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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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.

***

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.

***

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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Bringing Legal Tech Into the Law School Classroom with DISCO

By: Professor Joe Regalia (UNLV)

For modern lawyers, technology and innovation are vital parts of the job. Indeed, it’s impossible to practice law today without basic technology skills. And to flourish requires much more: tech-savvy that empowers lawyers to respond to our rapidly changing legal world.

A recent Wolters Kluwer survey found that most lawyers lack key technology skills. That also goes for digital-native Millennials whom many of us assume can navigate technology with ease. Nearly three out of every four Millennials said they have don’t have a “very good understanding of the technologies” that impact their practice. Only one-third of the lawyers surveyed believe their organization is prepared to keep pace with technology changes.

Why are lawyers so bad with leveraging technology? The survey found that it’s because lawyers don’t have the skills to use it. So what can we do?

Incorporating Technology and Innovation in Law School

My law professor colleagues and I think that at least part of the solution will come from law schools. Much of the resistance to technology comes from a lack of basic skills and a dose of cultural resistance in the legal field. Law schools are the perfect place to address both.

If technology is baked into the curriculum that law students study from day one, then they will not only have the skills they need when they graduate, but they will also have the mindset of an innovator — a mindset that encourages them to seek out new, effective ways to use technology and a better sense of how to navigate the evolving legal landscape.

With this goal in mind, I developed a pilot project with other like-minded law professors. Our goal:  to meaningfully incorporate technology skills training into the first-year law school curriculum. We hoped that by introducing law students to technology and innovation early and often, we would help graduates finally start to close the technology gap.

Ediscovery was our starting point because it is arguably the most developed and integral legal technology out there. Nearly every lawyer must learn how to review and handle digital documents, and technology tools have transformed this process. So this seemed like the best first step.

But then came the hard part. How do you even go about teaching this stuff? The first hurdle was figuring out how to pay for ediscovery software for our students and professors to use. The second was training the professors—some of whom have never even seen ediscovery software in person, much less used it themselves. The third challenge was figuring out how to introduce new law students to this complicated technology, a technology that even lawyers struggle with, and many partners don’t even know how to use.

The pilot group was sensitive to our students’ busy schedules and the huge volume of information they already have to wrangle with in their first year. But we knew these skills were too important to ignore.

Teachable Opportunities with DISCO

Eventually, we found the answer: DISCO, an intuitive but powerful suite of ediscovery tools that is easy to learn and easy to teach. Everything about it is simple and straightforward. As a result, it’s perfect for law students and law professors. No hours of training or special support staff are required. After about thirty minutes of training, even fresh-eyed first-year law students can dive in.

Not only is DISCO so easy to use that our pilot group of professors believed we could teach it to new students, but the company that created it also turned out to be an incredible partner, committed to educating our next generation of lawyers. It agreed to help teach the basics of ediscovery and donated the use of its software and support to our pilot group.

With DISCO’s help, we built out two ediscovery curriculums for first-year coursework. First, we designed a short, two-hour program that is a completely self-contained ediscovery primer for law professors who want to bring technology into their classrooms but lack the time or ability to teach a more robust series of activities. This ediscovery primer introduces law students to the basics of document review: collecting documents, processing them, and reviewing them—the most common skills practicing lawyers need. It also includes simple demonstrations of ediscovery in action, with the professor working with the class to conduct document searches, tag documents, and walk through simple activities that emulate how an attorney might use ediscovery software in practice.

Our second curriculum enables professors to incorporate ediscovery on a larger scale. After the primer on documents and ediscovery, the professors upload documents relevant to an in-class writing exercise onto the DISCO platform, which is as easy as dragging and dropping. Several irrelevant documents are also uploaded as well as privileged samples. This creates a set of documents that simulate what a document collection might look like in a real case.

The students are then given access to the platform and the chance to conduct their own document review. They tag and collect supporting documents to use in their legal writing exercise. In other words, the students get to experience ediscovery firsthand. They learn about all the ways that DISCO and similar tools can help them sift through documents, identify privileged material, and analyze facts to support litigation.

Students and Professors Enthusiastically Embrace Technology

Both of our pilot programs were a huge success. We’ve had over 200 law students participate in at least one DISCO class! The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Participating law professors—even those who have never used ediscovery tools—reported having an easy time demonstrating the platform to students. Almost all of our participating law students uniformly loved the introduction to ediscovery technology. Many noted that their peers did not get this exposure and thought it was a big advantage for them heading into the second year and their first legal jobs.

At the end of the semester, students reported feeling better equipped for practice and more excited to explore the ways technology can help them succeed. Over 85% even asked for more technology training to be incorporated into their classes generally. Overall, students love DISCO, and they enjoy learning about legal technology.

With the success of the first phase of the pilot, the project is expanding and the hope is to encourage even more law professors to incorporate DISCO and other technologies into the classroom. Rather than just introduce technology into a single activity during the semester, we plan to incorporate technology into multiple exercises throughout the year.

How do you teach with or about technology in the law school classroom? Share your good ideas at [email protected], and we might just post them. 

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Legal Writing Like an Entrepreneur

By: Professor Joe Regalia

“Tomorrow becomes never. No matter how small the task, take the first step now!”

–Tim Ferriss 

Elon Musk’s work style embodies what every entrepreneur wants to be: ridiculously efficient, meticulously organized, and so productive that everyone around him wonders how he manages it all. He runs multiple mega companies, dozens of projects, and spends several days a week with his five children. And he does it all by taking the same sort of productivity and organizational principles that startups use to build good businesses–and applying them to his own life.

This very silicon valley trend of maximizing personal efficiency works. Musk reportedly schedules his day in five-minute increments, making it impossible for him to waste time. “From the second [Musk’s] head lifts off his bedroom pillow at 7 a.m., his day has already been pre-planned in advance.” And Musk is not an outlier: the best entrepreneurs are famous for bringing efficiency and productivity not just to their businesses, but to their personal habits, too.

Then you have lawyers. We may be the most inefficient, unproductive gang. We seem to take about twice as long to do everything. People literally talk about hiring a lawyer just to delay things.

It’s not just what others think about us: lawyers and law students really struggle with efficiency and productivity. And a lot of it comes down to our writing. I constantly get questions about how to deal with procrastination and the overwhelming feelings that come with putting together briefs and motions. When you step back, it’s easy to understand why. Legal writing is overwhelming. You have to figure out your goals, research tons, research some more, organize your points, write something, edit, scrap things (and maybe start over) when it all doesn’t turn out–and on and on. Then mix in some unreasonable deadlines. Little surprise that legal writing is where many of us have our meltdowns.

But entrepreneurs seem to be able to handle multitasking and deadlines just fine. So what can they teach us here? Continue reading “Legal Writing Like an Entrepreneur”

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