Saturday, February 28, 2015

Legal Journalism Class at Valparaiso University

Valpo Legal JournalismProfessor Faisal Kutty of Valparaiso University School of Law is featured in a new story by Reporter Jack Silverstein.  The article, Writing Persuasively: Valparaiso Law Professor Teaches Students How to Use News Media to Bolster Their Practices, appeared in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and describes the "Legal Journalism" course he is teaching at Valparaiso. According to the story, the course syllabus states that the purpose of the course is to give students "the skills required to prepare accurate and accessible legal information and analysis for general interest and legal trade media."

Jack Silverstein's article mentions that the idea for the course originated with law students at Valparaiso who had started their own legal blog.  You can click here to visit the Valpolawblog. As Silverstein writes, the students had launched the blog to write about court decisions and decided that they would benefit from a skills course.  The course designed by Professor Kutty has students writing not only blog posts but op-ed articles and other work for various publications.  Professor Kutty told Silverstein that it was a great feeling to see that students were passionate about their new writing course.

Hat tip to Mo Ahmed.


February 28, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Survey About Business Courses Also Stresses the Importance of Legal Writing

CoatesA recent Journal of Legal Education article points again to the importance of legal Friedwriting courses. What Courses Should Law Students Take? Lessons from Harvard’s BigLaw Survey reports the results of a survey that focused primarily on business-methods courses. Thus the data presented by the authors, John C. Coates IV (pictured at left), Jesse Fried, and Kathryn E. Spier, relates mainly to business courses. But an open-ended request for comments drew responses about legal writing and oral persuasion: “[L]itigators tended to single out ‘writing’ or ‘persuasive writing’ as a key skill that can be lacking in new associates. Other respondents indicated that students should work on communication skills (public speaking  Spierand presentation).”


February 27, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Plagiarism and students as consumers

 The latest issue of the Journal of Legal Education contains a provocative article about plagiarism. HansenLaw Student Plagiarism: Contemporary challenges and Responses, 64 J. Legal Educ. 416 (Feb. 2015). Professor Robin Hansen (pictured at right) and recent graduate Alexandra Anderson of the University of Saskatchewan explain that many undergraduate students admit to plagiarizing—the number was 37% in one study—but few are subject to penalties for doing so. The authors believe law school numbers would be similar. They tie plagiarism partly to the Internet availability of voluminous information and even written-to-order papers.

A motivation for plagiarism, Hansen and Alexander argue, is that some students see themselves as consumers and adopt a cynical view of education not as “a principled process of learning” but rather as “a process of buying a branded degree in order to access the job market.” With that viewpoint, such students see benefit in having someone else do their academic work, while they engage in activities like networking. High tuition and student debt feed the problem.

Professional responsibility, the authors argue, is a strong reason to curb plagiarism. To do so, schools should address underlying student desperation, opportunism, and sense of entitlement.  And schools should keep records of informally resolved incidents so students cannot repeat them with impunity.

I was disturbed not only by the authors' recognition of widespread plagiarism, but also by one of the causes they identified: some students’ view of themselves as consumers rather than learners.  This is troubling in itself and warrants our consideration as we plan our courses.


February 26, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Scribes – The American Society of Legal Writers

The National Board of Scribes – The American Society of Legal Writers – is holding its annual board meeting this weekend at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, Texas.

Scribes publishes an amazing journal (past issues have featured interviews with U.S. Supreme Court Justices and Chief Judges of the various federal circuit courts on their views on legal writing and effective appellate advocacy).  It is about to publish a new edition of its newsletter, The Scrivener, which has a new editorial home and a fresh new look with the next edition.  It holds annual member meetings in connection with the American Bar Association annual meeting (the next meeting is planned for August 1, 2015 in Chicago, with an extremely special presentation of a lifetime achievement award).  It bestows awards on new law books and student moot court briefs and law review articles to recognize particular merit in legal writing. It shares useful tips on writing and research. And for institutional members, it offers the chance to provide all of these benefits and also to designate up to five students for special recognition by Scribes.

Scribes is all of that.  It creates a special place where law schools and law firms and courts have a chance to discuss and celebrate great legal writing. And individual membership in Scribes is a mark of special achievement in the field of legal writing.

For more information on Scribes, visit its website by clicking here.  And if you're not yet a member, take the opportunity to join!

Mark E. Wojcik, Treasurer, Scribes - The American Society of Legal Writers



February 26, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Congratulations, Nancy Burkoff

Professor Nancy M. Burkoff of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law has been appointed as the next Dean for Academic Affairs at that school. She has taught legal writing to first year students at Pitt, advanced legal writing as an  upper level course, and U.S. Legal Writing and Analysis to international students in the Master of Law Program for Foreign Law Graduates.

Nancy Burkoff teaches Legal Analysis & Writing to first year students, and Advanced Legal Writing in the upper level.  She also teaches U.S. Legal Writing and Analysis to international students in the Master of Laws Program for Foreign Law Graduates. Professor Burkoff has a strong interest in international legal education, and has lectured in Spain and Turkey. - See more at:
Nancy Burkoff teaches Legal Analysis & Writing to first year students, and Advanced Legal Writing in the upper level.  She also teaches U.S. Legal Writing and Analysis to international students in the Master of Laws Program for Foreign Law Graduates. Professor Burkoff has a strong interest in international legal education, and has lectured in Spain and Turkey. - See more at:
Nancy Burkoff teaches Legal Analysis & Writing to first year students, and Advanced Legal Writing in the upper level.  She also teaches U.S. Legal Writing and Analysis to international students in the Master of Laws Program for Foreign Law Graduates. Professor Burkoff has a strong interest in international legal education, and has lectured in Spain and Turkey. - See more at:
Nancy Burkoff teaches Legal Analysis & Writing to first year students, and Advanced Legal Writing in the upper level.  She also teaches U.S. Legal Writing and Analysis to international students in the Master of Laws Program for Foreign Law Graduates. Professor Burkoff has a strong interest in international legal education, and has lectured in Spain and Turkey. - See more at:

Hat tip to Teresa Kissane Brostoff


February 25, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nominations for the Burton Award for Outstanding Contributions in Legal Writing Education

The Burton Awards are seeking nominations for the Burton Award for Outstanding Contributions to Legal Writing Education. Nominations are due on March 20, 2015.

The Burton Awards for Legal Achievement promote and publicize the importance of writing in the legal profession. The Awards, which recognize lawyers and law students whose work exemplifies the goals of our field, were founded in 1999 by William Burton, author of Burton’s Legal Thesaurus and recipient of LWI’s 2010 Golden Pen Award.  The Burton Awards are held at the Library of Congress and it is, without a doubt, the most glamorous night anywhere to celebrate legal writing.

For more than a decade, the Burton Awards have included a category that emphasizes the vital role that educators play in improving legal writing throughout our nation’s legal system: the award for Outstanding Contributions to Legal Writing Education. The award is given annually during the oh-so-fabulous black-tie gala at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. to an individual or group that has made an outstanding contribution to the education of lawyers in the field of legal analysis, research, and writing, whether through teaching, program design, program support, innovative thinking, or writing. The contributions considered may be significant single achievements or the accumulated achievements of a career.

Previous recipients of this prestigious award have been:

  • Dean Kent Syverud of Vanderbilt,
  • Dean Darby Dickerson of Stetson,
  • Professor Ralph Brill of Chicago-Kent,
  • Professor Laurel Oates of Seattle University,
  • Professor Mary Beth Beazley of Ohio State,
  • Professor Richard Neumann of Hofstra,
  • Professor Helene Shapo of Northwestern,
  • Professor Marjorie Rombauer of the University of Washington,
  • Professor Tina Stark of Boston University,
  • Professor Mary Lawrence of the University of Oregon School of Law, and
  • Professor Anne Enquist of Seattle University.

The Burton Awards are an excellent forum to publicize the achievements of those who teach in the field of legal writing. The committee for this award asks that you nominate deserving individuals or groups for the Outstanding Contributions to Legal Writing Education Award. Nominations should describe concisely the contributions of the nominee and should be sent to one or more of the following members of the selection committee by e-mail:

  • Noah Messing (noah.messing [at]  
  • Grace Tonner (gtonner [at], or
  • Nancy Schultz ( 

Nominations are due by March 20, 2015. 

Hat Tip to Noah Messing


February 24, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Correcting a misunderstanding of what legal writing professors teach

Over on the legal Skills Prof Blog, legal writing professor and scholar Scott Fruehwald has posted an incisive response to a Newsweek piece by Lewis and Clark’s former dean James Huffman. Huffman argued that the traditional law school model needs reform, a point Fruehwald does not disagree with. But his ire was aroused—as was mine—by Huffman’s notion that legal writing skills should not be taught in law school, but instead should be acquired before then. Fruehwald points out that Huffman’s view of the legal writing course is “nonsense.”  Rather than simply covering basic writing skills, the course covers legal analysis and how to communicate it. That content “cannot be taught in undergraduate school.”

Huffman’s dismissal of legal writing courses comes at a particularly inopportune time. This blog has previously discussed the increasingly weak preparation of some law students, and just last year an entire conference at Duquesne was devoted to teaching the underprepared law student. So as we teach how to communicate legal analysis, we must remind students of points about grammar, organization, and clarity that they should have learned in undergraduate school or earlier. Legal writing courses are needed now more than ever.


February 23, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2015 Burton Awards

The Burton Awards for Excellence in Legal Writing is, without a doubt, the single most glamorous evening for legal writing. That's been true for years, and the 2015 award ceremony promises to continue that trend.  It will be held at 4:45 p.m. on Monday, June 15, 2015 in the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.  Awards will be given for public interest, public service, "Legends in Law," distinguished legal writing awards, outstanding journalist in law, and an award for "Outstanding Contributions to Legal Writing Education."  Entertainment will be provided that evening by Kristin Chenoweth, the Emmy and Tony Award winning superstar.  It's a black tie event and tickets can be pricey, but the value of the evening makes it all worthwhile.


February 22, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Chief Judge Emeritus Harry Edwards critiques the law review system

D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Emeritus Harry T. Edwards stirred up the legal academy with his 1992 EdwardsMichigan Law Review article, The Growing Disjunction Between Legal Education and the Legal Profession.  He’s now written another article about the legal academy, this time focusing on law reviews. He recaps points from Professor Fred Rodell’s iconic 1936 article where Rodell argued that law reviews “say nothing with an air of great importance” and vowed to stop writing for them. Rodell nevertheless continued to write for them, and the law review system has endured for the intervening seventy years.

Now Edwards has revisited the topic in the Virgina Law Review's Another Look at Professor Rodell's Goodbye to Law Reviews. There, Edwards argues that law reviews must change at this critical point in legal education.  He raises several critiques of the  law review system, including that inexperienced students select what legal scholarship will be published and that many law review articles have little relevance to the legal profession. Among his proposals is that both professors and practitioners should become involved in selecting articles. He concludes, “My hope is that law schools will lead the way in valuing the work of all good scholars, those who write articles focused on professional practice, procedure, doctrine, legislation, and regulation, as well those who focus on theory, philosophy, and empirical studies.”



February 22, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Job Opening in Washington D.C.

The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law invites applicants to fill the tenure-track position of Director of Legal Writing.  Click here for the job notice.  Download UDC Job Posting 22015

Hat tip to Teri McMurtry-Chubb


February 21, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Call for Presenters: Global Legal Skills Conference

The Global Legal Skills conference, in its 10th year, will be held in Chicago, the city of its origin. The Conference began in Chicago at The John Marshall Law School, where it was held three times. It has also traveled to Mexico (twice), to Costa Rica (twice), to Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., and most recently to the University of Verona Faculty of Law in Verona, Italy.

This year’s conference (GLS 10) will be held at The John Marshall Law School for the first two days and will be hosted at Northwestern University School of Law for its final day. The two schools are within walking distance and are also served by subway line

The first call for proposals for presentations has already closed and acceptance messages are going out to those who submitted.  This is the second call for presenters. Proposals should be for a 25-minute presentation (for one or two people) or an interactive group panel presentation (no more than four panelists) of 75-minutes (including audience participation).

The conference audience will include legal writing professionals, international and comparative law professors, clinical professors and others involved in skills education, law school administrators, law librarians, and ESL/EFL professors and scholars. Also attending will be faculty members teaching general law subjects with a transnational or international component. Attendees have also included judges, lawyers, court translators, and others involved in international and transnational law. Attendees come from around the world, and as many as 35 countries have been represented in past conferences.

Please submit a proposal on any aspect of Global Legal Skills, including experiential learning, distance education, comparative law, international law, course design and materials, teaching methods, and opportunities for teaching abroad and in the United States. However, because the conference focuses on legal skills for a global audience, please tailor your proposal accordingly.

The schedule for GLS 10 will allow for professional networking opportunities and development and also a chance to take in the many sites (and excellent restaurants!) Chicago has to offer. Chicago is served by two airports, O’Hare and Midway, making travel to the city easy. The timing of the conference (the week before Memorial Day weekend) is intended to allow you to spend extra time exploring Chicago and its environs at a time when the temperatures are moderate and the skies are clear.

This is a self-funded academic conference, and as in past years, presenters will be asked to pay the registration fee of $225.00. A small number of need-based scholarships will also be available, especially for participants from outside the United States. Additional tickets for family members and friends will also be available for the walking tour, law school reception, and Union League Club Gala Dinner. Chicago in the springtime is a great travel destination for families where they can enjoy Millennium Park, two world class zoos, and the amazing Museum Campus.

You may submit more than one proposal but because of high demand for speaking slots you will only be allowed to speak on one panel.

Please send program proposals to You can also send a copy to Lurene Contento (Program Chair of GLS 10). Her email is

Please include “GLS 10 Proposal” in the subject line. Then, list the names and institutional affiliations of presenters, the title of your presentation, a brief summary of your presentation, the format you would prefer (25 minutes or 75 minutes), and the target audience.

You will find travel information and more conference information on the GLS website, Additional proposals will be accepted through April 15 if additional speaking slots are available.

Spanish Language CLE Proposals

You may also submit proposals for CLE presentations in Spanish. A Spanish-language CLE track will include sessions for attorneys, law students, and court translators. Persons submitting proposals for presentations in Spanish may also submit a proposal in English as an exception to the single presentation rule. Proposals are sought on topics such as “Introduction to Mexican Law,” “Understanding the Amparo,” and “Latin American Corporation Law.”

Scholars’ Forum (Tues. May 19, 2015)

A one-day scholars’ forum is also planned for May 19th, the day before the GLS conference begins. Participation in this forum will be limited to 16 persons and will include special sessions on international legal research as well as the presentation of papers and works-in-progress. For more information about the Scholars’ Forum, send an email to Prof. Mark E. Wojcik at with the title of your proposed work. Registration for the scholars’ forum is at this link:

We hope to see you in Chicago this May for the 10th anniversary of the Global Legal Skills Conference!

Thank you,

Prof. Mark E. Wojcik, Chair, Global Legal Skills Conference
Prof. Lurene Contento, Chair GLS 10 Program Committee, The John Marshall Law School

February 21, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Tenth Circuit applies the art of sentence diagramming

The Tenth Circuit recently interpreted a statute so confusing that the court decided to diagram some of its language. In United States v. Rentz, the court observed that “Few statutes have proven as enigmatic as 18 U.S.C. § 924(c),” which concerns crimes committed while using a firearm. Puzzling over what the statute’s modifiers mean, the court used the same device some of us learned in grade school—setting out a clear diagram of how words relate to one another grammatically. The court thus reached enough clarity to affirm the district court’s decision. Still, the court stated, “Even now plenty of hard questions [about the statute’s meaning] remain.”

My conclusions: 1) The art of diagramming sentences should be revived, and 2) Congress should focus more on clear drafting.

Hat tip: Brian Glassman


February 18, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Nix the acronyms

Excessive use of acronyms can hinder a reader's understanding, as I argued in my recent article on the the use of acronyms in legal documents. The article explains why some courts have expressly disapproved of them and offers suggestions for fixing an acronym-laden passage.


February 12, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

ABA Traveling Exhibit Explains the Magna Carta

Magna Bellows 2The American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress, in cooperation with several other ABA entities, has created a magnificent traveling exhibit on Magna Carta, that most powerful document signed by King John in Runnymeade 800 years ago in 1215. 

The Magna Carta has been identified as the source of many fundamental freedoms and principles, including:

  • the right to a jury trial,
  • the right to speedy trial,
  • freedom from unlawful imprisonment,
  • protection from unlawful seizures of property,
  • the principle of no taxation without representation, and
  • the rule of law that even kings cannot ignore. 

The traveling exhibit is great and you will have many opportunities to see it around the country.  Looking at the exhibit here is former ABA President Laurel Bellows, who viewed the exhibit at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Houston.




February 11, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Ralph Brill argues for legal writing professors

BrillChicago-Kent's Ralph Brill has posted a provocative opinion piece over on the TaxProf blog. A tireless advocate for our field, Brill responded to a dean who argued against parity for legal writing professors. The dean had written, among other things, that legal writing professors are not as well qualified as other law school professors, and he complained that we have organized to advance the status of our field. Brill's response points out that the practicing bar is begging for law graduates with usable lawyering skills, which makes our field more important than ever. And he notes a current trend to give legal writing professors sufficient status to promote further development of the field.

By the way, the argument that legal writing professors are not as qualified as others is simply not true, as shown by the research of Professors Hollee Temple and Sue Liemer, another pioneer of the field who also started this blog. As Liemer put it recently, "[N]o matter where you teach, lots of casebook faculty members do not have the full slate of traditional credentials, and lots of you [writing professors] do."  Their research was reported in Did Your Legal Writing Professor Go to Harvard?: The Credentials of Legal Writing Faculty at Hiring Time, 46 U. Louisville L. Rev. 383 (2008).


February 9, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Law Library of Congress Outreach Program Shares Some Secrets on How to Conduct Free Legal Research Online

Barbara Bavis LLOC Established in 1832 as a separate department of the Library of Congress, the Law Library of Congress is the largest law library in the world with more than 2.84 million volumes and a global legal research center staffed by foreign law experts who help provide reference assistance by phone, in person, or through the library's oh-so-fantastic "Ask a Librarian" service.

The Law Library of Congress does outreach programs on its collections and how to use them in Washington D.C. and through its website.  The latest presentation was made in Houston at the midyear meeting of the American Bar Association. Senior Legal Reference Specialist Barbara Bavis gave the informative and authoritative presentation on the latest developments, including the Global Legal Research Center, the "Guide to Law Online," the In Custodia Legis Blog, and the new website for Congressional materials which replaced Thomas.

I'm pictured here with Ms. Bavis. I have the honor of serving on the Advisory Commission to the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress. I get to learn about many of the things happening at the Law Library of Congress as well as its outreach efforts, including the latest traveling exhibits to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.  The Law Library of Congress is a national treasure to be discovered and appreciated.


February 8, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Writing a brief's summary of the argument

As students write briefs this spring, they may be interested in my recent article about the summary of the argument section. Titled "Summing It Up with Panache," the article examines commentary on the subject and then analyzes summaries of the argument from selected Supreme Court briefs, many by well-known advocates. It presents data on the summaries’ average length, use of citations, and structure, and then discusses examples of selected summaries' openings and closings.


February 6, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Ban laptops in the classroom?

A recent article by Suffolk's Steven Eisenstadt analyzes results of a Princeton-UCLA study about use Seisenstatof laptops in the calssroom. That study showed that even when students were denied Internet access, and thus could not play games or surf the net, students who took notes by hand understood and retained more than those who used laptops. Eisenstadt argues that law professors should rethink the common practice of allowing free use of laptops in the classroom and allow their use only for specific educational purposes.

hat tip: Ralph Brill


February 5, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Word choice in persuasive writing

Bryan Garner’s column in the February ABA Journal stresses a point helpful for student brief writers: that word choice is important in persuasive writing. Thus a lawyer representing the Bank of America before an American jury would be wise to use the bank’s full name instead of shortening it to the sterile “BofA.” And it’s better to use parties’ names instead of referring to them as “Plaintiff,” “Defendant,” or “Appellant.” Even if you want to dehumanize a defendant in a criminal case, use the name instead of the legal role: “Bad facts will stick to a name,” Garner writes.


February 2, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)