This past week for the frist time I did a full unit of syllogism and analogy activities with my legal writing students to prepare them for the concepts and language of IRAC-style writing. And it not only went very well–it also taught me something new.
Previously, I had taught the concept of IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis/Application, Conclusion) first and then had the students work on it through the Jogger/Banana Peel question. This question is the vehicle through which I have been teaching students IRAC-style discourse as well as the written language of that discourse. It involves a jogger who throws a banana peel on the beach after passing a sign that indicates a fine for “littering.” A police officer sees this and has to decide whether to issue a ticket, remembering that her supervisor did give a ticket to someone who threw a candy bar wrapper on the ground but did not give a ticket to someone who poured coffee on the ground.
In my approach, the students come to understand the IRAC concepts and signal words, but they still struggled in many ways with the underlying style of argument expected. For example, they would see the exercise as a simple application of a rule. The jogger littered; there’s a rule against littering; hence, the jogger should get a ticket. To not give a ticket would be to undermine rule of law and all that is good in our society, etc. Or, if they focus on the coffee and the candy bar wrapper, they make conclusory statements without really explaining or showing how those ideas connect. (Or rather, they don’t do it in a way that meets expectations for our writer-responsible writing culture.) Continue reading →
On Tuesday, August 1 at 10:15 a.m. I will have the honor of being part of a panel discussion at the Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) Conference. The panel, organized by Kirsten Schaetzel of Emory Law school, is titled “International Learners and Legal Writers: Pitfalls and Promising Practices” and also includes Marta Baffy of the Georgetown University Law Center and Catherine Schenker of American University, Washington College of Law.
I will be speaking specifically about ideas and approaches for teaching IRAC (Issue Rule Application Conclusion) discourse to non-native English speaking LLM students in ways that incorporate ESL concepts and pedagogy.
This is my first time attending SEALS and needless to say I am very excited amd looking forward to it as well as the chance to interact with and learn from colleagues at other law schools.
Here is a full description of the panel:
At many law schools today, the number of international students is increasing. These students come from different legal and educational systems and may have trouble understanding and learning the conventions of American legal discourse. This panel, composed of legal writing and English as a Second Language specialists from various law schools, examines areas in legal writing that may be troublesome for non-native English students. Beginning with an overview of cultural differences in writing conventions and expectations, panelists present how they teach different aspects of American legal writing. Panelists cover teaching summaries of legal rules and their various sources of law; IRAC discourse organization and answering essay exam questions; and understanding fact-pattern exercises and responding to them.
If you happen to be attending, then hopefully we will see each other. Stay tuned for a post conference report.
Summarizing is one of the most crucial skills in law school. To make this point to my students, I like to turn to my Teaching Assistant and ask him how much he uses summarizing in his judicial clerkship, to which he solemnly responds: “All the time.”
However, teaching summarizing to international LL.M. students can be extremely challenging. Think about it: How did you learn to summarize? Personally, I can’t identify any one moment when I figured it out. And I can’t point to any specific and helpful strategy that was ever explicitly taught to me for summarizing. I just figured it out over time through trial and error and have internalized it to the point where it’s difficult to explain how I know how to do it. (I imagine this is the same for others. But please share if you have a different experience.)