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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Speed Editing

By: Abigail Perdue

“I feel the need . . . the need for speed.” – Top Gun

Apparently fictional fighter pilots and forward-thinking Jewish rabbis have that in common. The widespread modern phenomenon of speed dating purportedly began in the late nineties when an innovative Jewish rabbi organized the first speed dating event as an efficacious way for busy Jewish young professionals to meet and mingle (Kennedy 2013).

Speed dating soon became so popular that its model was exported to the business world. Speed mentoring events sprang up across the country, and after attending a particularly impactful one, I brainstormed how to implement “speed editing” in my writing classes. Speed editing simultaneously achieves multiple learning goals from encouraging collaboration to demonstrating how to work effectively under tight time constraints. It teaches students how to thoughtfully give and receive constructive feedback and further hones their editing and oral communication skills. Here’s how it works.

As our time on an assignment module draws to a close, I provide a brief overview of the effective editing techniques we have already discussed and then dedicate the remainder of our 1.5 hour session to speed editing. This generally occurs in one of two ways, each of which I will discuss below.
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Reprogramming Your Writing Intuition


By: Professor Joe Regalia

When I ask judges what frustrates them most about lawyers, the conversation often turns to writing. I hear things like: “attorneys can’t write concisely,” and “why don’t law schools teach law students how to write?” Perhaps these problems persist because when you try to change how you write, you are butting up against years of subconscious habit—what I call your “writing intuition.” And just like making changes to other deep-seated habits in your life, changing your writing intuition takes significant work.
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