Friday, October 18, 2013

Cultivating Focus

Although their target audience is teachers of younger students, these short video clips are certainly applicable to law students!

Daniel Goldman, author of Emotional Intelligence, talks about the importance of cultivating focus in the classroom. I really like what he says about the emotional atmosphere of a classroom and how distraction is the new normal. For international students, creating a good learning atmosphere and limiting distractions seem to me to be especially important.

Daniel Goleman on the Importance of Cultivating Focus 

  1. Daniel Goleman: The Emotional Atmosphere of a Classroom Matters (1:10)
  2. Daniel Goleman: Three Kinds of Focus (1:33)
  3. Daniel Goleman: Distraction is the New Normal (1:24)
  4. Daniel Goleman: Breathing Buddies (1:48)
  5. Daniel Goleman: Attention is Like a Muscle (1:16)
  6. Daniel Goleman: The Importance of Downtime (1:34)
  7. Daniel Goleman: Parents Teach Focus (1:34)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Law v. Science

I love this quote about the difference between law and the natural sciences. 

"If what we are discussing were a point of law or of the humanities, in which neither true nor false exists, one might trust in subtlety of mind and readiness of tongue and in the greater experience of the writers, and expect him who excelled in those things to make his reasoning most plausible, and one might judge it to be the best. But in the natural sciences, whose conclusions are true and necessary and have nothing to do with human will, one must take care not to place oneself in the defense of error; for here a thousand Demostheneses and a thousand Aristotles would be left in the lurch by every mediocre wit who happened to hit upon the truth for himself."

The quote is from Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems by Galileo Galilei, which was banned by the Catholic Church when it was written because of Galileo's expressed view that the sun is the center of the universe. 

Read more about Banned Books Week here

Thursday, September 19, 2013

More Pet Peeves

Since I confessed one of my pet peeves earlier this week, I thought you might be interested in a few others.

For me, the first example, which I've reproduced below, really hits home. I wish I'd saved more of my students' email over the years because I think international students have it doubly hard when trying to hit the right tone with written correspondence. Email can range from being overly formal, using archaic and, therefore, incomprehensible language to trying to fit in to American culture and, thus, reminiscent of the example below, but with the addition of cutesy emoticons.

I'd like to teach a course / write an article on legal correspondence that begins with writing to admissions offices pre-application and goes through the client letter post-hire. But enough of that.

On to Professors' Pet Peeves by Lisa Wade, PhD:

I got this email from a Yale student when I arrived to give a speech. She was responsible for making sure that I was delivered to my hotel and knew where to go the next day:
Omg you’re here! Ahh i need to get my shit together now lol. Jk. Give me a ring when u can/want, my cell is [redacted]. I have class until 1230 but then im free! i will let the teacher she u will be there, shes a darling. Perhaps ill come to the end of the talk and meet you there after. Between the faculty lunch and your talk, we can chat! ill take make sure the rooms are all ready for u. See ya!
To say the least, this did not make me feel confident that my visit would go smoothly.
I will use this poor student to kick off this year’s list of Professors’ Pet Peeves.  I reached out to my network and collected some things that really get on instructors’ nerves.  Here are the results: some of the “don’ts” for how to interact with your professor or teaching assistant.  For what it’s worth, #2 was by far the most common complaint.
1. Don’t use unprofessional correspondence.
Your instructors are not your friends. Correspond with them as if you’re in a workplace, because you are. We’re not saying that you can’t ever write like this, but you do need to demonstrate that you know when such communication is and isn’t appropriate.  You don’t wear pajamas to a job interview, right? Same thing.
Peeves continue here:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Oatmeal on Grammar

One of my pet peeves is the incorrect use of an apostrophe to mean a plural. For example: The defendant's were surprised by the verdict.

Thanks goodness for The Oatmeal Comics! The Oatmeal has an easy to read, easy to understand, funny comic about "How to Use an Apostrophe."

Not only that, The Oatmeal also has a collection of six grammar posters, including, inter alia, "How and Why to Use Whom in a Sentence," "How to Use a Semicolon," and "What It Means When You Say Literally." I ordered the Grammar Pack for my office.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Legal English: Writ of Certiorari

Legal English: Writ of Certiorari

Here's a great new-ish (almost a year old) resource for Legal English from @WashULaw Blog. Once a week, Chelsea Wilson offers learners a legal term and definition, including pronunciation, word origin, and examples. I love the thorough explanations and sentence-level examples provided for each entry so that students can really understand the term.

However, one thing I'll never understand: How DO you pronounce "certiorari"?!

writ of certiorari

Pronunciation: RIHT uhv sir-chee-oh-RAH-ree
Origin: English

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Short Sentence as Gospel Truth

“If you ever have a preposterous statement to make … say it in five words or less, because we’re always used to five-word sentences as being the gospel truth.” 
The five-word sentence as the gospel truth. 
Granted, Mr. Wolfe was being a little cynical, but the truth of what he was saying still applies. Express your most powerful thought in the shortest sentence.
 The Short Sentence as Gospel Truth

Point well-taken. Every semester, a number of my international students run into trouble with long, meandering sentences, where the meaning is far from clear. When I talk to them in person and ask them to explain, they have little trouble explaining what they mean, and, invariably, they use shorter, clearer sentences in spoken discourse.

I'd like my students to trust themselves and their writing in English enough to try a variety of sentence lengths and styles. Now, if every sentence of a legal memo consisted of five words, I might take issue with that as well, but, as the article makes clear, using a short, distinct sentence can add a powerful punch to a legal argument or a fact statement. Without, I hope, sounding too preposterous.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Ancient Roots of Punctuation

With probably more detail than you'd like to know, this interesting New Yorker article talks about the origins of the #hashtag, pilcrow (¶), & ampersand, among others

The Ancient Roots of Punctuation

The article is based on a new book by Keith Houston, 
Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks. Sounds like a book every legal writing teacher should read! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Welcome back!

After a three-month (to the day) summer hiatus, TILS is back. I thank all of you that continue to follow the blog, and my undying gratitude goes to colleagues that have contributed their own work, comments and ideas.

I plan to expand the topics covered on the blog to include sections on the following:

  • legal research
  • tips for students
  • guest posts
  • conference round-up
To that end, I welcome contributions to any new or existing sections, and I would be thrilled to receive guest posts on topics related to teaching international law students.

This is going to be an exciting year, and I look forward to sharing it with you!


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Francis Ford Coppola: On Risk, Money, Craft & Collaboration

I ran across this interview with Francis Ford Coppola and found this part about students developing their own style to be particularly interesting, especially this line: "You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice." Sounds like what I hope for my own students.

Is it important to veer away from the masters to develop one’s own style?
I once found a little excerpt from Balzac. He speaks about a young writer who stole some of his prose. The thing that almost made me weep,  he said, “I was so happy when this young person took from me.” Because that’s what we want. We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice.
And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you. And Balzac said that in his book: It makes me so happy because it makes me immortal because I know that 200 years from now there will be people doing things that somehow I am part of. So the answer to your question is: Don’t worry about whether it’s appropriate to borrow or to take or do something like someone you admire because that’s only the first step and you have to take the first step.
Read the rest of the interview here:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pro Bono Requirements for New Attorneys

In addition to teaching legal writing to our international LL.M. students, I also offer an essay-writing-for-the-bar-exam writing class for foreign-trained lawyers. In fact, it seems that I have become the resident New York bar exam guru, and the latest bar exam issue of note are the pro bono requirements starting in 2015 for every applicant to the New York State Bar Association.

Students from next year's incoming LL.M. class are already asking about the new requirements and if the law school has a program to help international students meet the 50-hour requirement. Although our incoming LL.M. class is usually around 75 students, the number of international students that take and pass the New York bar exam and apply for admission to the New York State Bar Association is quite low. However, this morning I read on that California and New Jersey may follow New York's lead. Further, the ABA has been asked to incorporate a 50-hour pro bono requirement into its law school accreditation standards.

What does all this mean for teaching legal writing to international students? Well, to start, it might mean thinking carefully about what we teach and why. According to an article on,
pro bono offers students a valuable opportunity to acquire specific skills of the profession that include: interviewing clients, analyzing and developing facts, interpreting law and drafting affirmative and responsive pleadings, presenting oral argument, carrying out legal research, interpreting and explaining legal documents, educating the public about the requirements of the law, and understanding the operation of justice system institutions.
While legal writing professors may not be charged with developing all these skills, many of them fall within the purview of the legal writing class. So where do we go from here?

For more information:

New York Courts Pro Bono Bar Admission Requirements:

"Pro Bono Mandate Gains Steam"

"Is the New York 50 Hour Requirement Changing the Future of Law Student Pro Bono?"

H/T Robert Downey

Monday, April 15, 2013

Articles I'm reading now...

Now that the semester is all but over, I anticipate having more time to read. Here are four articles that sound interesting, with application to teaching international students and/or legal writing.

"Procedural Vocabulary in Law Case Reports" by Simon Harris
English for Specific Purposes, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 289-308, 1977.

For student legal readers of English case reports, being able to interpret and evaluate references to other cases is a crucial reading comprehension task. This paper examines features of the text and task in law case reports which are both characteristic and problematic. Using extended extracts from two English appellate case reports, where the discussion centres on other texts, the paper then examines a lexical feature of this genre, which may be of help in classifying and evaluating judicial evaluation of past cases. In conclusion, the paper suggests possible pedagogic applications to the teaching of legal reading.

Don't let the English-isms throw you: "law case reports" are judicial opinions and the "ratio" of a case is the rationale of the decision. More and more I feel that "legal reading" should be an integral part of "legal writing," especially for international students, who usually have much less contextual knowledge of case law than students brought up in the common law system. 

Read more here:

"Are we encouraging patchwriting? Reconsidering the role of the pedagogical context in ESL student writers' transgressive intertextuality" by Ali R. Abasi and Nahal Akbari
English for Specific Purposes, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 267-284, 2008.

This is a topic that is near and dear to me, and this article takes an interesting approach to why students may be patchwriting. The article suggests that the rhetorical context within which we place students - as learners not capable of doing and not expected to do real, professional writing - emphasizes "reproduction of authority over its production." 

From the Abstract:
[T]here is now a consensus that a multiplicity of cognitive and social reasons might be behind students’ transgressive intertextuality, and that it needs to be treated as an issue related to learning rather than ill-intentions. While recent research has increasingly drawn attention to the role of the social in the phenomenon, an issue that has received little attention is the part that the immediate pedagogical context might play in students’ unacceptable appropriative practices. There is evidence to believe that this context does in fact play a role. 
Read more here:

"Application of Multimodal Information Corpus Techniques in Legal English Teaching" by Jingbang Du
International Journal of Law, Language & Discourse, Vol. 2, No. 3, 19-38, 2012.

The article defines "multimodal information processing" as "the processing of information involving more than one mode of communication, i.e., information picked up by human perception through different sensory channels." In other words, as technology becomes ever more present in the classroom, videos, pictures, slides, music, and the like increase the modes of communication available to us. 

From the Introduction:
This paper focuses on the application of the MIC [Multimodal Information Corpus] techniques to legal English teaching in the classroom environment. It introduces and explains some relevant critical concepts, presents the techniques that can be used, discusses the procedures, methods and skills for information processing, and analyzes the principles and problems in teaching legal English. It also discusses assessment of students' ability concerning multimodal information processing.

Read more here: [PDF]

"Legal Writing, the Remix: Plagiarism and Hip Hop Ethics" by Kim D. Chanbonpin
Mercer Law Review, Vol. 63, No. 2, 597-638, 2012.

I had the pleasure of attending Professor Chanbonpin's presentation at the LWI One-Day Conference at Southern University Law Center in December. You may not think that hip hop music and plagiarism in legal writing have much in common, but Chanbonpin makes a strong case for her "attempt to theorize a hip hop ethic and develop its application to the teaching, the academic study, and perhaps eventually, the reform of the law." 

According to Chanbonpin, hip hop music and legal writing rely heavily on the work of others to "build credibility and authority." Both genres also follow an ethic of giving credit to that prior work. Borrowing others' work without giving the appropriate credit is called plagiarism in the academic world; in the hip hop community, it's called "biting." Interesting! 

Read more here:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Etiquette Guidelines for Students Interacting with Instructors

Although the guide says it's for undergrads, law students, especially international law students, could benefit from the advice as well.

"Making social rules and expectations explicit is a big part of contemporary classroom management, and this document is a good starting point for other instructors developing their own syllabi or cataloguing their own expectations."

How To Interact With Your Instructor: A Guide for Undergrads

Friday, April 5, 2013

Summer Legal English Lecturer Positions

From LRWPROF-L: Job Posting

Qatar University College of Law requires several Visiting Legal English Lecturers to teach in its inaugural Legal and Commercial English Summer School, June 16 to July 25, 2013. The positions pay in the $12-15,000 range, and free round-trip airfare, housing and daily transportation are provided.

Applicants should have a law degree and must have a strong legal English teaching background, preferably with the Cambridge University Press text, “International Legal English.” Duties will include provision of four skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing) legal English lessons to designated students, counseling during office hours, assistance and advice to other teachers regarding class planning and teaching methodologies, arrangement and supervision, if necessary, of after-class testing and evaluation, and socializing with and provision of advice to students at once or twice weekly lunch hour after-class functions. Teaching hours will be 10 hours and 50 minutes per week, Sunday to Thursday.

Accommodation is at Ezdan Hotel & Suites Doha, which features a health club, Olympic-size swimming pool, and a free shuttle bus to the nearby City Centre Shopping Mall.

John Haberstroh
Legal English Programme Director
Qatar University College of Law


رؤيتنا: أن تصبح جامعة قطر نموذجا للجامعة الوطنية في المنطقة، تتميز بنوعية التعليم والأبحاث، وبدورها الرائد في التنمية الاقتصادية والاجتماعية.

Our Vision: Qatar University shall be a model national university in the region, recognized for high quality education and research, and for being a leader of economic and social development.

Writing Sample Guidance

As the end of the school year approaches, I have been inundated with recommendation letter requests and requests for advice on preparing writing samples. 

Depending on the purpose for which the writing sample will be used, an assignment from legal writing class may be the best or only piece of writing available to the student. The handout linked below has been floating around the legal writing program here at I.U. Maurer School of Law for some time, and I think it provides clear, concise guidance on turning a writing assignment into a writing sample for a potential employer. I really like the instructions on including a cover page for the writing sample "to give your reader context."

While acknowledgement of the original source is given on the handout, I couldn't find a complete citation to that source. If anyone has more information, please send it along, and please keep the "adapted from" acknowledgement on the handout if you use it. Thanks!

Writing Sample Guidance [PDF]

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

50 Ways to Teach Them Writing

A quick shout-out to my friend and colleague, Maggie Sokolik, for her book Fifty Ways to Teach Them Writing: Tips for ESL/EFL Teachers. The Kindle edition is available for download from Amazon for $.99. Yes, that's right, 99 cents! You can also purchase an online format here

The book recommends a recursive, process approach to writing and includes tips for three categories: pre-writing and planning, writing topics and strategies, and editing and revising. The tips are easily adaptable for any classroom context, and I am happy to see a few listed that I use already - e.g., Reverse Outlining, Listen to Your Writing - and plenty more that I'd like to use in the future - e.g., Write a Proper Email, Writing Thesis Statements. Also included is a link to additional material (worksheets) for classroom use.

Monday, March 25, 2013

New Resources: Two Articles by Donna Bain Butler

I am thrilled to offer two articles from contributor Donna Bain Butler today. First is a study by Professors Bain Butler, Wei, and Zhou on "Cultural Influence in Academic English Writing: An International Perspective," published in InterCom. The study looks at two groups of graduate student writers, Thai and Chinese, and tries to "distinguish between academic cultures" and to "identify the strategies they use for composing academic English assignments and abstracts."

Because of the pervasiveness of English language instruction around the world, it should not be surprising that students come to the United States with preconceived notions of what is academic English writing. In fact, as the study finds, the students' varying cultural backgrounds mean their notions of academic writing and the writing process in English may be quite different from one another.

Link to the article:

The second paper by Professor Bain Butler concerns content-based language teaching (CBLT), such as teaching legal writing to foreign-trained lawyers. "Integrating Content and Language Learning" was submitted to the École de langues at the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) Meeting on English Language Teaching (MELT), August 21, 2012, and published in the proceedings.

In the Discussion section, Bain Butler expands on three general CBLT principles to develop communicative competence: "(1) increasing sources of information; (2) decreasing complexity of concept, text, or task; and (3) increasing interaction." She also discusses giving L2 writers concrete tools to improve their writing process as well as encouraging L2 writers to evaluate their own writing product.

The paper is a must read for anyone teaching content-based courses to non-native English speakers, especially in an academic (legal) writing setting. In addition to the topics mentioned above, Professor Bain Butler touches on cross-cultural literacy and plagiarism, student-centered teaching, and collaboration between disciplines.

Link to the article [PDF]:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Global Legal Skills Conference 2013 in Costa Rica

The 8th Global Legal Skills Conference was held in San Jose, Costa Rica, March 11-13. What a great conference! Presentations included an amazing array of topics, including the following (just to name a few): 

  • The Importance of Teaching International Students to Read Before Teaching Them How to Write
  • Academic Legal Writing
  • Creating Collaborations: Connecting the Law School Writing Center to the International Human Rights Clinic
  • Technology in the Classroom
  • How Gender and Cross-Cultural Communication Can Enhance or Interfere with Global Legal Skills
  • Incorporating Field Trips to Teach the U.S. Legal System
  • International Legal Research
  • Introduction to Law and Legal Education in Costa Rica and Central America

As part of the conference, we had the opportunity to visit the Supreme Court of Costa Rica, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the U.S. Embassy. Some of us also had the opportunity to travel in Costa Rica before or after the conference, which was fantastic and a welcome respite (for me) from the winter weather of the Midwest

My presentation "Patch Writing: Plagiarism or Part of the Writing Process?" discussed the difficulties of paraphrasing from sources, especially for international students, and how to deal with too much borrowing of the original language as part of the writing pedagogy, rather than as a practice to be condemned. I'd be happy to share my presentation PowerPoint and/or sources if anyone is interested. 

I plan to write a longer, more in-depth, post on patch writing in the near future, but until then, Professor Rebecca Moore Howard of Syracuse University provides a nice bibliography on her website:

Saturday, March 2, 2013

New Books for Teaching International Law Students

A couple of books have been published recently that may be of interest to teachers of international law students: 

An American Constitutional History Course for Non American Students

This course provides an overview of the American Constitutional History, and it is aimed to Law students primarily in countries outside of the Anglo-Saxon legal system. The course is organized in seven themes, namely The Colonial Origins of the American Constitutionalism; The Constitutions of the Revolution – 1776-1780; The Process of Federation – 1776-1789; Early Changes to the Constitution; The Civil War and the Reconstruction Era; The Progressive Era and the New Deal; and Civil Rights in the Second Half of the 20th Century. Through this chronological trip, the student should get a comprehensive view of the main characteristics of the American constitutional system and its evolution through time. The process of learning is based, primarily, on the study of legal documents, such as the early Royal Chapters of the colonists or the Constitution and its Amendments, and some landmark opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States.

International Legal English

"A practical course book for speakers of English as a second language" that includes pronunciation, grammar, and listening materials. 

H/T Legal Research Plus

Friday, March 1, 2013

TED Talk: Alan Siegel: Let's simplify legal jargon!

In one of the "In Less Than 6 Minutes" TED Talks, Alan Siegel decries the length and complexity of legal documents and calls for a simple approach in plain English. 

"What are we going to do about it? I define simplicity as a means to achieving clarity,transparency and empathy, building humanity into communications."

It's a short talk, but his message about using plain English and building humanity into legal communication is an important one for our students to hear and understand

Alan Siegel: Let's simplify legal jargon

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New Resource: International Journal of Law, Language & Discourse

In the event you are not aware of it already, I'd like to introduce the International Journal of Law, Language & DiscourseYou will need to register (free) at the site to access most of the articles, but I promise it's worth it. 
The International Journal of Law, Language & Discourse is an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural peer-reviewed scholarly journal, integrating academic areas of law, linguistics, discourse analysis, psychology and sociology, presenting articles related to legal issues, review of cases, comments and opinions on legal cases and serving as a practical resource for lawyers, judges, legislators, applied linguists, discourse analysts and those academics who teach the future legal generations.
In particular, I found Craig Hoffman's article, "Using Discourse Analysis Methodology to Teach 'Legal English,'" to be relevant and quite interesting.  

Professor Hoffman describes a class he developed and teaches in the LL.M. program at Georgetown University Law Center called United States Legal Discourse.  He gives the why and how of developing a new approach to teaching legal writing to international students, including the syllabus for a one-semester course. When designing the course, Professor Hoffman found that international LL.M. students' "unfamiliarity with the English language was much less problematic than their unfamiliarity with our federal common law legal system and the conventions of U.S. Legal Discourse." As a linguist-lawyer, I think this makes a lot of sense. 

Craig Hoffman, Using Discourse Analysis Methodology to Teach “Legal English”Int'l J.L. Lang. & Discourse, Sept. 2011, at 1-19.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Guest Post: Book Review

Donna Bain Butler of American University's Washington College of Law offers her very thorough and well-written book review of Academic Writing and Plagiarism: A Linguistic Analysis by Diane Pecorari. As Professor Bain Butler noted to me in an email, the book "gives insight into plagiarism: a topic not clearly understood, especially when it comes to international LL.M. academic writers."

I appreciate Professor Bain Butler's thoughtful evaluation of the Pecorari text, and I appreciate her bringing the text to my attention, especially the concept of "patchwriting as a stage in the process of acquiring academic literacy." More on this in a later post.

To access the book review, please click on the link below:

Bain Butler, D. (2011). Applied Linguistics; Discourse Analysis. [Review of the book  Academic Writing and Plagiarism: A Linguistic Analysis]. Retrieved May 24, 2011 from LINGUIST List database

Thursday, January 31, 2013


Lawyers are no strangers to acronyms and abbreviations. However, for those of us teaching U.S. legal writing to international students, knowing also a few acronyms related to English language learning couldn't hurt.

Here are a few you might run across:

  • EFL = English as a Foreign Language (studying English in a non-English-speaking country)
  • ESL = English as a Second Language (studying English as a non-native speaker in a country where English is spoken)
  • L1 = "Language 1" = the student's native (primary or first acquired) language
  • L2 = "Language 2" = the language being learned or studied
  • TESOL = Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (also the name of an association, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.)
  • TOEFL = Test of English as a Foreign Language
  • NNS = Non-Native Speaker
  • NS = Native Speaker
  • ESP = English for Specific Purposes / English for Special Purposes
  • EAP = English for Academic Purposes
  • IEP = Intensive English program
For additional examples, see this website:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Taking it down: Notetaking practices of L1 and L2 students

I just came across this article from 1995 by Rosemary Clerehan in English for Specific Purposes. Clerehan studied the notetaking practices of native English speakers (L1) and non-native English speakers (L2) in a Commercial Law lecture in Australia. She mapped the hierarchical discourse structure of the lecture into three levels: level 1 - exposition headings; level 2 - propositions relating to the headings; and level 3 - legal case examples.

After the lecture, the L1 and L2 students' notes were checked to see how many of the hierarchically ordered topics were included and how many were missed. As compared with the L1 students, the L2 group was found to be "at a huge disadvantage, given the fact that they [did] not adequately record 19% of level 1, 43% of level 2 and 43% of level 3 elements."

What does this mean for those of us teaching international students? Well, a previous study looked at the effect of discourse markers on L2 comprehension of lectures and found that the use of "macro" markers, which signal the lecture's direction and sequencing or significance of information, facilitates greater recall. Thus, Clerehan suggests that signalling the overall structure and interrelationships of elements is important for L2 listeners.

She says:

We may infer from the large number of L2 omissions in the current corpus that many L2 students are missing the rhetorical/logical structure of the discourse. The structure serves to develop the legal arguments, based on the underlying rules of law as they emerge from the findings of the courts (levels 1 and 2). The arguments are driven by the relevant material facts of the cases (level 3) [citation omitted]. For these students, once one element of a sequence in the lecture is missed in the notes, whether it be level 1, 2 or 3, frequently the whole sequence is missed.

To me, this suggests an opportunity to help international students take better notes (and possibly comprehend the material more easily) by signaling the discourse structure and interrelationship of principal elements. Whether verbal or visual, signaling techniques should help L2 students follow and get the point of the lecture.

Clerehan, R. (1995). Taking it down: Notetaking practices of L1 and L2 students. English for Specific Purposes, 14, 137-155.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Find and use the best models of legal writing

Students will ask occasionally about what else they can do to improve their legal writing in English. This is not an easy answer because many of my students, while non-native speakers of English, are at a high enough proficiency level that basic language mechanics are not the issue. What they really want is to sound more like native English-speaking lawyers.

My answer usually is to write, write, write and read, read, read. However, it's not always easy to find good models of legal writing to write like or to read and learn from.

This article by Bruce Garner gives some concrete sources of where to find good legal writing models and how to use them as a student and into practice.

Find and use the best models of legal writing

If the link doesn't work because you need a particular journal subscription, here's the MLA citation:

Garner, Bryan A. "Find and use the best models of legal writing." Student Lawyer Mar. 2008: 14+. LegalTrac. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.


I give my students a detailed checklist before every major writing assignment. This semester I'm co-teaching an Academic Legal Writing class, and the first assignment I've given my students, who are working on seminar papers, is to create a timetable, basically a checklist, for the rest of the semester. I think checklists are great, and I'm happy to see I'm not the only one.

Jennifer Murphy Romig has written before on using checklists for legal writing,  Checklists for Powerful, Efficient Legal Writing, and she is currently guest blogging about using checklists for legal writing in the “Project Management for Lawyers” series on Think Like a Lawyer.

The first guest post is called "Checklists for Legal Writing: It's hard to think of a subtitle expressing just how awesome they are." Awesome, indeed! Professor Romig summarizes the theory behind checklists, mentioning The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande, and provides links to examples and resources. 

I look forward to reading the next three posts in the series!

H/T Hollee Temple

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pronouncing Dictionary of the Supreme Court of the United States

Ever feel embarrassed in class because you are not sure you are pronouncing a case name correctly, or do you cringe when you hear someone else pronounce a case name incorrectly? 

Well, the Pronouncing Dictionary of the Supreme Court of the United States, put together by Yale Law School and Yale Linguistics students, is hoping "to help conscientious lawyers, judges, teachers, students, and journalists correctly pronounce often-perplexing case names."

The site includes phonetic pronunciation guides and audio for  Supreme Court cases that are most likely to be mispronounced.

H/T Robert Downey

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Unfortunate Story Exercise

The Unfortunate Story Exercise: Recognizing a Diversity of Student Experience

With limited classroom time, it can be difficult to get to know students personally. I love this idea by Deborah L. Borman as a way to break the ice with international students at the beginning of the semester. Here's the exercise:

"Write a story about something unfortunate that happened to you, explain how you handled it at the time and what, if anything, you would do differently were this event to occur today. This assignment is limited to 250 words. Please be prepared to read your story aloud on the first day of class."

 Professor Borman says that she uses the activity not only to get to know her students, but also for assessment purposes:

"As an initial assessment tool, the Unfortunate Story allows me to evaluate: (1) whether the student can
follow directions, i.e., did he or she follow the word count limit and the details of the assignment? Did he or
she read the written story to the class or just recount an event out of his or her head; (2) the student’s writing skills, i.e., basic grammar, punctuation and sentence formation; (3) the student’s oral communication skills, i.e., whether the student is comfortable speaking aloud, any foreign language diversity issues that may require ESL coaching or other educational attention; and (4) whether the student may require attention for personal or psychological issues, i.e., to identify possible academic performance accommodations and make referrals to the appropriate professionals."

Read the rest of Professor Borman's article here. The article is published in The Law Teacher, the semi-annual newsletter of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Developing Detailed Rubrics

I imagine that most legal writing professors use some kind of rubric when grading students' papers. This study claims that the "consistent use of well-developed rubrics can enhance outcomes for English learners enrolled in writing courses." The article also recommends involving students in the development of the rubric.

I've never had students be part of a rubric's development, but I do give them a "final paper checklist," which I then turn into the rubric for the final paper. I see no benefit in leaving students wondering how they will be graded.

I like that this study looked not only at improved (or not) scores on writing assignments, but also at students' attitudes toward the rubric itself. Considering that the students had a hand in developing the rubric, there shouldn't be many surprises or much dissatisfaction, and that's just what the researchers found.

Developing Detailed Rubrics for Assessing Critique Writing: Impact on EFL University Students’ Performance and Attitudes
TESOL Journal 2.1, March 2011

Monday, January 7, 2013

Conferences and Meetings

Happy New Year!

As the new semester ramps up, I've been looking at avenues for professional development. I think conferences are one of the most valuable ways to learn, share and be inspired as a professional. To that end, I've added a resource section for Conferences and Meetings, with a couple of conferences to start things off. Please feel free to suggest others!

11-13 March 2013 | Global Legal Skills Conference 8 | San Jose, Costa Rica

The program hasn't been posted yet, but registration is open here.

I went to this conference last year and had a great time. While not every session was related to legal writing, all of them had useful methods, activities and theories for teaching international law students.

20-23 March 2013 | TESOL 2013 International Convention & English Language Expo | Dallas, Texas

Although TESOL technically stands for "teachers of English to speakers of other languages," the title is interpreted liberally, and the convention includes sessions for educators teaching students, in various contexts and at all levels, whose mother tongue is not English.

I've chosen a few sessions that I think would be most relevant; you can view my itinerary here [PDF]. Of course, there are many other sessions to choose from.

The Convention website is here.