Better Technology, Better Briefs

By: Professor Joe Regalia (UNLV)

“We’re not like computers,” explains psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos at the University of Sheffield. Our brains are not wired to pick up every detail, at least not without enormous work. Editing right takes forever. Some say that it should take as long to edit as it does to draft. A busy lawyer (or law student) may not have time for that.

We have two problems: (1) We can’t catch everything when editing our own stuff, and (2) even if we could, we don’t have the time.

These are problems for all lawyers. And so as a law professor, I spend a lot of time trying to help my students work through the same problems. One solution that I have turned to is technology—and most recently, Ross Guberman’s BriefCatch.

BriefCatch is a Word plugin that offers detailed editing feedback on legal writing. BriefCatch is something different from programs like Grammarly. Because BriefCatch is made for legal writing. It helps you spot more than grammar. Instead, it provides live editing suggestions on your legal prose, ranging from citation advice to wordsmithing recommendations and persuasive writing tips.

For legal writing teachers, BriefCatch could be a game-changer. We all lament how much law students and young lawyers struggle with basic writing style. Now, for the first time, we have a tool that can help students train legal writing techniques using their own writing.

That all sounds good, but I wanted to put it to the test. So several law professors and I created a working group to incorporate BriefCatch into first-year legal writing curriculum. Our goal was to use the tool to help students train many of the basic writing-style techniques that we don’t have time to drill in class.

Each week, along with their substantive writing work, students were asked to run BriefCatch on their assignment and to pay attention to a single type of editing recommendation. They recorded on a chart how many times the tool recommended that type of edit and how often the student agreed with it. The next week, students did the same thing but with a new type of edit.

Feedback from both the professors and students has been overwhelmingly positive. Students love that they can use the tool at their own pace. They love when they find new suggestions for word choice. And best of all, because they are the ones using the tool and calling the shots, they are learning to use these techniques themselves.

Of course, BriefCatch can’t replace a good writing teacher or a good editor. Tools like this are a powerful supplement to help train and spot style techniques; they are not meant to teach aspiring lawyers how to put together the meat of a brief.

But that’s the beauty of a tool like BriefCatch: it lets professors devote time and energy to what we do best while shoring up our students’ skills in ways they don’t even realize.

How do you use technology to improve your students’ legal writing skills? Share your good ideas at TeachLawBetter.com, and we might just post them.

 

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Making the Grade

By: Prof. Abigail Perdue 

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with a wonderful colleague who is teaching Legal Writing for the very first time. She had just released Memo One grades to her anxious 1Ls. During the conversation that ensued, I shared with her several things I wish I’d known as a first-year professor that specifically pertain to grading – lessons that I’ve sometimes had to learn the hard way through the years. Here are just a few:
Continue reading “Making the Grade”

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Is Law School Really Like the Hunger Games?

By: Professor Heather Gram (Wake Forest Law)

I recently heard a 1L say that she expected her first year of law school to be something akin to The Hunger Games, a brutal “fight to the death” contest depicted in the wildly popular book trilogy by Suzanne Collins. While law school is a competitive environment filled with diverse and talented people, it does not have to be such an overtly negative experience. In law school orientations across the country, incoming law students too often receive the message that they must “survive” law school. But I tell my students the opposite: that it is possible (and preferable) to thrive in law school, not merely survive.  If you are going to devote three years of your life (and perhaps a significant amount of money) to law school, why not make it the most positive and productive experience possible? Here are some tips on how to make that happen: Continue reading “Is Law School Really Like the Hunger Games?”

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Take One: The World Premiere of an Exciting New Resource on Pop Culture Pedagogy

Have you ever wondered what Star Trek could teach you about the U.S. Constitution or how an episode of The Good Wife could demonstrate best (or bad) practices during e-discovery? You’ll find the answers in an exciting new teaching resource — The Media Method: Teaching Law with Popular Culture, (Carolina Academic Press 2019).

Editor Christine Corcos of LSU School of Law has compiled twenty-seven interesting chapters chocked full of wonderful ideas for using pop culture as a fun vehicle to teach legal concepts on a vast array of diverse topics. She compiled works from law professors around the globe who integrate everything from poetry to comic books into their teaching.

While legal legend and author of Reel Justice, Michael Asimow, discusses how the lived experience of a lawyer often differs from its portrayal on the big screen, Deborah Ahrens shares how musical theater impacts her approach to covering difficult criminal law topics with her students. Other chapters showcase how to use pop culture as a vehicle to study Torts, Property, Civil Procedure, Evidence, Environmental Law, Professional Responsibility, and Constitutional Law. Nancy Soonpaa, JoAnn Sweeny, Sha-Shana Chricton, Terri LeClercq, and many more highlight creative ways to incorporate pop culture into Legal Research and Writing, including exercises focused on timely and important social justice issues. In Magical Thinking, Kelly Collinsworth explores how pop culture may be an equally effective vehicle to introduce college students to legal analysis.

My chapter — Pop Culture Pedagogy — explores the potential benefits and downsides of using pop culture in the law school classroom. I’ve included an excerpt of pages 68-69 below, although citations have been omitted:

Pop culture surrounds us. We lead “media-saturated lives” infused with influences from film, television, social media, and other aspects of pop culture. For better or worse, these influences significantly impact how we view ourselves, our profession, and our world. Our tech-savvy law students are particularly susceptible to these influences. Thus, if legal education hopes “to survive these pop culture ways of knowing and meaning, it too must transform.”

Prompted in part by calls for law school reform from the bar, legal educators struggle to find innovative ways to effectively reach the increasingly diverse and globally minded digital natives flooding our classrooms. This chapter suggests that when properly used, “pop culture pedagogy” may provide one such innovation — an “ideal medium” to “complement” black letter law and thus better promote learning and engagement, particularly with regard to professionalism.

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As used herein, “pop culture” refers broadly to “the body of intellectual or imaginative work in which human thought and experience are recorded.” As such, it encompasses cultural references that derive from traditional and non-traditional print media, including poetry, blogs, and graphic novels, as well as the so-called “public arts,” such as film, radio, television, video games, music, social media, and other Internet sources.

Likewise, “pop culture pedagogy” refers to teaching both with and about pop culture. For example, a Trial Advocacy professor teaching with pop culture might assign a chapter from Mauet’s Trial Techniques regarding how to draft and deliver an effective closing argument. In class, the professor could show film clips of closing arguments from A Time to Kill and Ghosts of Mississippi and ask students to work in pairs to draft a short reflection paper explaining which closing argument was more compelling and why. An Appellate Advocacy professor seeking to reinforce how citing authority enhances an advocate’s credibility at oral argument might show the scene from Law Abiding Citizen when accused killer Clyde Shelton cites a case in support of his contention that he be granted bail. In part because opposing counsel is unfamiliar with the cited case and provides no authority to counter it, the judge proceeds to grant Shelton’s motion even though his citation was a ruse.

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With the advent and widespread availability of new technology, pop culture has increasingly become an integral part of the human experience. Millennials – individuals born between the early 80s and mid 2000s — are indisputably the most “connected” generation in history, constantly bombarded with a vast array of cultural texts through which they construct meaning about themselves and their world.

Today’s law students undoubtedly consume more mass media than prior generations. With an IPhone in hand, AirPods in their ears, and an Apple Watch on their wrists, they experience the world amidst a backdrop of technological distractions, mentally multitasking every minute of the day. Given the sensory overload to which students constantly subject themselves, educators grapple with how to more fully engage them.

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I ultimately conclude that “pop culture pedagogy provides an easy and inexpensive way to bring [the] world into the classroom and share a glimpse of it with our attorneys-in-progress.” (p. 93)

To learn more about how you can teach law with pop culture, purchase a copy of the book from Carolina Press, Amazon, or other retailers. That’s a wrap!

 

Do you use pop culture as a vehicle to teach legal doctrine or skills? If yes, share your good ideas at teachlawbetter.com, and we might just post them. 

 

 

 

 

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Wanted: Law Students Who Can Write

By: Professor Abigail Perdue

It’s that time again – the part of the semester when nervous students anxiously buzz around the hallways decked out in black, pinstripe suits and power ties. They carry fancy leather-bound portfolios and practice “firm handshakes” to make a good first impression during on-campus interviews. But too often when I speak to potential employers, I hear the same refrain: Law schools need to do a better job of teaching strong writing and editing skills.

I agree. Legal writing, analysis, editing, and research are fundamental skills at the heart of effective lawyering. No person can be a competent attorney without them. And even when we do our best to prepare students for the practice, we should always strive to do better. But as budgets tighten and the number of core faculty shrink at law schools across America, law professors in general, and legal writing professors in particular, often find themselves between a rock and a hard place expected to do much more for students with far fewer resources at their disposal.

This begs the question: What can legal employers do to identify and attract the best writers? Perhaps they should change the way that they hire. Continue reading “Wanted: Law Students Who Can Write”

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