Thursday, June 16, 2011

Talking with high school students about legal writing

Today I gave a talk about legal analysis and writing to the high school students in our Summer Law Institute.  Earlier, I had put out a call on the legal writing listserv for good cases to cover, and I received many helpful suggestions.  I finally decided on the McDonald’s coffee case (Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, which has no reported opinion). It’s a good springboard for discussing legal analysis, because so many people have only a superficial understanding of the case. 

I also used the “I give you that orange” parody of legalese. (It has been attributed to both Timothy Walker and Arthur Symonds, as I explained in a recent article.)  The student who best translated the parody into plain English won a prize.

Some of the students’ essays contained organizational problems and run-on sentences, comma-splices, and sentence fragments. I was disheartened when several said they are not receiving feedback on their writing. Two explained that their essays are just thrown into folders. And one bright young woman said she had never learned anything about grammar until this year. If those reports are accurate, the schools are doing the students a disservice by not preparing them better for advanced studies.


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The difficulty today's law students and bar candidates have with legal analysis is partly, I believe, the result of their never having studied formal grammar. Faced with a long code section, for example, they can't pick out the subject and verb of the principal clause and figure out how the sentence is put together. With such limited grammatical skills, either they get the gist or they don't. And often, they don't.

Posted by: Mary Campbell Gallagher | Jun 17, 2011 5:17:49 AM

Thanks for your post Mary!

Posted by: Mark Wojcik | Jun 22, 2011 2:07:38 PM

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