Friday, November 5, 2010

George Gopen wins the Golden Pen Award!

The President of the Legal Writing Institute, Ken Chestek, has just released this announcement:

"It give me great pleasure to announce that the 2011 recipient of LWI's Golden Pen Award is Prof. George Gopen, Professor of English at Duke University. 

"Professor Gopen was originally hired in 1975 at Utah as an undergraduate professor of English. Because of his J.D. degree, he was asked to design a special writing course for Pre-Law Students at Utah. He then wrote to eighty-six law schools to find out what types of Legal Writing programs existed to better enable him to decide what should go into a Pre-Law course. He discovered that most law schools did not have organized Legal Writing programs. Many of those who responded expressed frustration or despair over the poor writing skills of those admitted to their law schools. Mr. Gopen then designed a course in Composition for Pre-Law Students and published an article about it in the Journal of Legal Education, A Course in Composition for Pre-Law Students, 29 J. Legal Ed. 222 (1978), and another criticizing the few existing writing courses in the law schools he had investigated, A Question of Cash and Credit: Writing Programs at Law Schools, 3 J. of Contemp. Law 191 (1977). In 1978, he wrote one of the first text books suitable for a law school course on Legal Writing, Writing From A Legal Perspective (West 1978).

"When he moved to the Loyola English Department as Director of Writing Programs, he fortuitously met "Professor Joe Williams (a previous winner of the Golden Pen Award). Together, they formed a consulting firm, Clearlines, and thereafter were hired by law firms and corporations throughout the country to hold four-day seminars teaching lawyers the writing skills they lacked. He continued as a solo consultant at Clearlines when Williams left the company.

"During those years, Professor Gopen formulated the theory of legal writing he has honed to perfection through the years. His approach has been labeled the “Reader Expectation Approach.” At the heart of this approach is the theory that the writer should focus exclusively on reader expectations. He asserts that the structural location of a word is more important than word choice in a reader's interpretation of a piece of writing. Readers gather contextual clues based not on what specific words mean, but on where those words appear in the structure of a sentence or paragraph. The writer then needs to be concerned with placing the key thoughts in the “stress position.” Most commonly, and against previous notions of what constitutes effective writing, Professor Gopen concluded that those thoughts should appear at the end of every sentence. As he explains, writers know intuitively as readers themselves that “certain kinds of pieces of information are expected to appear in certain kinds of structural locations. . . .  The writer can ask far more pointed questions, like, “Does the word or phrase that I want the reader to emphasize most appear in a Stress position? If the answer to that question is “no,” then the odds are high that a significant percentage of readers will not perceive with emphasis that which the writer wanted to present with emphasis.”

"By all accounts, Professor Gopen was highly successful in his work for Clearlines. As one participant stated, Gopen is “simply brilliant.  . . .  [O]ne of the best teachers I’ve had. You WILL be a better writer if you do what he says. Revolutionary. I used to be pretty cocky about my writing, but now I know I didn’t know anything until taking this class. Now I’m extremely cocky, but rightfully so!”

"With the formation of the Legal Writing Institute, Professor Gopen jumped into our field with vigor and made an instant impact. He was keynote speaker at one of the first Legal Writing Institute conferences, and elaborated, to glowing reviews, on his Stress Position theory. The LWI speeches he gave then and at later meetings encouraged legal writing teachers to recognize that they were doing more than teaching students the format and style of legal documents: that they were actually teaching the art of effective writing. They were writing professionals, trying to instill the best abilities and skills, not just those that would satisfy a reader looking at the words used and the basic grammar.

"Professor Gopen added to his luster within the legal writing world by publishing The Current State of Legal Writing: Res Ipsa Loquitur, 86 Mich. L. Rev. 333 (1987), widely distributed to prospective law students by several law schools for recruitment purposes. In that article, he analyzed the various types of programs and their weaknesses and the strengths of a few law school programs that he felt were exceptional. He said, “From the few successes we have seen to date, it appears that success in constructing legal writing programs remains a question of cash and credit. Certain elements are required for a writing program to work at a law school:

1) Sufficient money must be expended on competent faculty specialists (that is, on people trained or experienced in the teaching of writing);
2) Sufficient credit must be given to students for their labors to allow them to expend as serious an effort on improving writing as they do on learning Torts or Trusts or Tax law;
3) A certain amount of writing instruction must be made available, preferably required, in all six terms of law school, not just in the first half of the first year;
4) Perhaps most importantly, a consistent methodology must be adopted by the program as a whole, so that students of any one section or year may talk intelligibly with any faculty member and all other students about the standards of cohesive and coherent prose.
Id. at 357-58.

"The fact that the ABA is, in 2010, seriously considering outcome assessments as an accreditation standard demonstrates how far ahead of his time was Professor Gopen. What a novel idea–to measure the quality of a legal education based upon what professional students are actually able to do when they join the profession.

"Professor Gopen joined the Board of the LWI for several terms. In that position, he encouraged the use of an annual survey to determine the status of programs from year to year and to enable directors or teachers to use the data to try to gain enhancements to their programs. At the 1986 LWI conference, in perhaps his most passionate plenary LWI speech, he implored the members of our profession to respect themselves and to demand respect from the rest of the legal education academy.  At the time this was a unique posture; he did not teach legal writing, at least not in the sense that we know it today, yet, he is one of the most influential individuals in our profession because his scholarship has focused on improving the deficiencies in legal skills training and on the plight of the underclass, which always seems to be required to do the heavy lifting. It is his eloquence and passion that have caused so many to take notice. He has been vocal in explaining to administrators and practicing attorneys exactly what type of writing training should be occurring in law schools and how the legal profession should be treating its writing professors. In many respects, he has given us our identity as professionals.  As a result, he is one of the true heroes of the legal writing community.

"Because of his willingness to share his brilliant insights into the teaching of great legal writing, because of his support and encouragement to members of the legal writing profession to fight for respect, and because of his individual efforts in improving the legal writing of hundreds of lawyers in firms and corporations that hired him, George Gopen is a highly deserving receipient of the Golden Pen Award.

"The award will be presented at a joint reception for both the Blackwell Award and the Golden Pen Award at the AALS Annual Meeting in San Francisco. The reception, co-sponsored by ALWD and LWI, will take place from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 7, at a site TBD. Please make plans to join us in San Francisco to honor George!"

hat tip:  Ken Chestek


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Thanks for posting this, Sue.

Mea culpa for the typo in the date, however: the correct date for the reception is Friday, Jan. 7 (not the 8th).


Posted by: Ken Chestek | Nov 10, 2010 2:09:47 PM

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