A long-winded discussion of summaries and paraphrasing

I have been working with my new international LL.M. students on summarizing and paraphrasing skills, to get them ready for a first research memorandum assignment.  I decided to spend some time on this because I have noticed that even when writing a single case brief exercise, some students do not feel free to depart from the court’s words. As a result, students can spend hours wrestling 6 pages of case law into a 3-page summary that really only needs to be a few ordered dots of thought the size of an index card.  So we have been working to condense information into different styles of case briefs, using the same legal text until they feel comfortable putting the case aside and writing main points from memory.

Stephen spied one of my latest worksheets, and we started an email discussion about how to distinguish the two concepts in a meaningful way, to make students aware of how we expect them to manipulate source material in writing assignments. Finally, I arrived at this, which I think will work. I am interested in learning how other instructors introduce and practice these ideas with the class.  Continue reading

Global Legal Skills: Mountains, Mariachi and Mentorship in Monterrey

I had the pleasure of attending the annual Global Legal Skills Conference this week, hosted by the Facultad Libre de Derecho de Monterrey. Sarah Kelly and I were glad to present the in-class role-play methods we use in our core LLM courses at St. John’s, and I was grateful to our audience, who engaged in all the steps of an introductory negotiation exercise and gave feedback on the experience.  This year Continue reading

Capping off the semester

Today marked the last day of writing class for second-semester Transnational Legal Practice students. They have worked tremendously hard, diligently outlining, revising and editing memoranda and short motions. They have practiced and producedIMG_0298 a lot of writing in a few short weeks. I wanted to end the semester on a thoughtful note, to put these exercises in some kind of context.  I chose pens.

My civil procedure professor once advised our class that each of us should keep a nice pen on our desk just for the purpose of signing our name, as a reminder that our signatures as lawyers have power and value.  I remember telling myself that if I ever taught legal writing, I would pass on that advice. Today, I got to do that. Continue reading

Fiscal check-up

Homophones can be tricky, not only for international law students, but for our domestic state legislators!

“Brief cases” and “case briefs” both contain important legal information. “Depositions” and “dispositions” are both important landmarks in the life of a case. No wonder students can get confused at times. But here is an opportunity to show our student writers why we require such precision in their language:

HR 1220

 

The Issue of Questions

 

hercules and hydra“Professor, for question number one, I actually see two questions here!”  My student leans over my desk and frowns over his writing prompt, seemingly worried he is hallucinating.

Later, during an in-class critical thinking exercise, there is a kerfuffle about framing the issue presented: “Professor, the question on the paper asks whether the cyclist broke the park’s rule, but she [another student] says that the issue is whether her [hybrid] bicycle was a motor vehicle.  Which one of us is right?”

The object of this week’s lessons was supposed to be about using the facts: weeding out irrelevant information, and using relevant information in support of a legal conclusion. But the conversation has evolved into the issue of questions. They are grappling with the idea that one question can yield one or more sub-questions, and they wonder whether to choose one or harmonize both.  In return they get more questions from me: “How did you see that second question? Do you need to answer it to get an answer to the original question? How does your answer to that second question help you to answer the original question? OK, so now that you have an answer to the first question, and an answer to the second question, can you write a two-sentence conclusion that answers both? How about a one-sentence conclusion?”  Some chuckle, as though this is a game we’re playing. Others wrinkle their brows, looking very unsatisfied. I think this is a struggle worth having. Continue reading

Introducing Writing Critique

One challenge of introducing international LL.M. students to legal writing is coaxing them to evaluate and comment on examples of English writing. This is a necessarycritique practice in my writing course; students look at model answers for format and organization, notice cohesive devices and subject headings, and read examples of strong and weak analysis to compare to their own work. Students also conduct peer reviews, and revise and resubmit drafts of their work, incorporating comments from the professor and their
teaching assistants. So, students should start learning to critique, and to respond to critique, early in the course.

Critique is often daunting to international students, I think for two reasons. First, they do not have enough confidence in their English writing and reading skills to believe they can improve upon any example. Second, they  might feel uncomfortable finding fault with a classmate’s work, particularly if that classmate is a lawyer, judge, or other professional in their home country.

So a few weeks ago, I decided I’d have my new class start with me.   Continue reading