New tool by Harvard Law lets people explore language usage in caselaw

Thanks to my colleague Prof. Rebecca Lowry for passing on this article from the ABA Journal (“New tool by Harvard Law lets people explore language usage in caselaw” by Jason Tashea) about “Historical Trends,” a free online tool created by the Harvard Law School Library Innovation Lab which allows the public to explore the use of language over 360 years of caselaw in a corpus (linguistic database) consisting of 6.7 million federal and state cases and 12 billion words!

In what ways is it useful for LLM students (or any law students)? I’m not sure yet. If you figure one out, please let me know by posting in the comments or e-mailing me. But it’s fun to type in terms like “internet” and “res ipsa” and “synergy” and “irregardless” and “Lefkowitz” and then see the resulting graph covering 360 years of that word or phrase’s usage in American caselaw.

Encyclopedia Brown and the Public Defender

I’m a big fan of The Moth Storytelling Hour podcast and also of the Encyclopedia Brown series. In fact, I often encourage my LLM students to read Encyclopedia Brown stories as a form of extensive reading and a way to build some cultural background knowledge and think critically and creatively. (I keep a few of the books in the Reading Library outside my office.)

So, I was very excited this past weekend when I was listening to an episode of The Moth Storytelling Hour (a great resource for extensive listening, by the way), and the first story was by a public defender telling about finally having an Encyclopedia Brown moment in his legal career. My favorite line was early on when he observes that while Encyclopedia Brown is known for solving cases, the job of public defenders is actually to unsolve cases and put the mystery back in them.

Alan Gordon, public defender, telling of us Encyclopedia Brown moment.

Here’s a link to the episode if you’d like to listen: https://themoth.org/radio-hour/bible-bucks-meatballs-and-big-brothers

Side note: Lest you think that Encyclopedia Brown is uniquely American, I learned that Chinese popular literature actually has a sort of equivalent character named Judge Dee based on the historical figure Di Renjiecounty magistrate and statesman of the Tang court.

Summary of April 12 NY Academic Support Professionals Workshop at New York Law School

On Friday, April 12 I attended (and presented at) a really wonderful Academic Support Professionals (ASP) workshop at New York Law School organized by Kris Franklin of NYLS and Rebecca Flanigan of UMass Law School. It’s the second year in a row that I’ve attended, and I continue to appreciate and learn from this extremely knowledgeable and supportive community.

Prior to attending last year’s workshop, I had always viewed myself as a “legal English” specialist. But now I’ve come to view legal English as a subset of academic support, and I’ve come to view myself as an academic support professional for LLM and non-native English speaking students, where language support is the primary–but not only–need for aiding success in law school.

I presented on the topic of “1.5 Gen. Students and “Sound Right” vs. Read-Right Grammar Strategies.” I talked about (1) the concept of 1.5 generation students; (2) using read-aloud strategies to improve students’ use of articles, prepositions, and -s endings in student writing; and (3) ways for students to use the iWeb Corpus as a proxy for what “sounds right” to help students figure out on their own if they’re using the right word or using a given word correctly.

But what was most interesting to me was the range of topics and perspectives and experiences shared by all the participants from all the different law schools. Here’s a link to a summary on the Law School Academic Support Blog of all the presentations at the NY ASP Workshop:

NY ASP Workshop Review

Posted: 26 Apr 2019 05:40 AM PDT

Myra Orlen was kind enough to put together a recap of the NY ASP workshop. Her report is below. Kudos to Kris Franklin of the NYLS and Rebecca Flanagan of UMass Law School for organizing a wonderful workshop at NYLS…(Click here to read the full post on the Law School Academic Support Blog.)

Non-native English speaking JD students: international students and 1.5 generation students

My mandate and jurisdiction, since I started at St. John’s Law School in the summer of 2014, has been to work with the LLM students, i.e., the non-native English speakers. And over that time my role has evolved from being a “legal English” teacher to becoming an academic support professional whose students’ primary (but not only) support need is language-related.

However, more and more I find myself coming in contact with non-native English speakers in the JD student body. Some are international students who applied directly to the JD program, either after graduating from a university in their home country or perhaps first attending a university in the US. Some are LLM-to-JD transfer students who started out as international students in the LLM program and subsequently transferred to the JD program after completing their LLM degree. And some are 1.5 generation students.

According to the Stanford University Teaching/Writing website, “generation 1.5 refers to students who are U.S. residents or citizens but whose first or home language was not English, although for some of these students, English does in fact function as their primary language.”

As a result, I have been trying to think of ways to provide language-related support for these students. But they’re in a tricky position. As non-native English speakers, they lack an intuitive sense of what sounds right. Grammar and punctuation issues aren’t just a matter of cleaning up sloppy usage for them. So in their writing, they may be penalized for language/grammar issues in their papers, yet school policies limit their ability to get outside help on a graded assignment to ensure that all work turned in is that of the students. Continue reading

The Art of Law and Language

I am very excited about three new posters that will be up in the Office of Graduate Studies soon on the walls right outside my office, and right by my extensive reading library.

1. The first is “Mother Tongues and Queens: The World’s Language Capital,” created by the Endangered Language Alliance for use in the book Non-stop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. The map explains that the Borough of Queens (where St. John’s University is of course located) is not only the most linguistically diverse borough in NYC, but the most linguistically diverse place on the planet! It can tell you where to find the largest concentrations of speakers of Farsi, Mongolian, Greek, Uzbek, Thai, etc. in Queens. And it also includes great tidbits such as “Riker’s Island, one of the world’s largest jails, holds new languages created by gangs to evade the authorities.” Not only a stimulating resource, but a welcoming symbol to all of our non-native English speaking students who come to St. John’s Law School.

“Mother Tongues and Queens: The World’s Language Capital”

 

2. The second is Pop Chart Lab’sPop Culture Primer on Parts of Speech.” And while I appreciate all the entries, I think my favorite entry is under “Nouns” where it shows the categories of Common and Proper and has a picture of the celebrity whose name happens to be Common under both categories, listing him as “rapper” as an example of a common noun, and also as “Common” as an example of a proper noun.

“Pop Culture Primer on Parts of Speech”

3. The second is Pop Chart Lab’s “A Diagrammatical Dissertation on Opening Lines of Notable Novels.” “From Cervantes to Faulkner to Pynchon, each sentence has been painstakingly curated and diagrammed by PCL’s research team, parsing classical prose by parts of speech and offering a partitioned, color-coded picto-grammatical representation of some of the most famous first words in literary history.”

“A Diagrammatical Dissertation on Opening Lines from Notable Novels”

I appreciate the language and graphic design of all three posters on a personal level and also like that they communicate the significance of language in the context of the legal environment, where language literally is power.

But my real hope is that students, when waiting in our office or in need of distraction, will engage with the language-related content in ways that are helpful to their own language development. In that regard, it can serve as a passive, non-threatening way to spark language-related interactions and conversations, especially with students who might otherwise feel reluctant to identify themselves as wanting language support. Because after all, sparking conversations is one of the main purposes of art.

 

 

 

 

May 1 Webinar: “Teaching Global Skills to International and U.S. Law Students”

Teaching Global Skills to International and U.S. Law Students

I’ll be one of the participants in a Legal Writing Institute live webinar next Monday from 12-1pm together with Diane Kraft of University of Kentucky College of Law and also St. John’s Law colleague Patricia Montana.

The narrated PowerPoints (which have more detail than what will be discussed in the live webinar) are already available at http://www.law.msu.edu/glws​. (Note: At this link, you can also find great prior presentations by other legal writing specialists.)

See below for more details and info on how to register:

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The Legal Writing Institute’s Global Legal Writing Skills Committee is pleased to invite you to attend a free live webinar on Monday, May 1, 2017, from 12-1 pm EST on“Teaching Global Skills to International and U.S. Law Students.”   The webinar will feature the following excellent presentations, followed by Q & A:

1. Teaching A Variety of Lawyering Skills Using A Single Transnational Civil Litigation Problem
Patricia Montana, Professor of Legal Writing and Director of Street Law Program, St. John’s University School of Law

I will present on my advanced writing course, Drafting: Transnational Civil Litigation, which I designed to develop upper-level students’ lawyering skills in the context of transnational civil litigation.  My presentation will discuss how designing a course around a single litigation involving a central international trade law convention and a well-developed set of facts can easily simulate the realities of law practice in the global market and thus benefit students tremendously.  My presentation will walk through the course development, illustrate some of the design ideas, and explain the advantages of using a single litigation to tie together all of the assignments.

2. Current Research in Contrastive Rhetoric: What Does it Mean for the Legal Writing Classroom?
Diane B. Kraft, Assistant Professor of Legal Research & Writing, University of Kentucky College of Law

Contrastive Rhetoric has been an important area of scholarship for the disciplines of Second Language Writing and English for Specific Purposes since 1966. This presentation will discuss what the most recent research tells us about the uses and limitations of contrastive rhetoric, and suggests ways to use it effectively when teaching international students in the legal writing classroom.

3. The Power of Noticing in Teaching Legal Writing to LLM Students
Stephen B. Horowitz, Director of Legal English Programs and Adjunct Professor of Law, St. John’s University School of Law

One of the challenges of learning legal writing for non-native speakers of English (NNES) is that they often feel they are writing into a vacuum. That is, they don’t have a clear sense of what their writing should look and feel like, both in terms of discourse as well as language. This is because what might be intuitive for native English speakers (NES) is not intuitive for NNES.  A simple yet powerful tool for building a sense of intuition and an understanding of what’s expected is the act of noticing. Noticing can be used very effectively in combination with model answers written by NES to help draw LLM students’ attention to certain features of legal writing in order to figure out how to better organize their writing, how to make better arguments, how to improve their grammar, what transition and connection phrases to use, when to use commas, and any other writing related challenges the students may face.

The presenters have created narrated PowerPoint slides for viewing in advance of the live webinar.  They can be found at the top of the presentations list at www.law.msu.edu/glws. This website also contains the archived Global Legal Writing Skills presentations from previous webinars.

To participate in the live webinar, please follow these instructions:

  1. Click on the URL provided for the Meeting Room or type the URL into your web browser.
  2. Click Guest Login.
  3. Type an identifiable name (e.g., First and Last name).
  4. Click Enter Room.
  5. Mute your microphone and only type questions in Chat window

Katrina June Lee will moderate the live webinar. Please contact her at katrinalee@osu.edu with questions or issues regarding the webinar.

To register for this free event, please send an email to dmlavita@suffolk.edu with “GLWS Webinar” in the subject line.

On behalf of the GLWS Committee,

Rosa Kim, Suffolk University Law School
rkim@suffolk.edu

Teaching American Culture: Pumpkin carving for LLM students!

pumpkincarving08img_9733To help our LLM students get into the Halloween spirit–and to expose them to American Halloween traditions (i.e., increase their background knowledge)–Professor Katherine Piper organized a pumpkin carving for our LLM students on the Friday before Halloween. The students all were familiar with the classic pumpkin images. But actually getting their hands dirty (literally) and making their own jack-o-lanterns seemed to help them feel closer to the American Halloween experience. Plus, it was a whole lot of fun! See the pics below.

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