Friday, March 30, 2012

Issues with undergraduate rigor

Academically adriftIf you think students are arriving at law school less prepared than in the past, it’s not just your imagination, according to Dr. Richard Arum. Today I heard Arum, the author of Academically Adrift, discuss his study of undergraduate learning at a wide range of colleges and universities. His conclusion: “The picture is dismal.” A disheartening 36% of his student subjects did not improve during college on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), which tests critical thinking, problem solving, and writing. Many of his subjects did very little reading and writing in college, and on average, the subjects spent only 28 hours a week in class and study time combined.  If law students follow the usual recommendation to study three or four hours for each hour in class, they will need to devote more than twice that amount of time to their studies.

Students in almost all other developed countries study more than those in Arum's study. In the U.S., the time students spend studying has declined since 1960, while grades have gone up. One cause of this paradoxical phenomenon, Arum said, is student evaluations of professors—or, as he called them, “consumer satisfaction surveys.” Professors know that to do well on them, they should entertain, not be too tough, and give good grades. 

Interestingly, when he checked with his subjects a year or two after graduation, Arum found that, among those who sought employment rather than attending graduate school, those most likely to be employed had shown the most improvement on the CLA during college.

To address the decreasing rigor in U.S. colleges, Arum stressed that a No Child Left Behind for universities is not the answer, partly because that approach does not foster critical thinking.  Instead, university trustees, administrators, and faculty need to invest in learning, partly by changing incentives. It’s well known to K-12 educators that students do better when teachers have high expectations. College professors, Arum concluded, should not ask little while giving out good grades freely. For more, check his website.


March 30, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

visitor position in D.C.

3The deadline is fast approaching to apply to teach legal writing as a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center for the 2012-2013 academic year. They need the coverage for a good reason: to allow other legal writing professors to take sabbaticals and research leaves. Candidates must have superior academic records and expertise in legal research and legal writing. Prior teaching experiencs and at least three years of professional experience beyond law school graduation is preferred. Applicants should include a letter of interest, a CV, a list of three references, a writing sample, and (for recent graduates) a law school transcript.

Materials should be submitted to Professor Frances C. DeLaurentis, Chair of the Legal Research and Writing Department, Georgetown University Law Center, 600 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001, or by April 2, 2012.   Applications will be reviewed upon receipt and early submission is recommended.  Feel free to email with any questions.

1.  The position advertised has an upper-limit on the number of years a teacher may be appointed.
2.  The professor hired will not be permitted to vote in faculty meetings.
3.  The school anticipates paying an annual academic year base salary in the range $70,000 - $79,999.
4.  The number of students enrolled in each semester of the courses taught by the legal research & writing professor will be 46 - 55.


March 30, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Early Bird Registration for LWI Conference

Carol Wallinger reminds us to register soon for the LWI Desert Springs Conference. The early-bird registration fee of $525.00 ends on April 1, 2012. Starting on April 2, the registration fee increases to $550.00.  Here is the link to the registration site.

If you have any questions about the conference, please send a message to lwidesertsprings [at]

Hat tip to Carol L. Wallinger


March 29, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Save the Date: Scribes Award Luncheon in Chicago

Scribes - The American Society of Legal Writers - will hold its next award ceremonies in Chicago on Friday, August 3, 2012 at the Union League Club of Chicago. 


March 28, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

report from Rocky Mountain #6

In the first set of concurrent sessions on Saturday, Rachel Smith (Miami) discussed "Positivity in the Legal Writing Classroom," and Scott Anderson (Capital) addressed "What's Your Story?  Writing a Persuasive Statement of Facts."



Professor Smith talked about her experiences in law practice and her desire to infuse her legal writing classroom with hope and optimism, rather than with the negativity she found in law practice.  She helps her students to focus on lawyer as problem solver; tries to increase their sense of personal control; and encourages them to get past a win/lose mentality.  She includes fewer war stories, fewer bench slaps, and fewer negative stories; instead, she focuses on positive stories and critiques and finished with the sage advice to "do all things with love."

Professor Anderson shared an exercise for writing a persuasive statement of facts:  he took one set of sentences, numbered them, then challenged his students to put them together to support each side's version of the story.  Doing so illustrates that writing persuasively involves more than just lots of adjectives and adverbs--that how one arranges information affects persuasion as well.


March 27, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

report from Rocky Mountain #5

After we feasted on a breakfast of bacon, sauage, tofu scramble, breakfast burritos, and fresh orange juice, we enjoyed Saturday's plenary speaker, Linda Berger, who spoke on "Psychological Insights and Legal Persuasion:  Judicial Decision Making as Human Behavior and Expert Problem Solving."  Professor Berger discussed intuitve decisionmaking as involving a blend of fast and slow thinking, or intuition and mental simulation.  She discussed examples from several cases that illustrated the development of parallel patterns and then the expert's imagining how a responsive course of action might be carried out.  She also discussed metaphor and storytelling as sources for solving problems.



March 27, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Gallacher promotion!

IanGallacherThe law faculty at Syracuse University has voted to make Ian Gallacher a full professor of law. Since Ian is a trust scotsman, we'll just say: meal do naidheachd!

hat tip: Linda Berger




March 27, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 26, 2012

report from Rocky Mountain #4

DSCF0530In the last session on Friday, Samantha Moppet (Suffolk) presented on "Control-Alt-Incomplete?  Using Technology to Effectively Assess 'Digital Natives.'"  She pointed out that all of us teachers are digital immigrants, teaching digital natives who have likely never used a film camera and can't imagine life without cable, cell phones, and social networking.  She argued that we should use technology to assess them, giving examples of how they will use technology in modern legal practice (such as blogging), how technology can offer less onerous assessment opportunities, and how text annotation systems and digital video annotation software can enhance commenting on written and performance-based work.  As the photo shows, her digital-immigrant audience was quite attentive!

DSCF0531During the same hour, Natalie Mack (Colorado) presented on "Punctuation Perils:  The Comma that Cost Two Million Dollars."  She first set out the well-known Canadian case that turned on the presence/absence of a comma, then talked about the major comma lessons she focuses on, with examples of how she teaches each one.  Her punctuation-proficient audience seemed eager to start a discussion of whether they agreed with the court's analysis of that comma!


March 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

report from Rocky Mountain #3

In the third session, Ralph Brill and Karin Mika presented on "Using Visuals to Enhance the Classroom Learning Experience."  Professor Mika showed how she used youTube clips as the basis for her fact pattern instead of a written narrative (which is all too easy for students to simply copy into their own drafts), including a ski lift accident as the basis for a personal injury claim and a Chuck Testa video as the basis for a fair use analysis.  Professor Brill showed how he used youTube clips to illustrate various torts and a variety of pictures to show how a writer can paint the facts using careful word choice in a question presented (e.g., pics of "peace officers" v. pics of "state police").  Mary Beth Beazley commented that she tells her students that while they cannot PhotoShop their facts, they can use a zoom lens.


March 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

report from Rocky Mountain #2

DSCF0525Professor Ben Bratman spoke during the second session on "Typographical Errors and the Law:  From the Amusing to the Consequential."

Bratman's presentation was impressively researched to include myriad examples of typos, ranging from an edition of the Bible that commanded "thou shalt commit adultery" to typos in tattoos giving rise to lawsuits (see photo) to typos resulting from spellcheck changes (apparently lots of courts do things "sea sponge," not "sua sponte").

Great presentation with great resource materials!



March 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

report from Rocky Mountain

DSCF0524The first concurrent presentations included Brian Glassman's talk, "From Art School to Law School:  Lessons for Visual Learners."  He started us off with a visual exercise--to imagine and sketch the objects underneath a draped cloth.  He then walked us through eight different topics and showed how he used paintings to teach each lesson.  For example, he used several Degas paintings to discuss perspective; he used Calder wire scuplture to illustrate the reduction of an idea to its essential principles.  Mary Beth Beazley commented on his use of a Seurat painting to tell how she used pointillism to teach her students about creating an argument:  while the eye might combine a blue dot next to a red dot to create purple, a writer could not assume that a reader would combine a fact next to some law to create an argument.

Glassman's talk was a strong start to an excellent conference and illustrated nicely both how to reach visual learners AND how to incorporate one's interests into one's teaching to make it especially effective.


March 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference

Those attending the Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference on March 23-24 enjoyed beautiful weather at Arizona State University in Tempe. They were also treated to an enlightening plenary talk by Linda Berger of UNLV: "Psychological Insights and Legal Persuasion:  Judicial Decision Making as Human Behavior and Expert Problem Solving."

                                           Rocky Mt 2012

Chatting in the photo above are Pam Lysaght, Richard Neumann, Lyn Entrikin, Mary Beth Beazley, and Ralph Brill.

Hat tip and photo credit: Karin Mika


March 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Scribes Legal Writing Program at John Marshall

Scribes JMLS 2012Scribes - The American Society of Legal Writers - gave a legal writing program last Friday at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.  Shown here in the photograph are Judge Mark Painter (a board member of Scribes), panel moderator Anthony Niedwiecki (President-elect of ALWD and Director of the Lawyering Skills Program at John Marshall), and Joe Kimble (another board member of Scribes and professor at Thomas Cooley Law School in Michigan). 

The legal writing program was well attended, including many students from The John Marshall Law School, adjunct professors from local law schools in Chicago, and even law clerks from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

The John Marshall Law School was the host of the Scribes Board Meeting this weekend in Chicago.  Other members of the Scribes board attending the meeting included Bryan Garner (editor of Black's Law Dictionary and author of many books on legal writing), Dean Darby Dickerson (author of the ALWD Citation Manual), Steve Smith (Dean at California Western School of Law and President of Scribes), and Judge Michael Hyman (former President of the Chicago Bar Association).    

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Scribes, it publishes a journal (the 2010 issue included transcripts of interviews with eight U.S. Supreme Court Justices on their views on legal writing).  There's also an award luncheon held during the ABA Annual Meeting (this year, that luncheon will be on Friday, August 3, 2012 at the Union League Club of Chicago).  And Scribes also hosts its own writing conferences (the next one is in Washington, D.C. in May).  Get more information about Scribes by clicking here.

Mark E. Wojcik (a board member of Scribes)

March 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

more legal writing professors tenured at South Texas!

N-mathis LewinbukThe faculty at the South Texas College of Law has voted to tenure legal writing professors Njeri Mathis Rutledge and Katerina Lewinbuk. They join three other tenured legal writing professors there (Andrew Solomon, Tobin Sparling, and Maxine Goodman). Congratulations all around!

hat tip: Amanda Peters



March 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 23, 2012

lingua franca

ImagesWhen you know there's a grammar rule for the writing conundrum in front of you or you think surely there must be, if only you knew where to look, try going to Lingua Franca, featured here.

hat tip: Tracy McGaugh





March 23, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Scribes Legal Writing Program Today at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago

Here's a reminder of a legal writing program being give today by Scribes - The American Society of Legal Writers.  It's being held from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. today at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, which is hosting the Scribes for its board meeting.  (The Scribes board includes some big names in legal writing, including Richard Wydick, Bryan Garner, Darby Dickerson, Joe Kimble, Judge Mark Painter, etc.)  The law school is expecting a pretty full house of close to 100 people for today's program.

For those of you who are not individual members of Scribes, it is a great organization that you should consider joining.  You can become an individual member if you've published a book, law review article, or judicial opinion, or if you have served as an editor of a legal publication.  There are also institutional memberships available, and many law schools have decided to do that.  Scribes publishes quite a good journal (the 2010 issue, for example, included transcripts of interviews with eight U.S. Supreme Court Justices on their views on legal writing).  There's also an award luncheon held during the ABA Annual Meeting (this year, that luncheon will be on Friday, August 3, 2012).  And Scribes also hosts its own writing conferences (the next one is in Washington DC in May).


March 23, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

you're writing what?!

ImagesSurely many a law professor's mind wanders, half way through a summer writing footnotes for a law review article on some narrow area of the law, to what it would be like to let loose the creative juices and write the next great American novel. Well some law professors have already done just that. And you can read about their experiences in "Why a Law Professor Writes Fiction", by SCOTT D. GERBER, in the January 2012 edition of the National Jurist.



March 22, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Inherent Unreliability of Student Evaluations

Edwards TYet another author has added to the increasing literature about the flaws in student ratings. In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece, Timothy Edwards, an adjunct legal writing professor at the University of Wisconsin, recounts how he received high student evaluations when he catered to his students’ desires. He followed a “consumer model,” telling students exactly how to do his writing assignments. This resulted in high numbers because the students, Edwards, says, place receiving good grades at the top of their priorities. “They are rarely interested in whether they are learning how to be a good lawyer—unless that helps them get a good grade.”

But in his law practice, Edwards and his partners are finding that new law graduates are not prepared for the practice of law. They often fail to understand that legal problems seldom have “easy” or “right” answers. So Edwards decided to stop spoon-feeding. Instead, he now challenges students to wrestle with the uncertainties in legal practice. This leads to student frustration and lower student ratings, he says, but it also results in a better learning experience.

Edwards also points out the irony in law schools’ reliance on rating forms that would never pass muster in a courtroom. They are “insulting, false, and otherwise prejudicial,” and would be inadmissible hearsay, a problem exacerbated by their anonymity. Moreover, Edwards says students are not qualified to judge teaching or even whether they have learned the subject matter well. He adds that the “inconsistent and misguided student evaluations” have provided him with little help as he seeks ways to improve his teaching.

The article concludes that it is not “fair or wise” to judge teaching solely by student evaluations. Students should be exposed to the realities of law practice, “not placated when they complain after being properly challenged,” even if that approach results in lover student ratings.

While some continue to believe in student ratings, Edwards’ points are supported by numerous scholarly articles, including my study, one by Melissa Marlow, and an article by Deborah Merritt.

Hat tip: John D. Edwards


March 22, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kudos to WNE legal writing faculty!

Fdbs_new_Jeanne-Kaiser Fdbs_new_Harris-Freedman Fdbs_Orlen_M







The promotion committee at Western New England University School of Law recently voted to promote Jeanne Kaiser and Harris Freeman to the status of full Professor of Legal Research and Writing.In addition, the committee voted to promote Myra Olren to the rank of Associate Professor of Legal Research and Writing. Congratulations to each of you -- and to WNE!



March 21, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thought-provoking comments on a Supreme Court brief

Ross Guberman, whose book Point Made has been mentioned on this blog, has posted his annotations to the Solicitor General’s brief in the pending Supreme Court health care case (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida).  Guberman’s 140 marginal comments are likely to prompt a spirited discussion in a class about brief writing.


March 21, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)