Marshall Law School--Chicago
3 - University of Nevada at Las Vegas
4 - Mercer University
4 - University of Oregon
6 - Stetson University College of Law
7 - Suffolk University College of Law
8 - Arizona State Univeristy Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law
8 - Indiana University at Indianapolis McKinney School of Law
8 - Univeristy of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law
8 - University of Denver Sturm College of Law
12 - Duquesne Univesity
13 - Drexel University
14 - Brooklyn 
14 - University of Wyoming

(mew)

March 11, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Anne Enquist to Receive Burton Award

Anne EnquistProfessor Anne Enquist of Seattle University School of Law has been announced as the 2014 recipient of the Burton Award for Outstanding Contributions to Legal Writing Education.  She will receive her award at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. on June 9, 2014, during the prestigious Burton Awards for Achievement in Legal Writing.

The Burton Awards are widely known as the most elegant evening in legal writing.  The actual awards presentation is followed by a black tie dinner and outstanding entertainment.  Legal writing awards are given to law firms, law students, and for contributions to legal writing education.  Awards are also given for Regulatory Innovation, Public Service, Public Interest, and, in 2014, a National Award for Reform in Law. 

Professor Enquist joined the LRW community in 1980.  She is  the co-author of five legal writing books and authored many articles in the field. She served on the Editorial Board for Legal Writing: The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute from 1994-2002 and chaired the Program Committee for the national conference of the Legal Writing Institute in 1994. She also served as a director of LWI for more than 2o years.  She was described by multiple nominators as "an innovator," a "workhorse,"  an “outstanding teacher,” and an “established leader.”  

Click here for information about the event.

And click here for a photo from an earlier Burton Award Celebration (in 2010).

Hat tip to Noah A. Messing 

(mew)

March 11, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Election Results from the Legal Writing Institute

The Legal Writing Institute announced the names of eight board members just elected.  They are (in alphbetical order):

  • Mary Nicol Bowman, Associate Director and  Associate Professor of Lawyering Skills, Seattle University School of Law
  • Candace Mueller Centeno, Professor of Legal Writing, Villanova University School of Law
  • Cassandra L. Hill, Associate Professor and Director of Legal Writing at TSU Thurgood Marshall School of Law 
  • Kimberly Holst, Clinical Professor of Law at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
  • Alison Julien, Professor of Legal Writing, Marquette University Law School
  • Rebecca L. Scharf, Assocate Professor of Law, UNLV Boyd School of Law
  • Kristen K. Tiscione, Professor of Legal Research and Writing at Georgetown University Law Center 
  • Mark E. Wojcik, Professor of Law at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago (hey, that's me!)

Board members serve a term of four years.  It's quite a commitment.  The new board members will begin their terms at the LWI Biennial Conference in Philadelphia this July.

(mew)

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

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Plain English column marks 30th anniversary

 The Plain Language Column in The Michigan Bar Journal recently marked its thirty-year   Kimbleanniversary. A recent column by Joseph Kimble (pictured at right) recounts the column’s influential history, from its institution by Detroit lawyer George Hathaway to its twenty-five years under Kimble’s groundbreaking editorship. The anniversary column reiterates that empirical research shows plain English is preferred by both legal and nonlegal readers.

(jdf)

March 6, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 3, 2014

what does grading look like, and where does it occur?

a request from Emily Grant at Washburn:

Tonight's procrastination [from grading]:  a tumblr blog for photos of law professors grading.  It is (very cleverly) called http://lawprofessorsgrading.tumblr.com/   Not much content yet, but there's a link underneath the title where you can click to submit your own photo.  Or if nothing else, bookmark the link for when you're feeling sentimental and need to remember that you're part of a community of fellow graders, each with our own grading places, processes, and vices. 

I'm off to round up more lead for my mechanical pencils!  And then I'll start grading.  I promise...

 

(njs)

 

March 3, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Scribes Legal Writing Seminar at NKU Chase College of Law

LWI NKU SeminarScribes--The American Society of Legal Writers--is holding its annual Board Meeting this week at Northern Kentucky University Chase College of Law.  In keeping with its tradition when meeting at various law schools around the country (such as this meeting in 2012 at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago), members of the Scribes board are presenting a legal writing seminar to students at Northern Kentucky University Chase College of Law, the host school.  

Pictured here (from left to right) are:

* Professor Joseph Kimble of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, longtime editor of the "Plain Language" column of the Michigan Bar Journal, drafting confultant to the Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure of the U.S. Judicial Conference, past president of Clarity, and an officially named "Plain English Champion" by the Plain English Campaign of the United Kingdom.  His books include Lifting the Fog of Legalease: Essays on Plain Language, published by Carolina Academic Press.

* Judge Mark P. Painter served as a judge on the Ohio Appellate Court  and the United Nations Mark PainterAppeals Tribunal.  In addition to authoring more than 400 published court decisions, he is the author of six books including The Legal Writer: 40 Rules for the Art of Leal Writing published by

* Scribes President Dean Darby Dickerson of Texas Tech University School of Law (author of the first four editions of the ALWD Citation Manual).  

Also pictured above in in the group is Professor Lawrence Rosenthal, Professor of Legal Writing and Associate Dean for Academics at NKU Chase College of Law, who gave welcoming remarks and introduced the speakers.

Also attending Scribes Board Meeting this week are:

  • Bryan A. Garner, editor of Black's Law Dictionary and more than a dozen groundbreaking books on legal writing, including Garner's Modern American Usage published by Oxford University Press, the Elements of Legal Style published by Oxford University Press, The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style published by West, and two books co-authored with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia;
  • Judge Michael B. Hyman of the Cook County Circuit Court, Past President of the Chicago Bar Association, President-Elect of Scribes, and President-Elect of the Illinois Judges Association;
  • John R. Wierzbicki of Thomson Reuters, Secretary of Scribes;
  • Professor Mark Wojcik of the John Marshall Law School (who serves as Treasurer of Scribes), author of Illinois Legal Research (published by Carolina Academic Press) and Introduction to Legal English published by the Internaitonal Law Institute, the first coursebook on Legal English published in the United States;
  • Professor Norman E. Plate of Thomas M. Cooley Law School (who serves as the Executive Director of Scribes);
  • Professor Mark Cooney (who serves as Editor of the Scribes Journal of Legal Writing);
  • Professor Steven R. Smith, former Dean of California Western School of Law (and past president of Scribes);
  • Professor Beth D. Cohen of Western New England University School of Law;
  • Judge Kevin G. Ross of the Minnesota Court of Appeals;
  • Carles D. Cole, Jr. of the New York law firm Newman Myers, Kreines, Gross, Harris P.C.;
  • Ann Taylor Schwing of Best, Best & Krieger LLP in Sacramento, California, whose publications include a treatise on Open Meeting Laws;
  • Raymond P. Ward of Adams and Reese LLP in New Orleans, whose blog the (new) legal writer is one of  our own favorites; and
  • Assistant Attorney General Christopher G. Wren of the Wisconsin Department of Justice and author of several works including The Legal Research Manual.

NKU Seminar Room
The writing seminar is exceptional packed with attentive students and attorneys.  Professor Kimble has just urged the students to "Go Forth and Simplify."  Darby Dickerson, the Scribes President, is reminding the students that their school won the Scribes Best Brief Award last year.  Her presentation is on to master unbiased language in legal writing.  And by far the biggest laugh line so far is one from Judge Painter, who said that there could be some reader confusion when you use a sentence such as: "The enclosed document requires your execution."

Indeed.

If you are not an individual member of Scribes, or if your institution is not an institutioanl member of Scribes, click here for more information on how to fix that oversight.

(mew)

February 28, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nominations Now Open for GLS Awards

The Global Legal Skills Conference in Verona Italy will include award presentations to individuals, institutions, publishers, and organizations that have advanced global legal skills education around the world.  The 2014 awards follow similar awards presented at University of Costa Rica Faculty of Law during the 2012 GLS Conference in Costa Rica. 

There is no particular nomination form -- a simple letter (or even an email) is enough to nominate someone for a GLS Award.  The awards will be presented at the University of Verona Faculty of Law during the conference, which takes place from May 21-23, 2014.  Winners need not be present, but it's always nicer for everyone if they can be there.
 
TO NOMINATE SOMEONE send your nomination to gls9verona@gmail.com by April 30, 2014.  Include a paragraph about why the person, institution, publisher, or organization is worthy of an award.  If we need additional information we'll contact you.   
 
The GLS Conference in Verona is now being co-sponsored by several organizations, including (1) the International Bar Association, (2) the Law Society of England and Wales (International Division), (3) the American Bar Association Section of International Law, (4) the International Law Students Association, and (5) the Teaching International Law Committee of the American Branch of the International Law Association.  Information about the conference, including registration and hotel information, is available at www.glsverona.com
 
(mew)

February 26, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 24, 2014

A change in the federal appellate rule on statements of facts

A recent change to the federal appellate rules is worth noting as law students work on briefs this spring. Where the former rule for briefs required both a statement of the case and a statement of facts, the new rule combines two in a single statement of the case, which is to include both the case’s facts and its procedural history.  Fed. R. App. P. 28(a)(6).  A committee note explains that the old requirement led to “confusion and redundancy.”  The new rule took effect on December 1, 2013.

(jdf)

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

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Global Legal Skills Conference

The Law Society of England and Wales (International Division) and the International Bar Association (with more than 55,000 individual members around the world, and more than 200 bar association members) are among the new co-sponsors of the ninth Global Legal Skills Conference being held at the University of Verona Faculty of Law on May 21-23, 2014.  Visit the conference website for more information about the conference.

Other conference sponsors include the International Law Students Assocation (ILSA) and the International Law Section of the American Bar Association.  More than 150 attendees from around the world are expected at the conference.

(mew)

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

Where Should You Put Citations in Judicial Opinions?

Regular readers of this blog know that we're no strangers to controversy and that we often like to jump right in to the great debates of the day.  So we're not afraid to jump in to the debate on where citations should go in judicial opinions:  in the text or in a footnote?
 
Bryan Garner, one of the greatest legal writers of all time, published an article in the ABA Journal called Textual Citations Make Legal Writing Onerous, for Lawyers and Nonlawyers Alike. You can find it by clicking here or by going through that stack of magazines on your desk.  Or by reading our earlier blog post on the issue by clicing here.  Garner believes that judicial opinions will be easier to read if the case citations were in footnotes.  And he's probably right about that, especially if you think of readers who didn't go to law school where they became used to seeing citations right there in the cases.  And Garner makes another point -- it wasn't until 1985 when computers started showing up in law offices that we had an easy way to start using footnotes for citations.
 
Scott Fruehwald has come up with an alternative proposal, Textual Citations in Documents Submitted to Courts and Judicial Opinions: A Reply to Bryan Garner and An Alternative Approach.  You can find it on his SSRN page by clicking here.  His proposal relates to creating shorter citations.  And the SSRN paper itself uses endnotes.  How crazy is that?  
 
And while you're at it, have a look at Raymond Ward's take on the issue at the (new) legal writer.  He reminds us that in 2001, a judge in Louisiana appellate court, in writing the majority’s opinion in a case, put her legal citations in footnotes. This drew a concurring opinion from the chief judge (withdrawn before final publication), agreeing with the result but objecting to the use of footnotes for citations. So the author wrote her own concurring opinion defending her use of footnotes. The case is Ledet v. Seasafe, Inc., 783 So. 2d 611 (La. App. 2001).  Raymond also brings in some interesting points on how the relationship of readers and text has changed with hyperlinks to sources cited. 
 
You see, we're not afraid of the big issues here at the Legal Writing Prof Blog.
 
(mew)
 

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

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A poem about status from a different viewpoint

Following Kristen Tiscione’s poem (below) about writing professors’ status, Teri McMurtry- McMurtry-ChubbChubb of Mercer has written a response.  She presents the special viewpoint of a woman of color whose faculty recently voted to award her tenure.

I am DEFINITELY a Color
 
I am African American
I am a woman
I teach legal writing
 
I have power
I teach literacy and access to an elitist profession
My chosen profession
 
I am an African American woman who teaches legal writing
Some try to diminish me
Try
 
With my legal writing sisters and brothers of color I can speak
Laugh
Disagree
Contribute
Cry
Commiserate
I am loved
 
With my legal writing sisters and brothers I can speak
Laugh
Disagree
Contribute
Cry
Commiserate
I am loved, sometimes
 
With the rest, I wait
I have power
I teach literacy and access to an elitist profession
Our chosen profession
 
I hear Skills
Reevaluate
Collaborate
 
I see circled wagons within already circled wagons
Circling
Excluding
Justifying
 
I am hopeful
I am a prisoner of hope
I am hope
 
I am a bird
Learning to use her wings
Soaring
 
I am an African American woman who teaches legal writing
I teach literacy and access to an elitist profession
I have power, and I use it in the service of justice.
 
     Professor McMurtry-Chubb recently wrote an article about women of color, legal writing professors, and status.

(jdf)

February 19, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Poem about the effects of writing professors' status

A poem and short article by Georgetown legal writing professor Kristen Tiscione are generating Tiscione considerable interest on the Internet.  The poem, below, describes the effects of second-class status for legal writing professors.

If I Am a Color

I am not black.
I am not white.
If I am a color, I am clear.

If I am a Sneech, I have no star.
If I have a voice, I have no power.

If I am male, I am diminished.
If I am female, I am worse.

With my own, I can speak.
Disagree,
Contribute.

With the rest, I must listen.
Agree. Defer.

With my own, I am loved.
Respected.
Valued.

To the rest, I am lesser.
Unwelcome. Tolerated.

I hear Fairness, Equity, Justice.
But I am to be patient. Grateful.
Quiet.

I hear skills.
Reevaluate
Collaborate.

I see wagons.
Circling. Excluding.

I am angry.
Disillusioned.
Desperate.

I am a raisin.
In the sun.
Drying.

I am a teacher.
I teach legal writing.

(jdf)

 

February 18, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Last Call! Nominations for the Burton Awards

Nominations for the Burton Award for Outstanding Contributions to Legal Writing Education are now open.  Nominations are due by February 18, 2014.

The Burton Awards for Legal Achievement promote and publicize the importance of writing in the legal profession. The Awards, which recognize lawyers and law students whose work exemplifies the goals of our field, were founded in 1999 by William Burton, author of Burton’s Legal Thesaurus and recipient of 2010 Golden Pen Award from the Legal Writing Institute.

The Award Ceremony is held at the Library of Congress and it's undoubtedly the most glorious evening that celebrates legal writing.  My favorite moment?  Well, Bernadette Peters was the entertainment that evening, and I convinced one of the waiters that Professor Ralph Brill (who looks great in a tuxedo) was the actor Walter Matthau.

But back to the serious stuff.  For the last decade, the Burton Awards have included a category that emphasizes the vital role that educators play in improving legal writing throughout our nation’s legal system: the award for Outstanding Contributions to Legal Writing Education. The award is given annually during the black-tie gala to an individual or group that has made an outstanding contribution to the education of lawyers in the field of legal analysis, research, and writing, whether through teaching, program design, program support, innovative thinking, or writing. The contributions considered may be significant single achievements or the accumulated achievements of a career.

Previous recipients have been:

  • Dean Kent Syverud of Vanderbilt,
  • Dean Darby Dickerson of Stetson,
  • Professor Ralph Brill of Chicago-Kent,
  • Professor Laurel Oates of Seattle University,
  • Professor Mary Beth Beazley of Ohio State,
  • Professor Richard Neumann of Hofstra,
  • Professor Helene Shapo of Northwestern,
  • Professor Marjorie Rombauer of the University of Washington,
  • Professor Tina Stark of Boston University, and
  • Professor Mary Lawrence of the University of Oregon School of Law.

To nominate an individual or group for Outstanding Contributions to Legal Writing Education Award, you are asked to describe concisely (of course concisely, it's a legal writing award) the contributions of the nominee.  Send your nomination to one or more of the following members of the selection committee by e-mail:

  • Noah Messing [noah.messing [at] yale.edu]  
  • Grace Tonner [gtonner [at] law.uci.edu]  or
  • Nancy Schultz [nschultz [at] chapman.edu]

Nominations are due by February 18, 2014.

Hat tip to Noah Messing

(mew)

February 16, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Assessment Across the Curriculum" Conference will feature legal writing professors

Legal writing professors have a head start in understanding Assessments, a current hot topic in legal education, because we do them throughout our courses.  An upcoming conference, “Assessment Across the Curriculum,” will illustrate that by featuring several legal writing professors as presenters.  Sponsored by the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning, the conference will take place on April 5, 2014, at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. 

Featured speakers will include Michael Hunter Schwartz (UALR Bowen), Rory Bahadur (Washburn), Sandra Simpson (Gonzaga), Sophie Sparrow (University of New Hampshire), Lyn Entrikin (UALR Bowen), and Richard Neumann (Hofstra).

The sessions will address such topics as

·         --Formative Assessment in Large Classes

·         --Classroom Assessment Techniques

·         --Using Rubrics for Formative and Summative Assessment

·         --Assessing the Ineffable: Professionalism, Judgment, and Teamwork

·         --Assessment Techniques for Statutory or Transactional Courses

Details about the conference are available on the websites of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law

 Hat tip: Kelly S. Terry

(jdf)

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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Law Professor’s Detailed, Thoughtful, and Comprehensive ‘Local Rules’ for Class: A Response to "Above the Law"

We are happy to share with you a guest blog post from Louisa Heiny, Adjunct Professor of Law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law of the University of Utah.  It responds to a recent blog post on the website, Above the Law.

(mew)

I admit it: I read Above the Law. I read it every day. It’s even on my Facebook feed. It’s sometimes snarky, often witty, and has published some of the most ridiculously funny cease and desist letters I’ve ever seen. I use material from Above the Law in class to show students what not to do. 

I’ll also admit that when I read the headline in Above the Law, “A Law Professor’s Detailed, Ridiculous, Condescending ‘Local Rules’ For Class,” I panicked. There was a serious possibility that I was about to read my own syllabus. I’m an adjunct, so there was also a possibility that I was about to be fired.

After a moment’s relief that I was not the target of ATL’s ire, I read the article. Written by Joe Patrice, the post skewers the “local rules” created by Santa Clara Law Professor Ray Bernstein for his legal writing class. While my own syllabus isn’t as detailed, Professor Bernstein has created a detailed, thoughtful, and comprehensive set of local rules designed to put students on notice of class requirements, as well as prepare them for the practice of law.

Let’s take a look at what Patrice finds detailed, ridiculous, and condescending: 

First, Patrice finds Bernstein’s rules overly long and persnickety, given that, in Mr. Patrice’s day, his alma mater “NYU didn’t even bother grading Legal Writing.” Patrice finds further irony in the fact that Bernstein “went to Yale Law — a school that doesn’t even bother with real grades.”

Objection: relevance.

The emphasis that NYU and Yale place on legal writing has zero bearing on the issue of whether Bernstein’s syllabus is overly detailed. Perhaps NYU and Yale ought to grade legal writing classes more strenuously; perhaps they shouldn’t. But a professor has both a right and a responsibility to teach students the importance of a subject.

Second, Patrice takes issue with Bernstein’s Local Rule 1(a): “No document with more than ten mechanical errors (spelling, typing, grammar, missing words, formatting, quoting, or Bluebooking) will be filed in this course . . . documents violating this rule will be returned to you without further feedback . . . .”

Frankly, I wish I had come up with this rule. 

In eleven years of teaching, I have worked with hundreds of bright, interesting, interested, hard-working law students. I consider it a privilege to spend my career helping them improve their skills and ready themselves for practice. I work hard to give students individual, timely, high-quality, useful feedback that helps them learn and improve with each draft.

But some days I want to bang my forehead on my keyboard. Repeatedly. 

The keyboard thump comes when I spend hours editing and correcting a twenty-page paper that the student author didn’t bother to edit or correct first. I take off up to ten points on a paper for spelling, grammatical, and Bluebooking mistakes, and sometimes students blow over that maximum—by a lot. My job is to help students, but I expect them to help themselves first. I don’t think it’s too much to ask a student to spellcheck a paper before turning it in.

Patrice admits, “It’s a legal writing class, so this makes some sense. That said, it’s also a class — so give them some feedback on their Bluebooking, for heaven’s sake.”

Right. I do. A lot of it.

I teach Bluebooking, and I’ll bet Bernstein does, too. I teach it before the paper is due, and I’ll bet Bernstein does, too. I only grade on the Bluebook rules I’ve taught, and I’ll bet Bernstein does, too. If Patrice would like professors to give their students credit for having basic sense, perhaps he should credit legal writing professors with the same. 

Third, Patrice disagrees with Bernstein’s suggestion that “[i]t is easier to submit papers on time than to write (or win) motions to get more time.” Patrice, tongue in cheek, says that tip is just bad advice. In the real world, he says, lawyers who delay and excessively bill clients for unnecessary work are rewarded. In the “real world” that Patrice purports to represent, that sort of behavior will get you sanctioned or fired. (Even if it doesn’t, you may find your work detailed in Above the Law.) I’d prefer to guide my students away from those particular consequences. 

Fourth, Patrice argues against Bernstein’s rule that “[w]hen in class, you may not disturb me or your classmates with irrelevant computer or phone activities.” Penalties include a public announcement of the problem and mention of the students who are breaking the rule. What Bernstein should have written, says Patrice, is “when I observe conduct that suggests I’m not engaging the class I will announce a reminder about the problem.”

Thus, according to Patrice, any misuse of computers in the classroom is the fault of the boring law professor. Unable to compete with social media’s tiny, constant dopamine hits, the professor should let the rude and disruptive behavior continue without comment or consequence. I envision a shamed law professor trudging out of class, head down, wondering how to work “jazz hands!” into a lesson on the Bluebook.

Even my third-grader knows that a student’s bad behavior is not the teacher’s fault. My third-grader is required to sit still and listen in class. If she passes notes or throws paper airplanes or giggles with her friends, no one suggests that it is because the teacher isn’t making grammar class sufficiently entertaining. She’s called out for the bad behavior and punished accordingly. I’m not sure why we expect less from doctoral students.

Finally, Patrice “applaud[s] [Bernstein’s] motivation if not his methodology,” but claims that “there is something to be said for substance over style.” I quite agree. In a perfect world, with perfect students, at a perfect school, most of these rules would go unsaid. Law students would intuitively understand that they must proofread, turn in work on time, and show good manners in class. Local rules would be unnecessary. Professors would have the flexibility to appropriately ding grades when students fail to use common sense.

However, I’m guessing that each of Bernstein’s rules reflect behavior and arguments made by many students, many times, over many years. I’m guessing they are also designed to deflect the siren call of the struggling student: “But you didn’t tell me that!” Ask any law professor from any school. We all have stories that begin with, “You didn’t tell me that!” (My tales include a student who argued that he hadn’t been given proper notice that cheating on an exam would both violate the honor code and result in an ‘F’ in the course.) Sadly, too many administrators have listened sympathetically to such inane arguments. Some administrators even encourage professors to carefully detail all aspects of the course in the syllabus, treating it as something of a contract between professor and student. The savvy law professor saves lots of time and headaches with a simple phrase: “It’s in the syllabus.”

I hope Patrice will now return to his posts about third-tier law schools, ridiculous seminar topics, deadbeat professors, cease and desist letters, and students who are admitted to law school but shouldn’t be.

I’ll read them all. Every day.

Louisa Heiny, Adjunct Professor of Law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law of the University of Utah

February 13, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)