Want to Be a Better Writer? Then Read

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reading-a-bookGood writers are good readers. And they’re readers of more than just internet posts; good writers read a variety of books, from fiction to nonfiction and from classics to contemporaries.

It is through all of this reading that we can see what words other writers use and, importantly, how they use them. We can absorb certain turns of phrases that we may later find useful, and we can “hear” the different voices writers use to speak to us. If we’re moved by some particular writing, we can try to figure out why and learn how to incorporate those ideas into our own writing. Reading also improves our vocabulary. It’s easy, when you’re reading, to gloss over an unfamiliar word, but the better thing to do is to look up any word you don’t know. But perhaps one of its biggest and best perks: reading is great stress relief. Read more »

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Congratulations to the 2015 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition Finalists

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Congratulations to this year’s Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition finalists: Larissa Dallman, Mary Ellis, Natalie Schiferl, and Nicole Ways. All the competitors presented strong oral arguments tonight.

Thank you to the judges of the semifinal round: Hon. William Callahan, Hon. Patricia Gorence, Hon. Nancy Joseph, Hon. Joan Kessler, Hon. JoAnne Kloppenburg, and Hon. Paul Reilly.

The final round will be held on March 31 at 6:00 p.m. in the Appellate Courtroom.  The teams will be matched as follows:

Mary Ellis and Natalie Schiferl v. Larissa Dallman and Nicole Ways.

Best of luck to the finalists.

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Congratulations to the 2015 Marquette Wagner Moot Court Competition Team

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Category: Labor & Employment Law, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School, Public
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2015WagnerCongratulations to 3Ls Angela Harden, Amanda Luedtke, and Samuel Weinberg for reaching the quarterfinals of the 39th Annual Robert F. Wagner National Labor & Employment Law Moot Court Competition in New York this past weekend.  The team also took second place for its Respondent’s brief.  This year’s competition was comprised of 41 teams.

Professor Paul Secunda served as the team’s faculty advisor, and Attys. and Marquette Law alumni Jesse Dill and Tony Flint coached the team.  This year’s Wagner problem involved application of the WARN Act to a plant closing of an oil company (Fazal Oil) after a coup de etat occurred in the country where the oil company was located (San Marcos). Specifically, the problem asked whether the Liquidating Fiduciary, Unforeseeable Business Circumstance and Faltering Company exceptions were able to be claimed by Fazal Oil after they closed the San Marcos oil plant without giving the employees the 60 day notice of closing required under the WARN Act.  Congratulations, again, to our Marquette Law School team for their tremendous effort in tackling these complex employment issues.

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Congratulations to the 2015 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition Semifinalists

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Congratulations to all who competed in the 2015 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition and special congratulations to this year’s semifinalists:  Larissa Dallman, Mary Ellis, Olivia Fitzgerald, Nolan Jensen, Jeremy Klang, Christopher Little, Natalie Schiferl, and Nicole Ways. Teams are advancing after four rounds of preliminary competition this past weekend.

Thank you to the numerous judges who graded briefs and heard oral arguments, as well as to all the competitors, who prepared hard for the competition and fought good battles this weekend.

The semifinal round will be held on Thursday, March 26 at 6:00 p.m. The teams will be matched as follows:

Team 11 v. Team 6 will argue in the Appellate Courtroom.

Team 10 v. Team 7 will argue in the Trial Courtroom.

The teams will argue before a panel of judges, including Hon. William Callahan; Hon. Patricia Gorence; Hon. Nancy Joseph; Hon. Joan Kessler; Hon. JoAnne Kloppenburg; and Hon. Paul Reilly.

Good luck to the semifinalists.

 

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Congratulations to the 2015 Marquette Evans Competition Teams

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Congratulations to 3Ls Melissa Fischer, Nicole Ostrowski, and Julia Westley for reaching the quarterfinals of the Evan A. Evans Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition this past weekend.  Professor Blemberg advised the team.  3Ls Brendan Leib and Peter Smiley also competed and were advised by Professor Scott Idleman and Professor Jake Carpenter.  The teams were coached by Attorneys Elizabeth Bronson, Paul Jonas, Matthew Martz, Martin St. Aubin, and Drew Walgreen.  All of the coaches are Marquette alumni who competed in moot court.

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Revisiting the Subjunctive Mood: Great for Persuasion

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A perhaps often overlooked technique that can help your writing gain some persuasiveness is the subjunctive mood. It’s possible that you remember the subjunctive less from your English classes than from your foreign languages classes—at least that’s the case for me. When learning to conjugate verbs in another language, you’ll often bump up against the subjunctive.

Verbs have moods. According to Patricia Osborn in How Grammar Works: A Self-Teaching Guide 182 (2d ed. 1999), mood “simply means the attitude of the speaker toward the words being spoken.” In English grammar, there are three moods: the indicative, the imperative, and the subjunctive. The imperative mood is the most common and indicates that the speaker is simply to convey meaning. For example, I look forward to warmer weather is written in the imperative mood. The verb to look is properly conjugated to match the subject, I. (Although my example is in the present tense, the imperative mood works in all verb tenses.) The imperative mood is for giving commands. For example, Hurry up! is imperative. Again, the verb to hurry is properly conjugated for the understood subject, you.

The subjunctive, by contrast, “uses an out-of-the-ordinary verb form to call attention to something extraordinary” (Osborn, 183). It is, as Osborn labels it in her text, “The [m]ood of [p]ossibilities.” Read more »

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Tell Me a Story

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Little_Red_Riding_Hood_WPA_posterOnce upon a time . . .

I started my last post with those same four words, so I hope you’ll forgive me the repetition. They’re good words for a beginning (though perhaps not in a piece of legal writing!). But why are they such good words to start with? I could wax poetic about creating a sense of nostalgia for a time long past, where wonderful things were possible . . . but that’s not it. They’re good words for a beginning because we all know what comes after them: a story.

Stories are powerful things. For millennia, human beings have told each other stories. We pass down knowledge and wisdom, warnings and inspiration to each other through tales. Myths from cultures all over the world and all throughout history were created to explain natural phenomena, and to try to answer questions about the deeper meaning of human existence. Folk tales and fables teach lessons about hubris and humility, social values and the dangers of greed and other vices. In the Christian Bible, Jesus teaches using parables that will be familiar to anyone who went to Sunday School—the mustard seed, the prodigal son. Why? Isn’t it easier to say, for instance, “Don’t be too greedy!” than to tell the story of King Midas? Read more »

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Congratulations to Marquette’s 2015 Jessup Team

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Category: International Law & Diplomacy, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School, Public
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JessupCongratulations to 3Ls Xheneta Ademi, Tyler Nash, Frank Remington, and Patrick Winter for reaching the quarterfinals of the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Midwest Regionals in Chicago this past weekend.  In its 56th year, the Jessup Competition is one of the world’s most prestigious moot court competitions.  The Midwest region is comprised of 21 teams.  Our Marquette team went 3 and 1 to advance to the quarterfinal rounds.

Attys. and Marquette Law alumni Juan Amado (Jessup, 2011), Matt Tobin (Jessup, 2014) and Drew Walgreen (MU moot court, 2013), as well as Professors Megan A. O’Brien and Ryan Scoville served as team advisors.  This year’s Jessup problem involved treaty interpretation in light of a claim of fundamental change in circumstances; a state’s use of countermeasures in response to an alleged breach; and, procedural and substantive issues resulting from a seccessionist movement.  Congratulations, again, to our MU Law School team for their tremendous effort in tackling these complex international law issues.

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Kill Your Darlings

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Once upon a time, I wrote the most beautiful sentence. It was clever, nicely worded, and I loved looking at it. Each time I re-read it, I felt a surge of pride. “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word,” Emily Dickinson once wrote. “Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.” As I read my sentence for possibly the hundredth time, I understood what Emily was talking about. My sentence shone.

As I edited my memo, perhaps a week later, I gritted my teeth, took a deep breath, and reminded myself, Kill your darlings. I highlighted my beautiful sentence, and hit delete.

“Kill your darlings”: a bit of advice that is (or should be) given to aspiring writers everywhere, handed down like the word of God from experienced writers, professors, and editors. Attributed to any number of famous names, the original quote probably came from a series of Cambridge lectures by Arthur Quiller-Couch in the early 1900s, but its provenance isn’t the source of its popularity. Rather, it remains popular advice because it results, in almost every case, in better writing.

Legal writing and creative writing are very different beasts in many respects, and it may seem counter-intuitive to apply this bit of literary wisdom in the legal sphere. Creative writing, after all, concerns itself with things like characterization and plot and atmosphere. Legal writing is concerned with rules and logical analysis. And yet, just like the rules of grammar, the concept of killing your darlings remains sound.

Killing your darlings doesn’t just mean, as in the case of my poor sentence, eliminating turns of phrase that you’re particularly proud of. In legal analysis, your darlings may take the form of a bit of clever reasoning that actually does nothing to strengthen your overall argument, or a stylish word choice that ends up distracting a reader from your meaning. Killing your darlings is, in many ways, about sacrificing your personal taste on the altar of the reader.

As you read through your draft, pay particular attention to the portions of it that seem to shine, and look at them with a critical eye rather than a satisfied smile. Does it clarify your point? Does it flow with the rest of your writing, or does it stick out like a jagged rock in a stream? Is it flowery and slightly pretentious, like that terrible rock metaphor I just used? Are you struggling to make the rest of the sentence, paragraph, or section fit around it?

If your answer is yes, then it may be time to grit your teeth, take a deep breath, and hit delete. Your readers will thank you for it.

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Congratulations to the 2015 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competitors

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Jenkins 2The Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition is an appellate moot court competition for Marquette law students and the capstone event of the intramural moot court program. Students are invited to participate based on their top performance in the fall Appellate Writing and Advocacy course at the Law School.

Congratulations to the participants in the 2015 Jenkins Honors Moot Court Competition:
Lindsey Anderson
Samuel Casson
Larissa Dallman
Alexandra Don
Mary Ellis
Olivia Fitzgerald
Christopher Guthrie
Tyler Helsel
Nolan Jensen
Ian Kalis
Jeremy Klang
Christopher Little
Lauren Maddente
Daniel Murphy
Averi Niemuth
Andrew Otto
Alexander Perwich
Natalie Schiferl
Jacob Shapiro
Kyle Thelen
Nicole Ways
Bryan Whitehead

Students will begin writing their appellate briefs in January with the rounds of oral argument commencing later this spring. The competition includes preliminary oral argument rounds (March 21 and 22) and a semifinal (March 26) and final round (April 1).

The Jenkins competitors are fortunate to have the opportunity to argue before distinguished members of the bench and bar from Wisconsin and beyond.

The competition is named after the James G. Jenkins, the first Marquette Law School dean.

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Grilling By Judges? It’s Not Just for Moot Court.

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Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Legal Practice, Legal Research, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School, Public
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NSAPerhaps it is because I just spent an enjoyable few weeks judging the Appellate Writing and Advocacy class moot court rounds, that lately I have taken a few detours while doing research. While reading some of the NSA phone data cases, I watched an enlightening and very entertaining appellate argument online. We may wait a long time to see video recordings of U.S. Supreme Court arguments, but the Circuit Courts of Appeal oblige us for some of their cases, which is a bonus for everyone including students.

Several plaintiffs’ lawsuits that challenge the National Security Administration’s phone records surveillance program are making their way through the federal courts. Plaintiffs in these cases have claimed the NSA data grab violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment or that Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the original basis for the surveillance under President George W. Bush, cannot reasonably be interpreted as allowing the program. For students who participate in a moot court competition, or are considering it in the future, video of the oral arguments in these cases provides an opportunity to learn something about the privacy issues and also to see the types of questions and atmosphere an attorney might expect from a federal appellate panel.

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Congratulations to the 2014 Chicago Bar Association Moot Court Teams

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Congratulations to 3Ls Stephanie Chiarelli and Adam Dejulio for reaching the octofinals of the Chicago Bar Association Competition this past weekend.  Attys. Kaitlyn Reise and Mindy Nolan coached the team and traveled to the competition.  3Ls Tyler Hall and Jeff Morrell also competed and were coached by Attys. Jaclyn Kallie and Dana Luczak.  All of the coaches are Marquette alumni who competed in moot court.  Professor Rebecca Blemberg advised the teams.

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