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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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?”
This fall the Wisconsin Supreme Court will revisit the issue of whether to permit citation of unpublished Wisconsin Court of Appeals opinions. The issue is scheduled for hearing on October 14, 2008. The current rule forbids citation of unpublished opinions “as precedent or authority, except to support a claim of claim preclusion, issue preclusion, or the law of the case.” Wis. Stat. § 809.23(3). In January, the Wisconsin Judicial Council filed a petition asking the court to amend the rule to permit citation of unpublished opinions “for [their] persuasive value.” Continue reading “Petition to Permit Citation of Unpublished Decisions of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals”