Saturday, March 2, 2013
Better Writing and Your Career
The newspaper "Investor's Business Daily" carries a daily series on "Leaders and Success." Monday's installment (March 4, 2013) falls under the category of "How You Think is Everything" with an article on how to lift your career with the correct choice of words. One expert quoted in the article is Bryan Garner, who is the editor of Black's Law Dictionary, the author of numerous books and countless articles, and a board member of Scribes -- The Society of American Legal Writers.
The article has these two points from Bryan. Although the article is geared toward business writing, it applies as well to legal writing:
1. "Sink the Clunkers." Some people trying to make a good impression use technical jargon, but the audience is often left wondering what was said. Garner notes that jargon isn't always negative, and that it began as a way to streamline communication within a company or industry. But he says that "what is bad is when you start using this jargon outside your specialized realm. Then it becomes inconsiderate insider talk."
2. "Boil it Down." Garner notes that two great communicators -- Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. -- could "hone a message to powerfully simple missive." To achieve similar clarity, Garner suggests condsidering "How would I explain this to a high school student?" He also added: "When you simplify your ideas -- still keeping the substance pure -- there's no better way to seem like a smart writer."
The Monday issue of Investor's Business Daily has some other tips in that article by Sonja Carberry, "Lift Career With a Smile."
Mark E. Wojcik (Board Member of Scribes - The Society of American Legal Writers)
Friday, March 1, 2013
Friday Fun: Law School Parody Music Video!
Chocolate Ghost House has produced a "Law School" parody of the song "Payphone" by Maroon 5. You don't need to know that song to enjoy this video (4 minutes, 18 seconds of non-stop smiles for you!). Great lyrics: "If the eighth Amendment does exist, how are they allowing all of this?" Congratulations to Tyler Murray and all of the students who made this video. We understand from Professor Grace Wigal that you are students at West Virginia University College of Law in Morgantown. (You're admissions office will probably start using this to recruit students!) Well done!
Hat tip to Law School Memes.
See two other legal writing videos in the post below.
Videos for classes on oral argument
In preparation for oral arguments, I plan to show my classes two videos that many legal writing professors have used. One is a 3-minute piece by comedian Taylor Mali, who pokes fun at verbal tics like "Y'know." The other is a 2-minute interview with Chief Justice Roberts, who talks about responding to judges' questions.
Here is the video from Taylor Mali:
And here is the video from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, which was taken in 2009 in an interview by C-SPAN:
Thursday, February 28, 2013
A retired chief judge talks about legal writing courses
In a lecture at Indiana University on legal education, retired Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye recently offered some observations about the teaching of legal writing. The legal writing course she took in law school—a pass-fail course taught by a part-time adjunct—gave Kaye the impression that it was “acceptable—even recommended” to devote little attention to the class. Calling that approach “a pity,” Kaye praised today’s legal writing courses as offering valuable individual feedback. She also urged law schools to cover legal writing with short papers in every course. And she stressed that law schools can reflect the importance of legal writing courses through “the quality of and respect accorded to those who teach them.”
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
ALWD teaching grant winners announced!
Congratulations to the winners of this year's ALWD teaching grants:
Heidi Brown, at New York Law School, for her proposal to teach strategy and theory of civil discovery through an upper level writing course.
Jennifer Rosa, Michigan State University, for her flipped classroom project.
hat tip: Elizabeth Fajans
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Justice Thomas on Concision and Accessibility
In a fascinating exchange recounted by the Atlantic, Justice Thomas tied editing and concise writing to the Court's duty to deliver the law in an accessible way:
What I tell my law clerks is that we write these so that they are accessible to regular people. That doesn't mean that there's no law in it. But there are simple ways to put important things in language that's accessible. As I say to them, the beauty, the genius is not to write a 5 cent idea in a ten dollar sentence. It's to put a ten dollar idea in a 5 cent sentence.
That's beauty. That's editing. That's writing.
The editing we do is for clarity and simplicity without losing meaning, and without adding things. You don't see a lot of double entendres, you don't see word play and cuteness. We're not there to win a literary award. We're there to write opinions that some busy person or somebody at their kitchen table can read and say, "I don't agree with a word he said, but I understand what he said."
Whatever may be said about Justice Thomas's ideology or jurisprudence, I cannot help but be struck by the eloquence and thoughtfulness of his approach. Clarity in legal writing, particularly when you are a Supreme Court justice, serves an undeniable social good.
How's this for a guest lecturer in your legal writing class? The students in my Lawyering Skills I class at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago had a visit from Sheila Simon, the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois! She spoke to the students about the importance of clear communication in legal writing.
Sheila, as many of you know, taught legal writing at Southern Illinois University School of Law in Carbondale before she became the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. She is now the second highest executive officer in Illinois. In that role, she is leading efforts to increase college graduation rates, to inspire a strong ethical culture in government, and to protect the state's environmental treasures in its waterways and rural areas.
I had the chance to hear her speak on higher education in Illinois. Sheila has recently finished a statewide tour of every community college in the state. She also released a report on how to make colleges more affordable and how to increase graduation rates. The report is available through her office website by clicking here.
Mark E. Wojcik (mew)
Monday, February 25, 2013
The Law Library of Congress Road Show Hits the ABA in Big D
The Law Library of Congress is a fantastic resource. Really. They have everything. Beyond everything. And they want to help you, dear members of the legal researching public, to know what's in their collection and to learn how to access it.
Matt Braun, one of the ace Law Librarians in the Law Library of Congress, did another Road Show for the Law Library of Congress during the midyear meeting of the American Bar Association, held earlier this month in Dallas. And he did a great job. (Many of you will remember Mr. Braun from the field trip that the Association of American Law Schools Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research did in January 2012.)
The presentation was great -- those attending got a lot of information about how to use the resources of the Law Library of Congress (even without going to Washington DC). The crowd was standing room only, something you don't always see for a presentation on legal research. And the presentation wasn't even held in the main ABA hotel in Dallas -- you had to walk about 10 minutes to get to the other hotel where this presentation was! This is a committed audience!
Thank you, Law Library of Congress, for continuing to share information about the great resources you offer to researchers throughout the United States (and, indeed, around the world).
Mark E. Wojcik (mew)
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Save the Date! The Burton Awards are on June 3, 2013
The Burton Awards for Legal Achievement is without a doubt the most glamorous evening dedicated to legal writing. The black tie gala is held in Washington D.C. in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress -- the most beautiful building and room in the United States. And Ralph Brill looks just great in a tux.
The entertainment last year was Bernadette Peters. This year the entertainment will be a performance by Emmy, Grammy and Tony Nominee Vanessa Williams.
The 2013 Burton Awards will be held on Monday, June 3, 2013. The event begins at 4:45 p.m. with award presentations followed by a reception and gala dinner in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.
The Burton Awards are designed to reward major achievements in the law, ranging from literary awards to the greatest reform in law. The awards are selected by professors from Harvard Law School, University of Pennsylvania Law School, and the University of California at Irvine School of Law, among others. Judge Richard Posner (7th Circuit US Court of Appeals), Chief Judge Alex Kozinski (9th Circuit US Court of Appeals), U.S. Senator John Cornyn, U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr., U.S. Senator Mike Crapo, Chairman Spencer Bachus, Judith Kaye (Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals) (retired), Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan of California, Thomas L. Sager (Senior Vice President and General Counsel of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company) and Sabine Curto (Senior Director of Administration, Kirkland & Ellis LLP) are honorary members on the Board of Directors.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Humor in judicial opinions
A recent article discusses humor in courts’ opinions. Most of its examples strike me as contrived and un-funny. For example, one judge began his opinion about a damaged oak tree with this parody of Joyce Kilmer: "We thought that we should never see/ A suit to compensate a tree."
It probably seemed clever at the time.
The article’s author, UCLA law student Lucas K. Hori, points out the harms of judicial humor: It trivializes disputes that are significant to the litigants, it distracts readers from the legal issues, and it damages the courts’ image of neutrality. Hori argues that judges should not be prohibited from using humor. That makes sense. But they ought to consider Hori’s caveats: keep any humor brief, and never use humor to poke fun at litigants. I would add these: don’t demean the legal process, and skip the lame jokes.
litigation practice aids
If your first-year legal research and writing course doesn't have time to cover research in litigation practice aids, well, frankly, my first reaction is make time. But if that's just not possible, you could alert your students to the stacks of Student Lawyer in the lounge. In there they will find a a quick how-to piece on "Legal Research: Litigation Practice Materials", by Shawn Nevers. You could easily add it as a reading assignment or post a link to it on your course on-line platform. (Posting a link, rather than posting the entire document, should avoid copyright problems.)
Friday, February 22, 2013
For its next issue, Western State's law review is encouraging the submission of articles related to legal writing, pedagogy,
academic support, and assessment in legal education. Although this law revivew usually focuses on California legal issues, the student editors have expressed an
interest in publishing articles in these other areas as well. You can submit articles through
ExpressO, or directly to the law review at firstname.lastname@example.org
hat tip: Lori Roberts
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Upcoming Regional Legal Writing Conferences
As spring break approaches, consider making plans to attend one of the upcoming conferences for legal writing professors:
Third Annual Capital Area Legal Writing Conference, March 1 -2.
Empire State Legal Writing Conference, April 20.
Southeastern Legal Writing Conference, April 26 - 27.
ABA-TIPS Law Student Writing Competition: "The New Deal"
Here's a reminder about a writing competition sponsored by the American Bar Association Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section (ABA-TIPS). TIPS is celebrating its 80th Anniversary this year, so entries are asked to address any part of President Roosevelt's "New Deal," the series of economic programs implemented in 1933-36. Papers can adress any aspect of that, to afford "the greatest degree of flexibility in writing."
Papers are due April 1, 2013.
First prize is $1,500 cash and airfare and hotel to the Annual Meeting in San Francisco. (fun!)
Second prize is $500. (not bad, and you also get recognition in the section magazine)
Third prize is an honorable mention. (Still would be cool for your resume.)
Mark E. Wojcik (mew), Member of the ABA-TIPS Task Force on Outreach to Law Students
examples of persuasive facts
As the spring semester often focuses on persuasive writing, the LRWPROF listserv has been sharing ideas for teaching persuasion and memorable examples of persuasive writing, as well as point of view and story/narrative. A couple of examples based on currents events include the Pistorius murder case and the Manti Te'o story.
I often share with my students a couple of published cases that have stayed with me for over 20 years . . . one about the burn injuries to a young girl, one about a man and his mother, both kidnapped and the mother, murdered. The careful and sparing use of specific sensory detail in each of those cases was most effective!
Do any of our readers have an example of effective persuasive facts to share?
Monday, February 18, 2013
client centered legal learning
Friday, February 15, 2013
calling all Canadian legal research and writing professors
Professor Stella Varis, at the University of Alberta, is trying to make connections with LRW professors at other Canadian universities. If that's you, please contact her. She anticipates creating and sharing a contact list of Canadian LRW professors.
calling all font geeks
If you enjoy learning about fonts and typography, here is a video for you.
hat tip: Karen Mika
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Students’ preparation for higher-level thinking
If you thought legal writing students are less prepared than in the past, you may not be imagining it. Kenneth Bernstein recently posted a piece on the Washington Post blog titled A Warning to College Profs from a High School Teacher. “I have some bad news for you,” he writes. Among his points: many of his students came to high school without having had “meaningful social studies instruction” because No Child Left Behind undervalued that subject. And the students’ previous writing experience required neither deep thinking nor “proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure.” His Advanced Placement course was expected to cover so much material that he had difficulty making time to explore it in depth. And even grading of Advanced Placement tests does not consider grammar, rhetoric, or format (such as including an introduction and conclusion). The tests are scored by a rubric, and a student who hits the points on the rubric passes.
In short, Bernstein seems to be saying that excessive reliance on formulas has replaced emphasis on deeper, independent thinking—which is just the kind of thinking students need to do in our courses.
I Love You and S.V.O.
Grammar Girl posted an article and associated podcast that would be a great jumping off point for a Valentine's Day sentence structure refresher:
Valentine’s Day is coming up, so I thought it would be a good time to say, “I love you.” Not only because I love you, but also because “I love you” is a handy little sentence for remembering the difference between a subject and an object.
The first question you should be asking is why you should care about the difference between a subject and an object. Those seem like pretty dry, boring grammar terms.
The reason they matter is that you often have to know whether you’re dealing with a subject or an object to be able to choose the right word. The difference between “who” and “whom,” “lay” and “lie,” and “sit” and “set” all come down to answering the question “Subject or object?” And all the complaints I get about people using “I” when they should use “me” and vice versa also come down to knowing a subject from an object.
After discussing the basic structure of "I love you," the article delves into trickier matters (think Yoda):
I’ve also talked about Yoda grammar before, as in Yoda from Star Wars. Yoda often uses object-verb-subject order in his sentences. For example, Yoda said, “If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are ... a different game you should play.”*
Let’s consider the simplest part: “a different game you should play.” “Play” is clearly the verb, so to find the subject, ask who is playing. It’s “you.” You should play a different game, so “you” is the subject. And what are you playing? A game. So that is the object.