Wednesday, October 31, 2007


"I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil."

Truman Capote, from "Conversations with Capote," by Lawrence Grobel, talking about revising a novel to make it "clearer and sharper and shrewder." (page 205)

hat tip:  Natalie Tarenko, Texas Tech


October 31, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

nominations for AALS section officers

You are invited to nominate candidates for the positions of Secretary and Chair-Elect of the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research. The Secretary's main responsibility is to publish the section's electronic newsletter. The Chair-elect becomes Chair the following year. Both serve on various committees of the section. Under AALS rules, officers must be faculty members at schools that are member schools. Send nominations and any accompanying commentary by noon, Monday, November 12, 2007, to Lou Sirico, who will forward your e-mails to the other members of the Nominating Committee: Susan Hanley Duncan, Jim Levy, Michael Koby, and Suzanne Rowe.


October 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

job opening at City University of New York

The City University of New York School of Law seeks applicants for Director of the Legal Writing Center, a Higher Education Officer position reporting to the Director of Legal Writing. This is an administrative position. The Legal Writing Center manages the School of Law's first-year writing program and supports the Director of Legal Writing in development of the upper-division program. The Director of the Legal Writing Center is responsible for designing and implementing 1L Lawyering/Legal Writing seminars; training and supervising role players in Lawyering simulations/scenarios; supporting faculty in understanding course content and teaching methods; working with the Law Library Faculty Coordinator to integrate teaching of legal research strategies with 1L Lawyering/Legal writing assignments. The person hired will also oversee the design and delivery of other courses and workshops sponsored by the Legal Writing Center, manage the CUNY Writing Fellows program, and contribute to the professional development of the Writing Fellows, by mentoring, supervising, and evaluating Fellows, and will teach legal writing courses and programs as needed.

Other responsibilities involve the implementation of ongoing faculty development on incorporating writing-based assignments and responding to student writing, and together with the Director of Legal
Writing, facilitating faculty workshops and sharing information on program successes.  As the lead administrator of the Legal Writing Center, the person hired will prepare and oversee the implementation of plans, budgets, surveys, and other reports; manage the content of the Legal Writing Center web site; serve as a liaison with the university-wide Writing Across the Curriculum/Writing in the Disciplines programs; and maintain contacts outside the School of Law that foster implementation of best practices and contribute to the field of legal writing pedagogy.

To apply, send cover letter and resume by November 26, 2007, to Maureen McCafferty, Assistant to the Search Committee, CUNY School of Law, 65-21 Main Street, Flushing, NY 11367.


October 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

HLE: second concurrent presentations

Law students and stress . . . that was the topic of the second concurrent presentation that I attended.  Professor Martha Peters and doctoral candidate Andrea Flynn talked about a model for stress intervention and developing an instrument to measure the stressors in law students' lives.

Professor Peters discussed the different stressors in law students' experience based on their year of study (e.g., 3-L's worry about getting jobs) and how there is an optimum range of stress--too little stress doesn't maximize performance, while too much decreases performance.  She also described a 3-step sequence:  one first perceives a potential stressor; next, one evaluates it.  If the evaluation determines that there is no danger, then there's no problem and no stress response.  But if the evaluation indicates uncertainty or danger, then there is a stress response.  Too high a level of stress response can impede learning, and long-term stress, even if managed successfully in the short term, can cause deterioration of performance over the long term.

Stress intervention includes reframing the initial evaluation, developing psychological coping strategies, identifying resources, and creating a social support network.

Ms. Flynn's research focuses on her development of a valid instrument to develop a measure of law school stressors.  The three-phase project, in its first phase, seeks to identify a list of stressors that go to the law school experience (that is, are not general stressors such as a family issue, but that are part of law school, such as exams or grades).  She observed that law students start out in a normal range on evaluations of stress and psychological health and rapidly decline (get more stressed and demonstrate more psychological problems) as they go through their first semester of law school.


October 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 27, 2007


"It's none of their business that you have to learn how to write.  Let them think you were born that way. "

- Ernest Hemingway


October 27, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

AALS Section newsletter & posters

Now you can access on-line the excellent newsletter of the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Research, and Reasoning.  Also included at that site are links to the posters that have been chosen to represent the section at the AALS annual meeting in January.

hat tip:  Tracy Bach, Vermont Law School


October 27, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

symposium on Plain Language Jury Instructions

Professor Lyn Goering, at Washburn University, reminds us to sharpen our pencils this weekend:

Washlawlogo11right "You still have time to submit a proposal for the symposium on Plain Language Jury Instructions, which will be held on the Washburn School of Law campus in Topeka, Kansas on April 7-8, 2008.

"We are extending the deadline for proposals from October 15 to Monday, October 22, 2007. Please follow the link below for the complete Call for Proposals and other details about the event:"


October 25, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

new LWI brochure makes its debut

The Legal Writing Institute has just published its new brochure at Highlighting the varied activities of the Institute, the brochure presents an updated overview of legal writing's role in legal education. Kudos to the team behind the brochure: Betsy Fajans and Jim Levy.


October 24, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

HLE: first concurrent presentation

The next session at the HLE conference forced one to choose from several presentations; I chose "Integration and Peer Bullying."  Professor Susan Grover of William and Mary spoke on outsider status . . . a person may feel or be perceived as an outsider by both visible and invisible characteristics--race, gender, economic status, sexual orientation.  Although law school asks most law students to give up parts of themselves in the acculturation process, outsiders may not be able to--or want to--give up their outsider traits.  Resisting the compulsion to fragment may take strength.  But that needed strength is also a gift, for it may enable the outsider to challenge the status quo.  Outsider status my also result in an inability to identify with the professors, which may result in an inability to emulate.  Ideas for addressing outsider concerns?  Hold focus groups to identify concerns; be fair in exam preparation (don't reward those who come in for 1-on-1 help, as doing so penalizes those--especially outsiders--who don't feel comfortable coming in); respect differences by acknowledging them in class and inviting other views.

Professor Rebecca Flanagan of Vermont Law School spoke on law student peer-to-peer harassment.  She first observed that behavior occurs every day in law school that would be both addressed and not tolerated in K-6 education.  Adult students may act like children, bullying both their peers and professors.  Games ranging from playing gunner bingo to hiding books to being disrespectful of novice professors demonstrate that behavior.  Law school sets up an environment that fosters bullying:  inflexible rules, locked-in roles, and rationalization of behavior.  Students see their classmates as hurdles in a competitive game.  They may bully electronically, with IMing and anonymous postings on Facebook, or in person, with comments and note and unwanted physical behaviors.  Others may be sycophants out of fear of being bullied themselves.  While students may protest that they are being treated like children with rules about classroom behavior, the result of enforced rules is that they do not act like children.


October 24, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

why it's hard to teach legal writing ...

Your first-year legal writings students have read about selecting authority.  They've been hearing all semester about the weight of various authorities.  And now, when they're doing their first fully independent research project, one of them asks you when you might cite to a trial court decision.  If you also happen to be in Illinois, the answer is not simple, and explaining it might strain your students' faith in your credibility.


October 23, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 22, 2007

mark calendar for New England Consortium

The 2007 regional conference of the New England Consortium of Legal Writing Teachers will be hosted by the Vermont Law School on Friday, December 7, 2007. The morning program features three panels on teaching techniques, narrative persuasion, and LRW program models; the afternoon program features three presentations on the use of ethos in persuasive legal writing, evolving LRW governance models, and effective use of writing specialists in the LRW curriculum. Professor Chris Jernstedt, Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College and Director of Dartmouth's Center for Educational Outcomes, is the luncheon speaker. Professor Jernstedt specializes in human learning, educational technology, and evaluation research, and frequently lectures about learning and teaching, potentials of the human mind, educational technology, and institutional and program assessment and development.

  The registration deadline is Tuesday, November 27, 2007. Direct questions about conference registration or area accommodations to Randee Rule, Administrative Assistant to the Legal Writing Department, (802) 831-1261.

hat tip: Tracy Bach


October 22, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

abhorrent aberrations

Do we need a new word to describe judicial opinions that buck authority--or just a spellchecker?  Posts on a state trial practice blog were discussing the precedential value of intermediate appellate court decisions when different districts reach conflicting outcomes. One commenter opined that if three districts hold one way, and then a fourth district holds the opposite way, the fourth opinion is "an abhoration."


October 22, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

HLE conference--Saturday morning

Saturday morning--Plenary II

Professor Larry Krieger of FSU School of Law spoke on empirical studies relating to humanizing legal education.  He began with the idea that we have an old, no longer workable philosophy that shaped traditional legal education and that legal education needs to be transformed by a philosophy that recognizes and respects human nature, including its characteristics of choicefulness, consciousness of progress, self awareness, and a desire for happiness.  (He then pointed out that traditional legal education tends to violate all four.) 

He proposed a definition of humanizing that includes the following:  promotion of autonomy and competency; promotion of growth; promotion of integrity; provision of autonomy support; and emphasis on intrinsic over extrinsic motivations and assessment of self-worth.

He then briefly reviewed research into linguistic patterns in law school that maintain the dominant (and arguably outmoded) philosophy:  parties rather than people; precedent rather than morality; win/lose rather than right/wrong.  A new philosophy--transformative of legal education--would encourage metacognition (reflective awareness), morality and choices, a respect for the whole person and that person's genuineness, and a constant awareness of possible suppression of feelings and displacement of values.  This new philosophy would not deny the traditional mindset, but would reposition it as one that works only part of the time, rather than being the only one.


October 21, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Humanizing Legal Education Conference

The Humanizing Legal Education Conference, sponsored by Washburn University School of Law, began tonight with a banquet and talk by speaker Barb Glesner-Fines of UMKC School of Law.  Professor Glesner-Fines spoke about the HLE movement and the challenges of defining the movement and its principles.  She established three: 

First, do no harm.  Teach with compassion and benevolence; create an active, engaged, respectful, and mutual learning environment.

Second, remember that we teach students, not subject matter.  Even more important, we should teach the whole student, not just the legal technician.  Taking the attitude that "it's not my job" to do other than teach the subject matter contributes to law student disengagement and abdicates our responsibility for helping students learn how to become a lawyer.

Third, teach peace and justice.  Lawyers are healers and problem solvers, and myriad trends in the profession (therapeutic law, collaborative law, clinical educatio, ADR) support those values.  The practice of law is not all about being a gladiator or warrior, and we need to recognize and support all ways of lawyering.   We also need to find ways to enable debt-burdened students to pursue their goals instead of sacrificing them on the altar of monthly loan payments.

In closing, she quoted Rousseau: 

"Propose what is feasible, they repeatedly tell me. It is as if I were being told to propose what people are doing already, or at least to propose some good which mixes well with the existing wrongs. Such a project is in certain ways much more unrealistic than my own, for in that mix the good is spoiled and the bad is not improved. I would rather follow exactly the established method than adopt a better method halfway. There would be fewer contradictions in man, for man cannot aim at the same time at two opposite goals. Fathers and mothers, what is feasible is what you are willing to do."


October 19, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

too much time

How much time do you give your students for each assignment, from day of distribution to day it's due? Historically, I have given my students between 3 and 4 weeks. Now I wonder if that's too much time.

Here's why: I am concerned that the generous number of days lulls many into a false sense of "I can do it later," even though my syllabus suggests a more plodding sort of schedule. For example, shortly after the class that teaches these traditional components of the office memo, the syllabus advises students to try the Question Presented and Brief Answer. The pedagogical reasoning supporting this advice is that it's good to practice new skills while the information is fresh in mind. Of course, it's also possible that it may take several drafts to get a QP/BA set that works pretty well.

But very few students work on the memo a little at a time. Instead, they postpone thinking and writing until a couple of days before it's due. The end product reflects that delay. I don't think they plan for it to happen that way. But first-year law students have so many pressures, and they tend to be concerned only about putting out the most immediate fire--which is the next assigned reading in their contracts, torts, property, civil procedure classes.

Therefore, I'm thinking that next year, I may cut the time for memo writing in half--not delaying distribution of the problem until 3-4 days before it's due, but cutting the time to somewhere between 10 days and 2 weeks. With a shorter time frame (but still ample enough for drafts), is it possible that student focus and performance will improve? (And is this closer to the timetables they'll have in their clerking jobs?)

Readers, what has been your experience? Is this an idea worth pursuing?


October 17, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

request for proposals: 2008 Rocky Mountain LW Conference

The Eighth Annual Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference is scheduled for March 21-22, 2008, at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. The Program Committee invites proposals for presentations of 20, 30, or 55 minutes on any subject of interest to those teaching legal research and writing. Twenty-minute slots work well for demonstrating teaching methods or exercises. The proposal deadline is January 12, 2008. To submit a proposal, visit

hat tip: Bonnie Mitchell


October 16, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

job openings at Northeastern and New York Law School

     Northeastern University School of Law invites applications for a non-tenure track faculty position as Director of its Legal Research and Writing (LRW) Program (initial term of appointment up to three years). The Director’s primary responsibility will be the on-going development and implementation of the Legal Research and Writing component of the school's larger first-year Legal Skills in Social Context Program, which trains first-year students in a wide range of basic legal skills and, by the spring semester, engages them in actual legal research for nonprofit, community-based organizations (supervised through a separate Social Justice component of the program).

   Deadline to apply is November 1, 2007. Submit letter of application, resume, and three references (names, addresses and contact information) to Peter Enrich, Chair, LRW Search Committee, Northeastern University School of Law, 400 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115.  Members of the Search Committee will be available at the October faculty recruitment conference of the American Association of Law Schools in Washington, DC to interview candidates.

   New York Law School requests applications for the newly-created position of Director of the First Year Legal Skills Program, which will be implemented upon completion of the law school’s current building project. The position may be tenure-track or long-term contract, depending on the qualifications and interests of the person hired. The Legal Skills Program will integrate legal writing and research, written and oral advocacy, legal analysis and lawyering skills, including interviewing and counseling, into a consolidated, two-semester first-year program carrying four credit hours per semester, to be taught in small classes by full-time professors.

   To apply, send a letter of interest and resume to the First Year Task Force, Claire Voulgarelis, Assistant to the Associate Dean for Faculty Development, New York Law School, 57 Worth Street, New York, NY 10013, or via e-mail attachment to [email protected]  The deadline for applications is November 15, 2007.


October 16, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

posters chosen for AALS

Professor Tracy Bach, at Vermont Law School, is currently Chair of the the Poster Committee of the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research.  She announced today that posters prepared by Professor Kathy Vinson of Suffolk University Law School and Professor Melissa Weresh of Drake University Law School have been selected for display at this year's AALS annual meeting.

As Tracy put it:

"Kathy's poster on using podcasts to complement in-class teaching and Mel's poster presenting her research about the path to clinical tenure beautifully embody the hallmarks of effective academic posters:  clear and concise text presentation and striking use of visuals.  The Committee is especially pleased that our poster selections present both our Section's research and teaching strengths to the law school community."

The selection committee also included Professors Kirsten Dauphinais (University of North Dakota School of Law), Sue Liemer (Southern Illinois University School of Law), and Lisa Penland (Drake University Law School).


October 16, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

guest response re the grading diet

[submitted by guest blogger Hillary Burgess, an adjunct at Rutgers Law School - Camden]

More on the Grading Diet

Hats off to Professor Liemer for being able to put herself on a grading diet and (presumably) stick to it. I love the suggestion, but have to admit, I'm not sure I'm that disciplined. Like my "no-junk-food-in-the-house" forced diet, I have forced myself onto a grading diet by varying the due dates on my course schedules across sections or within sections.

For example, one semester, I was teaching 3 courses: Class A had 60 students with 3 papers, Class B had 40 students with 4 papers, and Class C had 20 students with 5 papers. I scattered the due dates so that papers for class Class C were due week 2, 7, and 12, Class B were due 5, 10, and 15, and Class C were due 4, 6, 9, 11, and 14. (Note, I gave myself the full 10 days to grade the 60 papers by not having any papers due week 1, 3, 8, and 13.) Of course, I had to structure the lectures so that the papers were due on pedagogically sound deadlines, but with a bit of thought, I've found a pedagogically sound schedule that won't drive me more crazy than I was born can often be created.

I've also done so within a class where I divide my students up into tracks according to career interest and provide specific assignments that focus on the topic and/or specific writing assignment of their intended career. Eg. A brief could have criminal law as one topic and contract law as a different topic. Tracks have different due dates, one week apart, which forces me to grade 1/2 the papers one week and 1/2 the papers the next.

Finally, I've employed the extra credit for early submission strategies when I've taught fewer students and/or courses. All papers are due on X date, but if you turn them in one week early, you earn 1/2 % extra credit toward your final grade in the course. Usually, only 1/3 of the students actually turn them in by the early submit date, but that still forces me to pace my grading into 1/3 one week and 2/3 the next. A variation on this idea is 4 paper options due in the semester, but students will only be graded on 3, with extra credit for turning in the first assignment instead of the last 3.

Do different tracks or staggered due dates or two possible submission dates sound like a lot of work? It is. And it does take careful course planning (but we're all doing that anyway) and a bit extra research up front to develop different tracked assignments, for example. But, it's a one time cost for a multi-semester payoff. And what's more fun about the administrative aspects of teaching than developing assignments?

440 papers in one semester is a lot of work no matter how you cut it (that's the most I've ever had). But for those of us who aren't quite as disciplined as Professor Liemer, forced dieting has worked for me.

Now, if only we could find a grading diet that burned a calorie for every word we read on students' papers or wrote as part of feedback!


October 16, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 15, 2007

the rule of three

If you have a good ear, you probably already know about The Rule of Three.  You may even be employing it in your legal writing without realizing you're doing so.  I recently read about it in an article thus entitled, by Elliott Wilcox, in the New York State Bar Association Journal's September 2007 edition.  Wilcox uses classic examples to remind us how effective a rhetorical device the triple repetition of a phrase, pattern, or rhyme scheme can be:

"Friend, Romans, countrymen, ...." 

"I came, I saw, I conquered." 

"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

"Snap, Crackle, Pop."

He also explain how comedians use the rule of three, twisting the third element to give us something unexpected and humorous.  And he advises that if you find yourself with two or four items or examples, you need to do some adding or subtracting, to arrive at the magic three items in a list that your audience, whether in writing or speaking, will find persuasive and memorable.


October 15, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)