Legal writing: Teaching analogy and comparison language to LLM students

I recently finished reading an excellent and exciting article titled Beyond Contrastive Rhetoric: Helping International Lawyers Use Cohesive Devices in U.S. Legal Writing, by Elizabeth Baldwin, a professor of legal writing who has an MA in Applied Linguistics and works with LLM students at the University of Washington School of Law. I say exciting because each page that I read seemed to open my eyes and my mind and spark new ideas about teaching legal writing to LLM students.

In the article, Elizabeth–one of the founders of the ETLEP legal English Google Group together with Alissa Hartig, Lindsey Kurtz and me following the 2015 Global Legal Skills Conference in Chicago–distinguishes between coherence (top down: does it make sense?) and cohesion (bottom up: does it feel connected and logical?) A text can be coherent, i.e., you understand what the writer is saying, yet lack cohesion, i.e., the ideas feel disjointed and unnatural in some way you can’t quite put your finger on.

The article explains how cohesion can be lexical (e.g., use of repetition and synonyms) as well as grammatical (e.g., use of conjunctive words and phrases to connect information between sentences; use of a subordinated clause to front information so that it feels connected to information in the previous sentence).

However, the article really grabbed my attention at one point when it described a particular cohesive device that involves use of the pattern: [determiner + abstract noun]. (Determiners include a, an, the, this, these, my, your, which, other, and a bunch of other words you know but just didn’t realize were determiners.) An example might be a sentence along the lines of: Continue reading

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

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

What part of the case brief?

The other day in class, working with another one of the Lefkowitz v. Great Minneapolis Surplus Store, Inc. case briefs, I again asked the students what tense they noticed in the Issue section. The students pointed to past tense in the two questions conveniently labeled (1) and (2). But then there was an additional sentence that followed on the next line:

Defendant contends that it was a “unilateral offer” which could be withdrawn at any time without notice.

 A student correctly pointed out that present tense was being used. But then I asked, “Where’s the question in this statement?” The students talked for a minute and quickly concluded that that statement really didn’t belong in the Issue section.

Next question: So where does it belong? And more importantly, how do you know?

One student suggested the Facts section since it seemed to be providing information about one of the parties to the case. So I then asked, what tense do we generally find in the Facts? Past tense, yet this is present.

Also: When do the facts happen? In the past, before the trial starts. What does “contend” mean? Argue. When do you argue? During the trial. Hence, this sentence should not be in the Facts section. Continue reading

The legal “Issue” of present tense vs. past tense

case-briefFacts: Earlier today, I was teaching LLM students about reading and briefing cases. The previous week they had examined a number of case briefs and noticed various features and characteristics. For example, after reviewing the Facts section of several case briefs, they were able to confidently conclude that nearly all verbs were in the past tense. This will help them be cognizant of tense when they write the Facts sections of their own briefs, and it will also give them a grammar-based strategy to help them more successfully identify what the facts are and are not when they read a court opinion and attempt to write a case brief.

The previous week the students also came to notice characteristics of the Issue section of the briefs. They noticed that sometimes the Issue was written in present tense and sometimes in past tense.

Today I gave them two different case briefs of the well-known Contract law case Lefkowitz v. Great Minneapolis Surplus Store, Inc. and, among other tasks, asked them to analyze and compare the Issue section of the briefs. They quickly noticed that one was past and the other was in the present.

  • Past: Did Defendant’s advertisement constitute an offer?
  • Present: Under what circumstances does an advertisement for the sale of goods constitute an offer?

Issue:

  1. How do you decide if the Issue section of your brief should be in present tense or past tense?
  2. What are the implications in terms of meaning and in terms of grammar and syntax?

Rule: Past tense is used to indicate events that already happened and are completed. Present tense is used to indicate something that is generally or always true. Continue reading

LLMs and the intersection of typing, punctuation, formatting and proofreading

snoopy-typingAs a legal English professor, my primary focus is law and language. However, I’ve also come to realize the importance of teaching and incorporating the basic skills of being what I call a “professional law student.”

I became aware early on that many of my students did not touch type, perhaps because they are accustomed to doing all of their written communications on smartphones with their thumbs. This becomes a significant obstacle when students are required to submit numerous assignments in Word documents. I point out to the students that touch typing ability can be the difference between spending 6 hours researching and 1 hour typing versus 1 hour researching and 6 hours typing.

To address this, I’ve previously required students to register on typing.com where they must practice regularly and join a class I’ve set up to monitor their progress. I then give them periodic 1- minute typing tests in class using typingtest.com and track their progress. This has led to modest gains.

Additionally, I’ve seen the various ways that punctuation can be confusing for students in formal, academic writing. This confusion carries over into not just when to use which punctuation marks, but also formatting and spacing with regard to commas, periods, parentheses, quotation marks, etc. An interesting example: Professor Piper and I have both noticed that students often believe that the purpose of quotation marks is for emphasis as opposed to indicating the words of others. (Though based on our current President’s tweets, it’s clear they are not alone in this misperception.)

Further on the topic of formatting, I recently realized that two of my students were not recognizing the difference between text in italics and plain text. Italics is not just for aesthetics. It communicates something to a reader. It can indicate emphasis, or the word is a term of art, or a title of a publication, or a Latin word.

As a result, I’ve designed a new approach to helping students improve their typing that also is helping with punctuation and proofreading. I call it the Typing Challenge. I give the students several printed pages of a legal text. It could be a textbook, a case book, a legal memorandum, a law review article, a statute, etc. Each week the students must type at least 100 words. For every additional 100 words they receive bonus points. However, the catch is that if there are more than 3 errors, they receive no credit for their work.

My teaching assistant, a 2nd year JD student, checks each one and provides feedback and comments using track changes (another important tool for students to become familiar with if they are not already). Errors can be for formatting, spacing, wrong font, different sized fonts, not noticing italics, capitalization, paragraph alignment, etc. in addition to spelling. This has forced students to pay close attention to all of these issues and becomes a noticing exercise for them. It also helps us flush out any misconceptions by the students. For example, some students will indent a paragraphs by hitting the space bar several times not realizing they should use the Tab button. One student included a hyphen in the middle of a word becausehe saw it used in a word that carried over to the next line.

This process also of course gets students in the habit of proofreading and familiar with the expectation of proofreading, all while giving them a chance to work on and improve their typing.

The result has been better awareness of spelling, punctuation, and formatting issues in their other submitted assignments. And the real beauty of it is that I spend very little actual class time on this!

Merry Christmas from your lawyer

Not just an accessible example of American legal humor, but a great example of American-style contract language and culture. It’s also giving me ideas for new activities around teaching English for contract reading and drafting as we get ready for 2017.

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Wishing everyone a happy and safe holidays and New Year from the St. John’s Legal English team!