Court Holds That Wikipedia Entries Are “Inherently Unreliable”

Posted on Categories Legal Research, Legal Writing12 Comments on Court Holds That Wikipedia Entries Are “Inherently Unreliable”

On the Legal Writing Prof blog, Jim Levy noted today (hat-tipping BNA Internet Law News) that a court expressly rejected an appellant’s attempt to rely on Wikipedia.

In State v. Flores, an unpublished decision by the Texas Court of Appeals for the 14th District dated October 23, 2008, the court refused the appellant’s request to take judicial notice of a Wikipedia entry describing the “John Reid interrogation technique.”  The court reasoned in footnote 3 that Wikipedia entries are inherently unreliable because they can be written and edited anonymously by anyone.  The court relied on a recent article from the Wall Street Journal entitled Wikipedians Leave Cyberspace, Meet in Egypt, noting that the egalitarian nature of Wikipedia is both “its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.”

The Flores decision is also available on Westlaw and Lexis at, respectively, 2008 WL 4683960 (Tex.App.-Hous (14th Dist.)) and 2008 Tex. App. LEXIS 8010.

Which reminded me of another recent Wikipedia-related entry on that blog, a note about Lee Peoples’ article, “The Citation of Wikipedia in American Judicial Opinions.”

I haven’t read Peoples’ article yet, but I should, because this issue of the reliability of Wikipedia and its citation by courts has been bubbling up lately.  It think this Texas court was exactly right: “Wikipedia entries are inherently unreliable because they can be written and edited anonymously by anyone.”  I will admit that I sometimes read a Wikipedia entry if I want background information about a topic.  I do not think, though, that I would cite an entry as proof of anything in court.  What do you think?

Marquette Legal Writing Professors Contribute to Column in Wisconsin Lawyer Magazine

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Writing, Wisconsin Law & Legal System2 Comments on Marquette Legal Writing Professors Contribute to Column in Wisconsin Lawyer Magazine

Beginning with the current issue, the Wisconsin Lawyer magazine (a publication of the Wisconsin State Bar) will publish  a new column on legal writing.  The first contributor is the most experienced legal writing professor on the Marquette faculty, Jill Hayford.

As the magazine explains,

Through this new column, the legal writing faculty at Marquette University Law School and other contributors will help solve your vexing legal writing questions with practical guidance. 

Professor Hayford’s piece is entitled, “Style Books, Web Sites, and Podcasts:  A Lawyer’s Guide to the Guides,” and it offers up-to-the-minute information and advice about the available writing style manuals, websites, and pocasts for lawyers.  In a sidebar, the Wisconsin Lawyer invites questions or ideas for future columns about legal writing.  “Your question will be answered directly by the MU writing faculty and may appear in a future column.”  If you want to submit a question for the column via Wisconsin Lawyer, email wislawyer@wisbar.org, subject line:  legal writing.

Document Design for Lawyers

Posted on Categories Legal Writing4 Comments on Document Design for Lawyers

Well, Typography for Lawyers, anyway.  An interesting website with lots of information about typography (basic, intermediate, and advanced) and an appendix listing typography rules for various courts.  That appendix links to a good essay on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals website, “Requirements and Suggestions for Typography in Briefs and Other Papers.”

Why care about typography and document design?  Well, as the site points out, citing the example of the infamous Palm Beach County butterfly ballot, the consequences of poor design and typography go beyond the “aesthetic.”

Hat tip to the Legal Writing Prof Blog (hat tipping Ruth Anne Robbins, author of a fantastic article on typography and document design, also available on the Seventh Circuit website).

How Could a Poem About Teaching Students to Read Poetry Have Anything to Do with the Law?

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Writing6 Comments on How Could a Poem About Teaching Students to Read Poetry Have Anything to Do with the Law?

As first reported at the Legal Writing Prof blog (and with a Hat Tip to star legal writing professor Linda Edwards), Billy Collins’ poem Introduction to Poetry “holds well as an analogy for teaching 1Ls to read cases.”

Email Negotiation Advice

Posted on Categories Legal Writing3 Comments on Email Negotiation Advice

With the onslaught of email and texting, it’s not surprising that more and more negotiation is being conducted by email.  Two interesting recent pieces from the blogosphere had some advice on this.  First, you should not actually be conducting negotiation over the email according to Vicky Pynchon at Settle It Now.  Scientific American just published a study that shows people are more likely to lie over email than when writing things down with pencil and paper.  “The authors suggest that e-mail is a young phenomenon and its social rules are looser and still evolving, whereas when you put something in writing, psychologically there is a stronger hold—it’s really there, in writing.”

And, should you be contemplating sending late night email, you might want to install this new program from Google.  As Diane Levin helpfully points out,   

Google, understanding full well the dark side of human nature (particularly that side of human nature that responds to its email after too many Jell-O shots in the wee hours of the morning), offers a solution: Mail Goggles. Here’s how it works:

When you enable Mail Goggles, it will check that you’re really sure you want to send that late night Friday email. And what better way to check than by making you solve a few simple math problems after you click send to verify you’re in the right state of mind?

By default, Mail Goggles is only active late night on the weekend as that is the time you’re most likely to need it. Once enabled, you can adjust when it’s active in the General settings.

What seems to me to still be missing is an email program that prevents “flaming” emails from being sent that you then later regret.  Perhaps Google can create a program that screens for four-letter words or too many exclamation points and then asks you if would prefer to send this email to a friend rather than the negotiator on the other side?

Cross-posted at indisputably.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court Amends Its Rules to Permit Citation of Unpublished Opinions, with Limitations

Posted on Categories Legal Research, Legal Writing, Wisconsin Court SystemTags , 1 Comment on The Wisconsin Supreme Court Amends Its Rules to Permit Citation of Unpublished Opinions, with Limitations

As you probably already know, yesterday the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard the petition of the Wisconsin Judicial Council to amend Wisconsin Statue section 809.23(3), to permit citation of unpublished Wisconsin Court of Appeals opinions as persuasive authority.

Beth Hanan, managing member of Gass Weber Mullins and Vice Chair of the Wisconsin Judicial Council, kindly offered the following summary of the hearing and the court’s decision to amend the rule.  (Please note that these are Beth’s own, individual comments and are not the comments or thoughts of the Judicial Council.)

Taking a cautious step into a national trend, yesterday the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted 6:1 to permit citation of unpublished authored appellate decisions, with several limitations.  Amended Wis. Stat. (Rule) s. 809.23(3), like Fed. R. App. P. 32.1, will be prospective only.  This means that parties and courts will be able to cite those unpublished authored opinions which are released on or after the planned effective date of the amended rule, July 1, 2009.  When parties cite such opinions, they will have to file and serve copies of the opinions.  The rule specifically will  provide that parties are not required to cite unpublished opinions.  Finally, the supreme court has ordered that a committee be formed to plan the roll out of the rule and devise a means of tracking its effectiveness or particular difficulties it may create.  Those statistics will be used by the court to review the rule three years after its adoption.

Continue reading “The Wisconsin Supreme Court Amends Its Rules to Permit Citation of Unpublished Opinions, with Limitations”

“Nucular” and “Nuclear” and So-Called Standard English

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Writing, Political Processes & Rhetoric4 Comments on “Nucular” and “Nuclear” and So-Called Standard English

As a legal writing professor, one part of my job is to help students who didn’t grow up speaking or writing “Standard English” continue adapting their writing to meet the expectations of employers and clients.  Of course, to get through college, many students have already made changes in the way they use English.  But some students come to law school with additional work to be done.  In fact, at least for me, the effort to consciously conform my English speaking and writing patterns to expectations different from those I grew up with never really ends.  

So, like the blogger in this post at frogs and ravens (which I reached via feministlawprof), whatever criticisms I might make of Sarah Palin, jabs at her speech patterns rub me the wrong way.  As frogs and ravens points out, “How you pronounce a word says nothing about your character, your intelligence, your values, or your education.  All it says is whether you are (a) one of the lucky people who grew up speaking ‘the right way’ as your native accent, (b) one of the people who did not, or (c) one of the people who did not and makes a conscious effort to abandon the speech patterns of their childhood to fit in with the expectations of others.”  And it seems somewhat ironic, and, well, dumb, that the prejudice against “regional and working-class accents” enables a candidate “to distance herself from her upper-middle-class lifestyle, her position of power, and her lofty ambitions” just by the way she pronounces words.

What Types of Documents Should Law Students Write in Legal Writing Classes?

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Practice, Legal Scholarship, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School6 Comments on What Types of Documents Should Law Students Write in Legal Writing Classes?

I am enjoying reading the current issue of the Journal of Legal Education.  In particular, the second article, From Snail Mail to E-mail:  the Traditional Legal Memorandum in the Twenty-First Century, authored by Kristin K. Robbins-Tiscione, has gotten me thinking about the documents we use to teach students in the first-year writing courses.   Continue reading “What Types of Documents Should Law Students Write in Legal Writing Classes?”

Fastcase: Free Online Research for All Wisconsin Bar members

Posted on Categories Legal Writing, Wisconsin Court System1 Comment on Fastcase: Free Online Research for All Wisconsin Bar members

If you are a member of the Wisconsin State Bar, beginning in November you will have free access to Fastcase.  Fastcase is a searchable online database of federal and state law.  The product overview at the Fastcase website makes the service look user-friendly.   Its coverage is fairly deep too, including state cases back to 1950 or earlier.

I was wondering when a convenient but much lower-cost legal research service like this would become widely available.  It seemed inevitable that it would eventually happen.  I haven’t tried Fastcase yet, but I am going to do so and will follow up with my thoughts about the interface and more details about the coverage.   In the meantime, I would be very interested to hear from anyone who already has experience using the service.

Science Explores the Power of Storytelling to Persuade

Posted on Categories Legal WritingTags , 2 Comments on Science Explores the Power of Storytelling to Persuade

I read an interesting article from the Scientific American blog this morning, The Secrets of Storytelling:  Why We Love a Good Yarn.  As the article states, “Psychologists and neuroscientists have recently become fascinated by the human predilection for storytelling. Why does our brain seem to be wired to enjoy stories? And how do the emotional and cognitive effects of a narrative influence our beliefs and real-world decisions?”

As a legal writing professor, the most interesting part of this research is the way it is confirming, with good evidence, what good litigators have long recognized: “stories have a unique power to persuade and motivate, because they appeal to our emotions and capacity for empathy.”  I try to teach my students to think about the role of narrative in their legal analysis from the beginning of their work with a legal problem.  Of course, legal arguments must be based upon the law, but the best legal arguments are the ones that find a legal backbone for an appealing story.  (We are fortunate to have on the faculty at Marquette a leading scholar who has written extensively about narrative in legal discourse, David Papke.)

If you are interested in reading more specifically what the science shows, you could start with the “Happily Ever After” section of the article I am discussing, which discusses a few recent findings.  Some law professors are studying this stuff, too.  Kathryn Stanchi from Temple University (who had a long and strong litigation practice before going into teaching) has written two good articles on the subject: The Science of Persuasion:  An Initial Exploration and Playing with Fire:  The Science of Confronting Adverse Material in Legal Advocacy.  

Podcasting Legal Writing Lessons

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School1 Comment on Podcasting Legal Writing Lessons

Over the course of the six years I have taught here, the Law School’s technological resources have gotten better and better. For instance, every classroom in which I teach now has equipment that allows me to project documents onto a screen at the front of the classroom, working on edits as we discuss them in the classroom. I can project from the web as I discuss legal research tools, such as the law library’s helpful start page. I can play audio or video files for the class, such as tapes of oral arguments from oyez.org or from the Wisconsin Supreme Court site for my appellate writing and advocacy class.

Most recently, with the help of our IT department I have been using digital recording technology (a headset microphone and audacity software) to record some of my instruction and make it available for students to work through at their convenience. The podcasts are especially effective for material that some students need more help with than others, such as citation, grammar and punctuation, or editing for conciseness. Last semester, my students’ responses to the podcasts was overwhelmingly positive.

The pioneer podcaster among the legal writing faculty was Alison Julien, who, I understand, has moved on to “webcasting,” i.e., digital videorecordings of her instruction.

Did You Learn About IRAC in Law School? How Did IRAC Become Such an Important Part of Legal Writing Teaching? And Should it Be?

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Writing3 Comments on Did You Learn About IRAC in Law School? How Did IRAC Become Such an Important Part of Legal Writing Teaching? And Should it Be?

When I became a legal writing professor, one of the first and most surprising things I learned was how important the “IRAC” (Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion) formula has become in most legal writing teaching nowadays.  Almost every legal writing textbook relies on some version of the formula.  In fact, so many legal writing professors have developed their own personalized version of the formula that the variations of the acronym form a dizzying alphabet soup:  CREAC, CRuPAC,  RAFADAC, IRLAFARC, etc., etc., etc.  

The rise of IRAC seems to have gone hand in hand with the increasing professionalization of legal writing teaching.  At the same time, legal writing teachers have long debated the uses and misuses of IRAC in legal writing and in legal writing teaching. For example, almost the entire November 1995 issue of The Second Draft (bulletin of the Legal Writing Institute) was devoted to the question of “The Value of IRAC.” Continue reading “Did You Learn About IRAC in Law School? How Did IRAC Become Such an Important Part of Legal Writing Teaching? And Should it Be?”