Monday, October 31, 2011

Not-So-Spooky Advice from Stephen King

Over at The Faculty Lounge, a timely post for Halloween recognizes the writing wisdom of one of America's creepiest writers, Stephen King.  This gave me the idea to compile some of the wisdom from his book on writing, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, as fright night draws to a close.

Thoughts on word choice:

One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you're maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.  This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes.  The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed.  Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you'll never use 'emolument' when you mean 'tip'...

On criticism:

Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.

On reading:

If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write.

Writing as an earnest craft:

You must not come lightly to the blank page.

Even if you are not working on the Great American Horror Novel, King's advice hits the mark.  Hopefully whatever you and your students are writing this fall is more of a treat than a trick.


October 31, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Justice Scalia's style

A recent short article focuses on Justice Antonin Scalia’s rhetorical skills. Jeffrey Shaman  of DePaulShaman University College of Law describes Scalia as “one helluva stylist,” whose work is “distinguished by a flair for being strikingly sharp and clever.” Shaman recounts Scalia's use of pointed language to criticize other justices—for example, when he called one of Justice Kennedy’s opinions “tutti-frutti.”  And Shaman points out that despite Scalia's opposition to citing foreign law, the Justice does use foreign phrases. He may twist one for effect, as when he morphed "Pax Romana" into “Pax Roeana” to describe the effect of a decision on abortion.  


October 31, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

two intriquing articles

BannerLast spring's Second Colonial Frontier LRW Conference, held at Duquesne, resulted in some intriquing law journal articles. You can read the two to be most recently published in the Duquesne Law Reivew's 49th volume:

Mary Barnard Ray, Writing on the Envelope: An Exploration of the Potentials and Limits of Writing in Law

Elizabeth Fajans, Legal Writing in the Time of Recession: Developing Cognitive Skills for Complex Legal Tasks

hat tip: Jan Levine


October 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

got a proposal for the Capital Area Legal Writing Conference?

1If you get it in this weekend, you'll still make the deadline for sending a proposal to speak at the Second Annual Capital Area Legal Writing Conference, to be held on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday, March 9-10, 2012, at The Georgetown University Law Center. Out of town participants are welcome.  And there will be no conference fee.

The deadline to submit proposals is October 30, 2011.  The proposal submission form can be downloaded from  Completed forms should be emailed to: If you have any questions, please email

hat tip:  Kristen K. Tiscione


October 27, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

your visit to New Hampshire in December

IndexWhy would you want to go to New Hampshire in December? Because you can:

1) see the beauty of a New England winter without the extreme cold later in the season,
2) get in some early season skiing or snowboarding before the crowds, and
3) attend a fun and exciting one-day conference on practice-ready LRW assignments.

Here's the skinny:

Creating Practice-Ready Assignments and Exercises Legal Writing Conference
December 16, 2011
UNH School of Law, Concord, NH
FREE and OPEN to Everyone
RSVP today to attend or submit a proposal for a presentation at:

hat tip:  Amy Vorenberg

(spl -- who has climbed Mt Monadnock, in the photo)

October 26, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Smileys: Professional Writing Scourge:( or Boon:)?

I have noticed a steady increase in my colleagues' use of smileys in professional email correspondence lately.  While I remain officially undecided on whether this is appropriate, The New York Times effectively lays out the arguments regarding the smiley's impact on the quality of modern writing.  On one hand, smileys allow a writer to set the tone they want to set in email.  On the other hand, setting a tone using smileys feels like force feeding to some readers.  Some highlights from The NYT:

Lisa M. Bates, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia, has lately embraced the smiley — as have her academic colleagues, albeit “sparingly and strategically,” she said. “Basically, I’m often sarcastic and in a hurry, and a well-planted smiley face can take the edge off and avoid misunderstanding,” Dr. Bates wrote in an e-mail. “I figure they have saved me some grief from misconstrued tone many times.”

[One] harsh critic...Marsha Farinet [writes] “To me, it’s like bad moviemaking, where as soon as Dad grabs the puppy, the shot immediately goes to Junior’s teary face — like the director does not trust the audience to have an appropriately developed emotion by itself,” Ms. Farinet wrote in an e-mail. “That’s what emoticons do. PLEASE don’t ‘show’ me that I should be happy-faced or sad-faced or that you are sad-faced or happy-faced.

“Can you imagine,” wrote Ms. Farinet, “reading the end of ‘The Great Gatsby’

like that?: So we beat on, boats against

the current, borne back ceaselessly into

the past :-( ”

How are legal writing professors addressing the use of smileys and other emoticons in class?  What does the existence of the issue say about the impact of electronic communication on professional writing?  Does anyone think we should use more smileys on the blog?;)  Or should we ban them completely and impose fines for smiley use?:(


October 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ideas for covering rule synthesis

FigleyIn a new article, Paul Figley presents some practical ideas for teaching rule synthesis. Teaching Rule Synthesis with Real Cases, 61 J. Leg. Educ. 245 (Nov. 2011).  He begins by explaining why rule synthesis is important: a writer who simply discusses and applies cases one by one is not engaging in legal analysis. Figley next offers a homespun example, “Crabby Mrs. McGinty’s Garden Hose,” to illustrate how a rule might be synthesized. He then presents a series of excerpts from Massachusetts slip-and-fall cases to show how students might synthesize and apply a rule. These exercises may be especially helpful to newer teachers looking for effective ways to cover rule synthesis.


October 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

LRW profs on the move

Washburn has hired two experienced professors for its tenure-track legal writing positions. They'll be joining two already-tenured professors and one who is applying for tenure this semester.

Joseph P. Mastrosimone is former Chief Legal Counsel for the Kansas Human Rights Commission and senior counsel to the National Labor Relations Board. He also practiced with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Cowell & Moring and the Kansas City law firm of Stinson, Morrison & Hecker. Professor Mastrosimone has also taught legal writing at the University of Kansas and the George Washington University law schools. 

Emily Grant is former Senior Court Counsel for the Pulau Supreme Court and a former judicial clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the U.S. District Courts for the Central District of Illinois and the District of Kansas. She has also taught legal writing at the University of Kansas and University of Illinois law schools. 

 hat tip: Tonya Kowalski


October 24, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reminder About LWI Golden Pen Nominations

LWIThe Awards Committee of the Legal Writing Institute announced its call for nominations for the 2012 Golden Pen Award.  Any member of LWI may nominate someone for the award.  The LWI Committeee ask that you submit your nominations directly to Hether Macfarlane at hmacfarlane [at] on or before November 15, 2011. Here's more information about the award:

                The Golden Pen Award recognizes those who make significant contributions to advance the cause of better legal writing.  These contributions may take any form, such as promoting the use of clear language in public documents, improving the quality of legal writing instruction, advocating for better writing within the legal community, outstanding scholarship or journalism about legal writing, or exceptional writing in law practice.  The award is normally given to someone who is not an active member of LWI, but active members are considered in exceptional circumstances. 

                Previous recipients of the award are Arthur Levitt, Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission; Don LeDuc, Dean of the Thomas Cooley Law School; Linda Greenhouse, Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times; the late Honorable Robert E. Keeton of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts; Richard Wydick, Professor at the University of California at Davis School of Law; the Honorable Ronald M. George, the Honorable Carol A. Corrigan, and the Honorable James D. Ward, Justices of the Supreme Court of California and the California Court of Appeal; the Honorable Ruggero J. Aldisert of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; the National Association of Attorneys General; William C. Burton, Esq.; and George Gopen, Professor of the Practice of Rhetoric in the English Department at Duke University.
The Awards Committee consists of Kirsten Dauphinais, Sue Liemer (my co-blogger), Hether Macfarlane, Sharon Pocock, Judy Rosenbaum, and Lou Sirico
Hat tip to Hether Macfarlane

October 23, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 21, 2011

distinguished visitor at John Marshall

Professor Sophie Sparrow will visit The John Marshall Law School next fall as the first distinguished visitor in its Lawyering Skills Program.   

Sophie M. Sparrow is a professor of law and the former director of legal skills  at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. She focuses her work on the scholarship of teaching and learning, and she is a consultant to the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning as a well as a member of its Advisory Committee.  A graduate of Harvard/Radcliffe College and Harvard Law School, Sophie is a co-author of Techniques for Teaching Law 2 (2011), Teaching Law by Design for Adjuncts (2010), Teaching Law by Design (2009), and The Lawyer as Supervisor, Manager & Motivator (2000). She has conducted more than 70 workshops and presentations on teaching, professionalism, assessment, and writing.

 hat tip:  Anthony Niedwiecki, Director of Lawyering Skills, Associate Professor of Law


October 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A critique of the process approach to teaching legal writing

The latest issue of the Journal of Legal Education contains a provocative article titled The New Legal Writing Pedagogy: Is It Our Pride and Joy or a Hobble?  The author, John Lynch, is Associate Dean at the University of Baltimore School of Law. The pedagogy of which he writes is the process approach, which focuses on the writing process rather than on the end product.  Although that approach has been widely accepted in the legal writing field for twenty years or so, it is new to Lynch, who recently returned to the field after an absence of thirty years.

Lynch believes that reviewing drafts and requiring conferences during the writing process are unnecessarily labor intensive and at times burdensome to students, especially night students. He also argues that students who rely on conferences may shortchange their own editing process, expecting the professor to edit for them. In his courses, “I have fewer conferences than if I required them for all students, and I do not spend nearly as much time answering questions before students turn the assignments in as I would if I were reviewing drafts.”  He does encourage students to meet with him if they want to, but he argues that the process approach is not suited to all situations and ABA should not require it in its accreditation standards.

Lynch’s article is not yet available on line—I read it in hard copy.


October 21, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

First Year Student Study Group Charges Classmates $20 to "Tryout"

Above the Law has a story about a study group of first year students who are charging classmates $20 to "tryout."  Their poster says that they want to "suceed" but they don't know how to spell the word correctly.  Have a look.

Hat tip to Juli Campagna.


October 19, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Talked Like Yoda, We May Have

YodaMSNBC has coverage of a recent paper by linguists at the Santa Fe Institute on the evolution of human languages; it argues that all human language is derived from a single language arranged in subject-object-verb (SOV) order.  In other words, old-school humans talked like Yoda. 

I found this theory fascinating because I am currently emphasizing crisp subject-verb-object (SVO) english to my first year legal writing class.  Sentences are punchier and more effective when the subject and verb are close to one another, appear in SV order, and appear close to the beginning of the sentence.  When the familiar SVO structure appears early in the sentence, the sentence is easier for the english reader to process. 

But imagine a world where we spoke like Yoda.  Here are some highlights from MSNBC's coverage:

There are various word orders used in the languages of the world. Some, like English, use subject-verb-object (SVO) ordering, as in the sentence "I like you." Others, such as Latin, use subject-object-verb (SOV) ordering, as in "I you like."

In rare cases, OSV, OVS, VOS and VSO are used. In a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Merritt Ruhlen and Murray Gell-Mann, co-directors of the Santa Fe Institute Program on the Evolution of Human Languages, argue that the original language used SOV ordering ("I you like").

"This language would have been spoken by a small East African population who seemingly invented fully modern language and then spread around the world, replacing everyone else," Ruhlen told Life's Little Mysteries.

Use legalese, Yoda did not.  Been created by lawyers, it must have.


October 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Some fresh ideas for teaching legal writing

A recent article suggests some fresh ideas for teaching legal writing. Mark Osbeck of the University of'mosbeck' Michigan Law School believes legal writing professors focus too much on usage and formulas like IRAC. Good legal writing, Osbeck says, is clear, concise, and engaging, and great legal writing has a separate quality--elegance. Students become proficient at these qualities, he says, by “reading the works of good writers and by practicing their own writing”—not “by memorizing a lot of picayune rules.”    


October 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 17, 2011

LwibannerVolume 17 of Legal Writing: The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute, is now available on the Journal's website. This volume includes a wide variety of articles, including those from the Yes We CArNegie! symposium at John Marshall Law School. Kudos to Editor in Chief Kristin Gerdy, the editorial board, assistant editors, and team leaders!




October 17, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

lost in translation?

1Attorney Mark Herrmann continues to ask here: how do you check the quality of legal documents written for your company or client in other countries, in languages other than your own? What advice do you have for him and others similarly situated?





October 16, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

spare the pen, and spoil the child?

3For a great take on why the key to good writing is good editing, click here. (If that link isn't working, try this URL, without the line breaks:


hat tip: Bob Sachs


October 16, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Chutzpah at the Court

Chutzpah is alive and well at the United States Supreme Court--the word chutzpah, that is. As a recent piece in the ABA Journal reports, last term Justice Elena Kagan used it when she read aloud her dissent in the Arizona Free Enterprise Club case. In that suit over campaign financing, candidates claimed that "Arizona violated their First Amendment rights by disbursing funds to other speakers even though they could have received (but chose to spurn) the same financial assistance." Justice Kagan said of that argument, "Some people might call that chutzpah."

Justice Kagan was the first Jewish Justice to use the Yiddish term, but the first Justice to use it was Catholic Justice Antonin Scalia, in 1998. The ABA Journal quotes law professor Eugene Volokh's thoughts about those choices: "Scalia strives for a colorful writing style, and so does Kagan. What you are seeing here is less of an ethnic dividion and more the style of the author."




October 14, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

tenure-track LRW job in Atlanta

Request-info-JMLSAtlanta’s John Marshall Law School is seeking applicants for a full-time, tenure-track faculty position as Director of its Legal Skills and Professionalism Program.

JMLS seeks a candidate who can carry out the duties of the Director mindful of the talents and needs of the other skills faculty and who will work with his or her skills colleagues, using strong leadership, communication, and consensus-building skills. Successful candidates will have excellent academic qualifications, at least five years of practice experience, strong scholarly potential, and a strong interest in the practical training of lawyers. Successful experience in teaching, leading colleagues in an academic setting, developing course syllabi, and drafting hypothetical problems for use as writing assignments is strongly preferred. The Director should also be committed to identifying opportunities for bringing further national recognition to the school’s skills program.

Please email (no hard-copies please) your CV and letter of interest no later than October 21, 2011. The letter of interest should explain your interest in the practical training of lawyers and in leading the skills program. Send information to: Associate Professor Suparna Malempati, If you have any questions, please contact Associate Professor Malempati via email. 

1.  The position advertised is a tenure-track appointment.

2.  The professor hired will be permitted to vote in faculty meetings.

3.  The school anticipates paying an annual academic year base salary in the range $50,000

4.  The number of students enrolled in each semester of the courses taught by the legal writing professor will be 36-40.


October 12, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

legal writing job on Long Island

LogoTouro College - Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center is seeking applicants for the position of Legal Process professor.

Legal Process is a directorless program with eight full-time professors who enjoy the same level of autonomy as the doctrinal faculty, as well as the same access to travel, scholarship, and other professional development funds. Legal Process professors are involved in all aspects of law school life, including chairing and serving on major committees and serving as advisors to student organizations. They also have the opportunity to teach a variety of other courses. Legal Process professors attend faculty meetings and vote on all matters other than tenure and retention.

Interested applicants should submit a cover letter, resume, and references by mail to Professor Heather Melniker, Chair of Appointments Committee, c/o Marie Litwin, Secretary to the Dean, Touro College, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, 225 Eastview Drive, Central Islip, NY 11722, or by email to ailto: < The Appointments Committee would like to receive all material by November 15, 2011.

1. The position advertised may lead only to successive short-term contracts of one to four years. Possible renewable 5 year contracts for scholarly publication.
2. The professor hired will be permitted to vote in faculty meetings.
3. The school anticipates paying an annual academic year base salary in the range $80,000 - $89,999.
4. The number of students enrolled in each semester of the courses taught by the legal research
& writing professor will be 36 – 40.


October 11, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)