Wednesday, June 15, 2011
If ever there were a deserving recipient of the Burton Award for Legal Writing Education, it's Marjorie Rombauer, the original pioneer in the field of legal writing teaching. You can read the text of the award presentation here and see her acceptance speech here. To learn more about her brilliant career, check out the videos and the interview transcripts in the LWI Archives.
hat tip: Karin Mika
In the history of legal writing, Magna Carta is, as its name suggests, a document of great significance. It memorializes an absolute monarch's agreement to share power with his barons, arguably the first step in a democratizing process that's brought us all the way to this year's Arab Spring.
Magna Carta was written in medieval Latin, but you can read one of the three generally-accepted English translations here, on the British Library's website. That site also provides more context and explanations here.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Legal writing professors are deeply interested in good teaching, so it’s not surprising that many participated in a recent conference sponsored by the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning. Held June 1-3 at New York Law School, the event’s theme was “Engaging and Assessing Our Students.” A plenary session titled “Assessment is Coming!” covered the current assessment trend.
Below, Lyn Goering and Richard Neumann present on rule drafting as a means of integrating doctrine, procedure, and skills.
The Green Bag has published an article by George Mason law professor Ross Davies with the intriguing title: "West’s Words, Ho! Law Books by the Million, Plus a Few".
Assuming inquiring minds want to know, here's what it's about:
"This essay introduces an interesting but nearly invisible artifact of American law: A promotional pamphlet titled Law Books by the Million: An account of the largest law-book house in the world, the home establishment of The National Reporter System and The American Digest System. It was produced by the West Publishing Company in 1901 and is reprinted in its entirety below at pages 311 to 339 of this issue of the Green Bag. Professor Robert Jarvis has quite rightly bemoaned the meager public information about John West, founder of the West Publishing Company and an important figure in American legal history. A similar, albeit less severe, paucity of information plagues the West Publishing Company itself (now owned by Thomson Reuters). There isn’t much out there about the company’s early years, and what little there is can be strangely difficult to get hold of. For example, the biggest single source of West history – William Marvin’s 1969 book, West Publishing Company: Origin, Growth, Leadership – is out of print, rare, and not available on the Internet. The same goes for The Publications of West Publishing Company and The Romance of Law Reporting: Serving the Bench and Bar, pamphlets published by West in 1901 and 1934 respectively. Law Books by the Million is nearly as hard to find, but at least it is in the library and in the public domain, and therefore susceptible to reproduction here. And it is worth the trouble and expense. Law Books by the Million provides a readable, richly illustrated narrative of the processes West used to create and disseminate its products in the early years (that is, the late 19th and early 20th centuries) of those simultaneously democratizing and costly, mutually reinforcing revolutions in American law: the expansion of the
bar and the legal information explosion."
Monday, June 13, 2011
Dede Hill was recently promoted to Associate Lawyering Professor at Albany Law School. Along with the promotion, Dede was awarded a five-year presumptively renewable contract, i.e., clinical tenure. Her article entitled: Guest Worker Programs Are No Fix for Our Broken Immigration System: Evidence from the Northern Mariana Islands, was also recently accepted for publication by the New Mexico Law Review.
hat tip: Evelyn Tenenbaum
Over on the website of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning, there's an article by Sophie Sparrow on why law professors might want to take a few moments at this time of year to reflect on their teaching. The article offers some tips on how best to go about that reflective process, too.
hat tip: Gerry Hess
Friday, June 10, 2011
To honor the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird, the ABA Journal and the University of Alabama School of Law are holding a competition for the first Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. It seems, however, that readers of legal fiction are not happy with the nominees. When you check out the story about the competition, be sure to scroll down to the comments.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
The latest issue of the Scribes Journal of Legal Writing (Volume 13) is a gold mine of Supreme Court justices’ observations about brief writing and oral argument. Several years ago, legal writing expert Bryan Garner conducted video interviews with eight justices. Garner graciously posted these videos on line, and many law professors have taken advantage of their availability.
Now the interviews are in print. Nearly two hundred pages of nuggets about writing grace the current issue of Scribes. Among the observations I found interesting was Chief Justice Roberts’ assertion that “the only good way to learn about writing is to read good writing.” Many of the justices stressed the importance of conciseness; Roberts said he has yet to finish a brief and wish it were longer. Interestingly, Justice Scalia seldom reads a brief’s summary of the argument, while Justice Thomas likes that section. But Thomas never reads statements of facts—he gets the facts from the court of appeals opinion.
Volume 13 is available on line, which means readers can use the search feature to find particular topics.
Garner and Scribes editor Joseph Kimble have done the legal profession a great service by making these interviews so readily available.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Many legal writing professors have experience that would be relevant for the AALS Section on Women in Legal Education's session at the annual meeting on Busting Out in Scholarship—Becoming Relevant Outside the Legal Academy: Non-Traditional Scholarship and Social Change.
The Section on WLE is looking for 250 word proposals for 12 to 15 minutes presentations, for a panel on Sunday, January 8, 2012, at the AALS annual meeting. Here's more on the theme:
"In recent years, scholars have begun to reach outside of the legal academy with their scholarship—on blogs and other social media, in articles and opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines, in amicus briefs and white papers, in popular books and novels, and through grant-funded research. The panelists will discuss their experiences with nontraditional forms of scholarship and debate its advantages and disadvantages in terms of the tenure and promotion processes, compensation and benefits, and the general public's perception of the legal academy."
Interested law professors should submit a summary of the presentation idea, with a resume. The summary should be no more than 250 words. E-mail these materials to Donna Coker at email@example.com, with the subject line WLE Busting Out, by July 1, 2011. They will notify the selected presenters by September 1, 2011.
The Association of Legal Writing Directors has announced the recipients of its 2011 ALWD Teaching
Grant. Sarah Morath, Richard Strong, and Elizabeth Shaver have received the honor, to support their work on teaching Litigation Drafting: Different Roles in the Litigation Process. Congratulations!
And kudos, too, to the selection committee chairs and members, who had to make some tough choices: Chris Rollins, Heather Zube, Ann Mallatt Killenbeck, Cassandra Hill, and Rebecca Lonergan.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Miriam Felsenburg and Laura Graham, both at Wake Forest University, have written a very helpful article on "A Better Beginning: Why and How to Help Novice Legal Writers Build a Solid Foundation by Shifting Their Focus from Product to Process". (No, this isn't a repeat. This is a continuation of their prior work.)
Here's how they summarize it:
"Several years ago, we set out to discover why early legal writing is so difficult for many beginning law students and what we can do to make it easier. In a prior article, we described several key factors that contributed to student overconfidence and illustrated how this overconfidence impeded students’ progress in both early legal analysis and early legal writing. In this follow-up article, we suggest strategies for better orienting students to law school learning and better managing their goals for legal writing at the beginning of the first-year course. The legal writing classroom is usually the
place where students are first introduced to the foundational process of legal analysis. It is also usually the place where students receive their earliest feedback on how well they are learning this process. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that legal writing professors design 'a better beginning' for their first-year students. In Part II of this Article, we discuss the importance of giving students a fuller, clearer orientation to the study of law in general; this orientation should emphasize the process of legal analysis as the foundation for all other law school learning. In Part III of the Article, we suggest three specific ways that legal writing professors can design their courses and teaching practices to facilitate students’ receptivity to this process: (1) setting clear, realistic goals and objectives for the first semester of legal writing and communicating them transparently; (2) deliberately encouraging students to be more active metacognitive learners; and (3) providing more opportunities for students to pre-write and to 'write to learn' before asking them to 'write to communicate' to a legal reader."
Monday, June 6, 2011
The 21st Century Legal Skills Conference began last night in Istanbul. The conference is co-sponsored by Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul and the Legal Writing Institute. We'll have details (and hopefully some photos) throughout the week.
On June 20, 2011, the Legal Writing Institiute will hold a research and writing seminar for law firm associates and summer clerks. This is a pilot program that follows on the highly successful one-day workshops that the Legal Writing Institute held last December (and the year before that).
The research and writing seminars will be held at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Click here for more information. CLE credit will be available and one hour of professionalism/ethics is also being applied for. Please recommend this program to anyone who you think might benefit from it. If it is successful, the LWI will likely expand it next year to other law schools.
Sunday, June 5, 2011
Experiencing angst over last semester’s student rating forms? Then take a look at a new article, How Metacognitive Deficiencies of Law Students Lead to Biased Ratings of Legal Writing Professors. Catherine J. Wasson of Elon (pictured at left) and Barbara J. Tyler, professor emerita at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, collected data from professors around the country to explore seemingly anomalous comments on student evaluation forms. The article includes contradictory statements from students in the same class and comments completely unrelated to course content, such as “His ties are always too short.” Some comments are stinging but uninformative: “This course sucks.” Others are unintentionally ironic: “This professor spends to [sic] much time on grammer [sic].” The authors point out that students submit such comments anonymously, without ever having to defend them.
Wasson and Tyler offer explanations for these kinds of comments and point out the unfairness of relying on them for personnel decisions.
Hat tip: Scot Freuhwald
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Practicing lawyers and judges recently offered advice about legal writing in a Chicago Lawyer article. Appellate lawyer Joel D. Bertocchi told how he had shifted from language “encrusted with clauses” to a "more direct and lively" style aimed at convincing busy judges. On a similar note, U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow stressed that a brief should “cut to the chase as quickly as possible.” Meanwhile, intellectual property lawyer Donald Mizerk lamented that new lawyers’ writing is less polished today than twenty years ago, partly because tweets and on-screen editing have promoted bad habits.
Hat tip: Ralph Brill
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Almas Khan, at the University of La Verne College of Law has published "A Compendium of Legal Writing Sources", 50 Washburn L. J. 395 (2011). It's not your typical bibliography, it's more of a bibliography of bibliographies. It could be a very good place to start a research project on legal writing.
Here's how the author describes it:
"During my past five years as a legal writing professor, I have endeavored to categorize the burgeoning scholarship on legal writing, compiling a 'master list' with hundreds of legal writing sources organized by topic. Students and other faculty members have often consulted me for assistance with legal writing, and the master list has proven to be an indispensable guide for them.
In this article, I present an edited version of the master list for readers – including academics, practitioners, and students – seeking to improve their legal writing.
"Although the bibliography contains few sources centered on legal writing instruction, the organization of topics in its first half parallels the order of assignments in a typical two or three semester legal writing course, moving from introductory to advanced legal writing texts. I begin by enumerating elementary legal writing texts and sources introducing the study of law, case synthesis and small-scale organization, objective legal memoranda, persuasive writing and appellate advocacy, oral argument, and advanced legal writing. The remainder of the bibliography is devoted to sources discussing legal research, legal writing style, legal citation, law school assistance, academic legal writing, and useful miscellany."