I made an unforgivable mistake

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OperaSoprano
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I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby OperaSoprano » Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:32 am

...on my long memo. My classmates think my response to this was disproportionate to the harm suffered, and though many of them have similarly low grades, no one is this upset. I don't care if it was only 30% of a 3 credit course; I never want to see a grade like that again.

Here is the substantive problem: I don't trust my own judgment. So far on exams this has worked in my favor, because I exhausted every outcome that was even slightly plausible given the facts, but hedged hardcore when it came to concluding what the court would do. Successful exam taking strategy, at least for the one I have back, but certainly something that needs to be overcome when writing a memo.

Here is the supremely dumb ass thing I did: after concluding all my research, I second guessed the position I had taken, and concluded the available cases favored the other side. Fine; this was a case of first impression, so I was not wrong. However, I had all the cases laid out, and I distinguished the cases that seemed to go the opposite way, before getting to the cases that I thought illustrated the point. It was a serious failure of organization, and my professor said as much.

It was a polished paper (minus the foolish blue booking errors I made) that failed to follow standard form for a legal memo, in large part because I couldn't trust the first judgment I had made, and rewrote the thing entirely in the final 72 hours before it was due. I took very little food during this time, and didn't sleep at all.

If the facts don't clearly favor one side over the other, how do I pick a position and stick with it? If my professor can be taken at face value, I was not wrong, but if I'd trusted my own first instinct, my cases would have been in order and I'd probably have a much higher grade. I also emphasized cases that my professor thought were not the most analogous, because I felt they had the best language to address the central question. Of course I found and discussed the leading cases, just not in the order or manner he expected.

My roommate thought my reaction to his comments was so unreasonable that she put my long memo in the freezer. I retrieved it this morning, but my professor's scathing comments have not been frozen off. I freely admit my own stupidity, but this was especially hard because it was such a drop off from my short memo rewrite. Has this happened to anyone else?

awesomepossum
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby awesomepossum » Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:39 am

If the facts don't clearly favor one side over the other, how do I pick a position and stick with it?



So for a memo, it usually doesn't matter which side you picked. Usually these things are designed to be sort of in the middle. If the answer was easy there wouldn't be much to write.

For the memo as opposed to a persuasive piece it's usually a good idea to have both sides laid out but then write which side you think. I don't think it much matters which side you pick as long as your reasoning is sound and you write out your caveats and perhaps why those caveats don't overcome the side you picked.

For the persuasive piece there's more of puffing up of your side and mitigating of the other side.

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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby awesomepossum » Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:45 am

Just FYI, some things on how to write memos aren't intuitive. Don't worry too much about it and just go with what your prof likes especially for organizational matters like this.

If your prof reviews drafts that's usually something to take advantage of as much as possible.

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reasonable_man
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby reasonable_man » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:00 am

There are many ways to skin a cat (gonna get a lot of shit from the mass-TLS-cat-loving community). People do things differently and they base this largely on what has worked and not worked for them. I work primarily for 3 partners. One loves my presentation style and hardly ever gives me a hard time, despite my style being very different from her own. Another writes the same way I do (and thus he almost always agrees with my style choices). The last is far more brief in his presentation and will often question my choice of style. The best feed-back i might get from him would be, 'this actually isn't terrible, like some of your other stuff, but lets do this and this differently'). That may sound harsh, but during review time, he actually gave me favorable marks.

At the end of the day, no 1L's know how to write a good legal memo. It takes time. When I look back on stuff I wrote as a 1L, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and my face turns red. The process of learning how to become a good legal writer takes a long time. One of my favorite quotes: "[The law] is a jealous mistress, and requires a long and constant courtship. It is not to be won by trifling favors, but by lavish homage." -The Value and Importance of Legal Studies; - Joseph Story, (1779-1845).

As an aside, choosing which side to take becomes very simple at a certain point. Figure out who is paying you and argue in their favor. ;)

Lastly, few mistakes in law school are 'unforgivable,' save pissing on a professor or sleeping with the dean's wife. Neither of which I suspect will come about during your legal education. If it does though, kindly let me know ahead of time so that I can be present for either event ;)
Last edited by reasonable_man on Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:04 am, edited 2 times in total.

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OperaSoprano
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby OperaSoprano » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:01 am

awesomepossum wrote:Just FYI, some things on how to write memos aren't intuitive. Don't worry too much about it and just go with what your prof likes especially for organizational matters like this.

If your prof reviews drafts that's usually something to take advantage of as much as possible.


I'm just now rereading some of the things he said. Not intuitive at all, and the draft reviewing issue was part of the problem; he reviewed drafts for the short memo, but not for this one.

How can I know if I've put the cases in the right order, and focused on the appropriate things? Is it wrong to use an on point quote that isn't part of the holding?

I'm proud of my creative writing ability, but I know it isn't called for here. My professor took a paring knife to my descriptions of events, which were elegant, if not as concise as they apparently should have been.

I'm just frustrated, because I've never worked this hard on something with this little guidance. Intuition fail. (This is not meant literally, but it certainly feels like I failed.)

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reasonable_man
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby reasonable_man » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:07 am

BTW... if this is a final draft and no more grades will be issued, I would be happy to look it over and give you some feedback that is less harsh and more constructive.

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OperaSoprano
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby OperaSoprano » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:20 am

reasonable_man wrote:There are many ways to skin a cat (gonna get a lot of shit from the mass-cat-loving community for that on here). People do things differently and they base this largely on what has worked and not worked for them. I work primarily for 3 partners. One loves my presentation style and hardly ever gives me a hard time, despite my style being very different from her own. Another writes the same way I do (and thus he almost always agrees with my style choices). The last is far more brief in his presentation and will often question my choice of style. The best feed-back i might get from him would be, 'this actually isn't terrible, like some of your other stuff, but lets do this and this differently'). That may sound harsh, but during review time, he actually gave me favorable marks.

At the end of the day, no 1L's know how to write a good legal memo. It takes time. When I look back on stuff I wrote as a 1L, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and my face turns red. The process of learning how to become a good legal writer takes a long time. One of my favorite quotes: "[The law] is a jealous mistress, and requires a long and constant courtship. It is not to be won by trifling favors, but by lavish homage." -The Value and Importance of Legal Studies; - Joseph Story, (1779-1845).

As an aside, choosing which side to take becomes very simple at a certain point. Figure out who is paying you and argue in their favor. ;)

Lastly, few mistakes in law school are 'unforgivable,' save pissing on a professor or sleeping with the dean's wife. Neither of which I suspect will come about during your legal education. If it does though, kindly let me know ahead of time so that I can be present for either event ;)


Oh, RM, his style is very different than mine. He went on about the fact that our memos should be indistinguishable from one another, but that is another challenging area for me. My writing is very obviously my own. If I had made an alt to open this thread, wouldn't you have been able to guess who wrote it? It bothers me that he corrects sentences that are very obviously grammatically correct. When I edit others' work, I make suggestions, but if something is not wrong, I leave it alone.

I know this was not really that bad of a grade, though it is under our median. In point of fact, it's not a final grade; it's not going on my transcript. It just feels horrendously awful not to be making progress on the first unedited (by the professor, anyway) assignment we've been graded on. Do you have any advice on how to improve on memo writing? I'm going to be looking into supplements that specifically address the issue.

EDIT, to reflect your edit: I promise to keep you posted. :P

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OperaSoprano
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby OperaSoprano » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:23 am

reasonable_man wrote:BTW... if this is a final draft and no more grades will be issued, I would be happy to look it over and give you some feedback that is less harsh and more constructive.


Yes, it's a final draft. Over forever, thank god. We have to discuss the same fact pattern in our appellate brief, though. :|

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algren
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby algren » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:29 am

reasonable_man wrote:BTW... if this is a final draft and no more grades will be issued, I would be happy to look it over and give you some feedback that is less harsh and more constructive.


Another reason TLS is awesome. Nice of you to help out RM.

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reasonable_man
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby reasonable_man » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:37 am

OperaSoprano wrote:
reasonable_man wrote:BTW... if this is a final draft and no more grades will be issued, I would be happy to look it over and give you some feedback that is less harsh and more constructive.


Yes, it's a final draft. Over forever, thank god. We have to discuss the same fact pattern in our appellate brief, though. :|



Well let me have a look. I don't think that would violate any of your ethical codes. And I'm a lawyer already, so my morals are all shot, so we're ok on that front ;)

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como
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby como » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:42 am

It is hard to be concise when writing memos. I have had to pare down my writing style a lot.

For organization, it is best to think of the issues in a 'general-to-specific' way. Move from the broad issues, to the sub-issues, to any sub-sub-issues. Everyone is taught legal writing differently, but this is the best way for the reader to deal with the information IMO. If your professor teaches another method, go with that.

Also, it is hard to walk the fine line between equivocating and foolish steadfastness to your position. Once you have the issues worked out in your head, and feel there is the preponderance of authority for a particular side, stick to it. State the conclusion for an issue, the rule, some cases that support the rule, apply your case, state a case that doesn't, why the case that doesn't might be substantially different/inapplicable, repeat conclusion.

Memo-writing was tough for me too.

Good luck on the re-write (if there is one).

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OperaSoprano
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby OperaSoprano » Fri Jan 15, 2010 12:10 pm

betasteve wrote:
OperaSoprano wrote:
reasonable_man wrote:BTW... if this is a final draft and no more grades will be issued, I would be happy to look it over and give you some feedback that is less harsh and more constructive.


Yes, it's a final draft. Over forever, thank god. We have to discuss the same fact pattern in our appellate brief, though. :|

I forgive you. Thus, you made a forgivable mistake. HTH


<3

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OperaSoprano
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby OperaSoprano » Fri Jan 15, 2010 12:13 pm

reasonable_man wrote:
OperaSoprano wrote:
reasonable_man wrote:BTW... if this is a final draft and no more grades will be issued, I would be happy to look it over and give you some feedback that is less harsh and more constructive.


Yes, it's a final draft. Over forever, thank god. We have to discuss the same fact pattern in our appellate brief, though. :|



Well let me have a look. I don't think that would violate any of your ethical codes. And I'm a lawyer already, so my morals are all shot, so we're ok on that front ;)


<3 RM, you are a god. I just need general memo writing advice, though. I love my school and would not violate its policies to save my own life.

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OperaSoprano
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby OperaSoprano » Fri Jan 15, 2010 12:16 pm

como wrote:It is hard to be concise when writing memos. I have had to pare down my writing style a lot.

For organization, it is best to think of the issues in a 'general-to-specific' way. Move from the broad issues, to the sub-issues, to any sub-sub-issues. Everyone is taught legal writing differently, but this is the best way for the reader to deal with the information IMO. If your professor teaches another method, go with that.

Also, it is hard to walk the fine line between equivocating and foolish steadfastness to your position. Once you have the issues worked out in your head, and feel there is the preponderance of authority for a particular side, stick to it. State the conclusion for an issue, the rule, some cases that support the rule, apply your case, state a case that doesn't, why the case that doesn't might be substantially different/inapplicable, repeat conclusion.

Memo-writing was tough for me too.

Good luck on the re-write (if there is one).


I wish we got a re-write! Unfortunately, we do not. We do use the same CRAC method (conclusion, rule, analysis, conclusion), however. My problem is with the conclusions themselves. I'm now so terrified of being wrong that I'd just rather list all the possible ways courts have looked at the issue without concluding anything, but obviously I can't do that.

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como
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby como » Fri Jan 15, 2010 12:27 pm

OperaSoprano wrote:
como wrote:It is hard to be concise when writing memos. I have had to pare down my writing style a lot.

For organization, it is best to think of the issues in a 'general-to-specific' way. Move from the broad issues, to the sub-issues, to any sub-sub-issues. Everyone is taught legal writing differently, but this is the best way for the reader to deal with the information IMO. If your professor teaches another method, go with that.

Also, it is hard to walk the fine line between equivocating and foolish steadfastness to your position. Once you have the issues worked out in your head, and feel there is the preponderance of authority for a particular side, stick to it. State the conclusion for an issue, the rule, some cases that support the rule, apply your case, state a case that doesn't, why the case that doesn't might be substantially different/inapplicable, repeat conclusion.

Memo-writing was tough for me too.

Good luck on the re-write (if there is one).


I wish we got a re-write! Unfortunately, we do not. We do use the same CRAC method (conclusion, rule, analysis, conclusion), however. My problem is with the conclusions themselves. I'm now so terrified of being wrong that I'd just rather list all the possible ways courts have looked at the issue without concluding anything, but obviously I can't do that.


Just remember mandatory/persuasive authority. If it's a case dealing with a fed issue in NY, anything you have in the 2d Cir. would be better than a different district within NY, etc. More recent cases are obviously better than older ones. Sometimes, when districts conflict or circuits split, you're left alone with little support for or against a side. Most LRW profs love stuff like that, because that's where you are forced to read deep, make an informed judgment, and set out your analysis knowing that it's largely up in the air. Hopefully, that will only apply in one or two sub-issues. My last memo had a whole sovereign immunity issue that is treated slightly differently in different NY District courts. The 2d Cir. still hasn't completely reconciled the issue, and it really sucked to sort things out. Hang in there.

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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby kimber1028 » Fri Jan 15, 2010 12:44 pm

I used A Lawyer Writes by Coughlin et al. for my 1st semester of LRW, and I feel like it really lays out the memo writing process well. I came in a fluffy English major and was (somewhat) transformed by the end of the term. I did well in LRW, and I believe that book was a primary reason for my success. It may be worth checking out. Good luck, OS!

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Lawl Shcool
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby Lawl Shcool » Fri Jan 15, 2010 12:59 pm

I had the exact opposite experience in LW this semester. First memo was on the median and the second memo was top of the class. I was having the EXACT same problem with trusting my judgement. I would flip flop back and forth and find obscure quotes in the opinions to support ideas I had. One thing my prof told me during my writing conference that boosted my confidence and allowed me to trust my own judgement was this: "I can tell that you understand the problem and are a good writer, but your research is not sound. It seems like you are letting your own ideas about how the situation should be resolved guide your analysis, do not do this. Do the research and let the research guide your analysis."

After typing that it does not seem overly profound but it was very helpful for me and made me realize that the reason I was flip flopping was because when I read the fact pattern the first few times I formed opinions about which side I thought should win for reasons that were not legally significant. You have to let the research guide your writing.

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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby OperaSoprano » Fri Jan 15, 2010 1:12 pm

JPU wrote:I had the exact opposite experience in LW this semester. First memo was on the median and the second memo was top of the class. I was having the EXACT same problem with trusting my judgement. I would flip flop back and forth and find obscure quotes in the opinions to support ideas I had. One thing my prof told me during my writing conference that boosted my confidence and allowed me to trust my own judgement was this: "I can tell that you understand the problem and are a good writer, but your research is not sound. It seems like you are letting your own ideas about how the situation should be resolved guide your analysis, do not do this. Do the research and let the research guide your analysis."

After typing that it does not seem overly profound but it was very helpful for me and made me realize that the reason I was flip flopping was because when I read the fact pattern the first few times I formed opinions about which side I thought should win for reasons that were not legally significant. You have to let the research guide your writing.


Oh my goodness, this is so spot on. I fail so hard right now. I know I am a decent writer, but I don't think I was objective enough. I definitely wanted one side to be right, and in the back of my mind felt that if I looked hard enough, I would find reasons to justify it. I'm glad I'm getting this out now, because the rest of my work in this class is going to be about 1000% better. It's not like it could be very much worse. (It's not like I failed, or even got a C+, but I still am shaken by it.)

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OperaSoprano
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby OperaSoprano » Fri Jan 15, 2010 1:13 pm

kimber1028 wrote:I used A Lawyer Writes by Coughlin et al. for my 1st semester of LRW, and I feel like it really lays out the memo writing process well. I came in a fluffy English major and was (somewhat) transformed by the end of the term. I did well in LRW, and I believe that book was a primary reason for my success. It may be worth checking out. Good luck, OS!


I will check this out. Thank you!

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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby keg411 » Fri Jan 15, 2010 2:49 pm

I've taken Legal Writing before (not in law school obviously, but it was essentially the same material although probably way basic and not curved), and legal memos are twice as hard for creative writers because you're used to much more stylistic writing rather than minimalistic writing which is a very very difficult habit to break (but you need to force yourself to write as simply as possible and take out every "extra" word). The good news is that legal briefs are much, much more fun and you can use a little more creativity when constructing them.

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OperaSoprano
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby OperaSoprano » Fri Jan 15, 2010 3:15 pm

keg411 wrote:I've taken Legal Writing before (not in law school obviously, but it was essentially the same material although probably way basic and not curved), and legal memos are twice as hard for creative writers because you're used to much more stylistic writing rather than minimalistic writing which is a very very difficult habit to break (but you need to force yourself to write as simply as possible and take out every "extra" word). The good news is that legal briefs are much, much more fun and you can use a little more creativity when constructing them.


Thank god, and thank you for the reassurance. My whole life has been spent honing my creative writing ability, journaling, and writing poetry. This is difficult, but I will master it, because the alternative does not exist.

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thesealocust
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby thesealocust » Fri Jan 15, 2010 4:02 pm

edit: n/m
Last edited by thesealocust on Mon Dec 20, 2010 7:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Cavalier
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby Cavalier » Fri Jan 15, 2010 4:07 pm

I made a huge mistake on my major memo too. Thankfully, my LRW is pass/fail.

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thesealocust
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby thesealocust » Fri Jan 15, 2010 4:31 pm

edit: n/m
Last edited by thesealocust on Mon Dec 20, 2010 7:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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OperaSoprano
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Re: I made an unforgivable mistake

Postby OperaSoprano » Fri Jan 15, 2010 6:35 pm

thesealocust wrote:
Cavalier wrote:I made a huge mistake on my major memo too. Thankfully, my LRW is pass/fail.


Now you're just being a dick :P


LOL, you are all in huge shit whenever I make it down to Charlottesville!

The problem is that I'm so invested in it. My academic performance means everything, and waiting is the hardest thing I've ever done.




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