My most useful and enjoyable extracurricular activity in law school had absolutely nothing to do with law school or the law, which was why it was both useful and enjoyable. Let me explain.
When I started law school, I had moved to a new city and state, and I did not know anyone other than my classmates. My high-school and college friends were several states away, as was my family. Because everyone I knew was a law student, law school became all-consuming, and it was easy to miss what was going on in the “real world.”
A few months into my first year, I noticed a flyer inviting people to participate in the university’s equestrian team. I had been riding since I was four years old, so the team seemed like a good fit for me. I joined the team and became the only law student — the only member who was not an undergraduate, actually. The team practiced one night a week, and those practices were important to me for a number of reasons. Continue reading “Favorite Law School Activities: Equestrian Team”
Please join me in congratulating Jon Fritz and Dale Johnson, who represented Marquette at the August A. Rendigs, Jr. National Products Liability Moot Court Competition this weekend. Jon and Dale not only advanced to the semi-final round of the competition, they also received an award for writing the best brief on behalf of the petitioner.
Jon, Dale, and I would like to thank the many people who helped the team prepare for the competition. Specifically, we would like to thank Marquette lawyers Jane Appleby and Sean Finnigan, 3L Maura Battersby, and Professors Rebecca Blemberg, Patricia Bradford, Rick Esenberg, Melissa Greipp, Nadelle Grossman, Lisa Hatlen, Jill Hayford, Jack Kircher, Julie Norton, Chad Oldfather, Elana Olson, and Andrea Schneider for their help in judging the practice arguments.
One of the punctuation marks that causes students the most confusion is the apostrophe. I see plural nouns with apostrophes and possessive nouns without them, and sometimes I just see random apostrophes thrown into any old word that includes an “s.” I see “it’s” and “its'” when the writer really intends to use “its.” My students’ current writing assignment involves plaintiffs named Vincent and Cheryl Simms. In reading students’ drafts, I have seen “Mr. Simms injury,” “Mr. Simm’s injury,” “Mr. Simms’ injury,” and “Mr. Simms’s injury.” (Just in case any of you are reading this post, I prefer Simms’, though I would also accept Simms’s.) Some students have simply given up and written “the injury suffered by Mr. Simms.” I don’t mean to criticize my current students; I have noticed the same issues over the past several years, and my students, past or present, are not alone.
The city council in Birmingham, England, has banned the use of apostrophes in its street signs. Evidently, the council members grew tired of using their meetings to debate whether various street names should include apostrophes. One council member was quoted by MSNBC as follows: “Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer accurate, and are not needed.” He continued, “More importantly, they confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don’t want to have an A-level (high school diploma) in English to find it.” You can read more about the council’s decision here.
Not everyone has thrown in the towel, however. Continue reading “Long Live the Apostrophe”
I’m just finishing two weeks of conferences with my students; we have been working through the drafts of their first trial briefs. One of the topics we have been talking about is how to effectively incorporate counter-analysis in a principal brief.
Before we broke for conferences, we talked about counter-analysis in class. I tried to impress upon students that they cannot be effective advocates simply by making their own affirmative arguments and ignoring their opponent’s likely arguments. Instead, they need to anticipate their opponent’s likely arguments and address those arguments as well. I get little to no push-back from the students on that point; they can see the benefit of trying to neutralize opposing arguments from the outset rather than allowing the opponent to control the arguments in the response brief.
Where students and I sometimes disagree, however, is about how best to approach counter-analysis. Continue reading “Do You Play Offense or Defense?”
I was scanning the Legal Writing Prof Blog this afternoon, and I noticed a post stating that, in an effort to save money, one large law firm is now requiring its attorneys to use Loislaw, rather than Lexis or Westlaw, for some of their research. Evidently, the firm has imposed a three-part policy:
- All non-billable legal research involving case law, statutes, or regulations at both the state and federal level should first be performed using Loislaw.
- Loislaw should also be used for billable research where appropriate, resulting in a much lower cost to the client.
- If additional research is required on Lexis or Westlaw, that research must be billed to a client/matter.
This post raised two issues for me. First, it made me think about what sources I should be including in my first-year courses. Continue reading “Dollars and Sense”
I have a confession to make: I am something of a PowerPoint addict. I have a second confession to make: I am aware that not all of my PowerPoint presentations are as effective as I would like them to be. Having been in the audience during many PowerPoint presentations, I know that slides with too much text are ineffective, and I also know that nothing is more boring than listening to someone read from his or her slides. Thus, over the past few years, I have tried to make my slides more audience-friendly by reducing the amount of text that I display and increasing the number of visuals.
I made those changes after doing some reading about learning styles and how the brain processes information. Though this is a huge oversimplification, I learned that the brain processes verbal and visual information through separate channels, so if we present students with both kinds of information, we can help them improve comprehension. Other than in Property and Estates and Trusts, when I remember my professors diagramming future interests on the chalkboard, I don’t remember having visuals in my law school classes. (The fact that I remember those diagrams almost 15 years after my law school graduation probably says something about why I now use visuals in my classes.) Continue reading “Show and Tell”
One of my biggest challenges in teaching students to write has been figuring out how best to teach “the basics”: grammar, punctuation, citation, and other sentence-level editing skills. Before this year, I always devoted several class periods to just those topics. Because students tend to enter law school with very different ability levels, however, those classes did not seem as effective as I would have liked. The students who needed little or no instruction about grammar and punctuation were invariably bored, and other students (many of whom have candidly admitted that they have not studied grammar in years, if ever) needed more than those few classes devoted to those topics. So how does the instructor effectively teach to the entire class? It is difficult, to say the least.
To remedy the problem, I decided to move all of my instruction about grammar, punctuation, precision, conciseness, and citation out of the classroom and onto the web. I find it difficult to teach writing without a visual, so I created PowerPoint presentations (or Word documents) with rules and examples, and I recorded short lectures over the top of the presentations or documents. When I was finished, I had a series of audio-visual presentations that students could watch at times convenient for them. If a student already understood how to identify and correct dangling modifiers, there was no need to watch the webcast about modifiers. If, however, the student had never heard of a dangling modifier and needed to go over the examples more than once, the webcast was there for repeated viewings.
I was concerned, however, that if I put the material on the web, students would simply ignore it, so I wanted some way to hold them responsible for learning the material. Out of that concern came my second teaching innovation: the Writing Bee. Continue reading “What’s New in the Classroom: Webcasts and Writing Bees”