Aspiring law school student with a question

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GoGetIt
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Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby GoGetIt » Wed Nov 17, 2010 3:12 am

T-14 students, what do your law school professors stress in written assignments and in general for that matter. My professor at Princeton University once preached to me that great writing is developed in such a way that every sentence is answering the "why" question to the one preceding it--it's quite difficult to explicate here; he stressed acting as if your reader knows nothing about anything on the paper. In contrast, another professor, who received his masters at Columbia University, insisted that it's not essential to explain everything in a paper as if the reader knows nothing and that great writing consists of this. Both are stating that most professors will agree with them on their respective claims. Which one is true from your experience thus far in law school? They're confusing me.

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skoobily doobily
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby skoobily doobily » Wed Nov 17, 2010 3:38 am

GoGetIt wrote:T-14 students, what do your law school professors stress in written assignments and in general for that matter. My professor at Princeton University once preached to me that great writing is developed in such a way that every sentence is answering the "why" question to the one preceding it--it's quite difficult to explicate here; he stressed acting as if your reader knows nothing about anything on the paper. In contrast, another professor, who received his masters at Columbia University, insisted that it's not essential to explain everything in a paper as if the reader knows nothing and that great writing consists of this. Both are stating that most professors will agree with them on their respective claims. Which one is true from your experience thus far in law school? They're confusing me.


Clarity
Brevity
Accuracy
Comprehensive

that's about it

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kalvano
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby kalvano » Wed Nov 17, 2010 8:21 am

Whatever your undergraduate professors know about writing is wrong when it comes to legal writing.

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TCScrutinizer
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby TCScrutinizer » Wed Nov 17, 2010 8:36 am

GoGetIt wrote:T-14 students, what do your law school professors stress in written assignments and in general for that matter. My professor at Princeton University once preached to me that great writing is developed in such a way that every sentence is answering the "why" question to the one preceding it--it's quite difficult to explicate here; he stressed acting as if your reader knows nothing about anything on the paper. In contrast, another professor, who received his masters at Columbia University, insisted that it's not essential to explain everything in a paper as if the reader knows nothing and that great writing consists of this. Both are stating that most professors will agree with them on their respective claims. Which one is true from your experience thus far in law school? They're confusing me.


Whereas in undergrad you're writing for a "bright but uninformed reader", in legal writing you're writing for a "knowledgeable but time-strapped" reader. One of my professors has put it this way: he doesn't need to be walked through the first principles, but you do have to show by your layout and analysis that you understand how the first principles work and how they apply to the case at hand.

Probably the most important thing about law school is being able to quickly and correctly parse useful and non-useful information, and then connecting the dots between the relevant information without leaving any gaping logical holes.

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king3780
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby king3780 » Wed Nov 17, 2010 8:39 am

kalvano wrote:Whatever your undergraduate professors know about writing is wrong when it comes to legal writing.

+1. Quick anecdote: I have a classmate who got a 3.9 in his master's English program at a respectable public university and has spent the past four years teaching writing at his undergrad. As a night law student, he got a B- (on a B curve) in Legal Writing. They're very different styles of writing.

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Big Shrimpin
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby Big Shrimpin » Wed Nov 17, 2010 9:27 am

kalvano wrote:Whatever your undergraduate professors know about writing is wrong when it comes to legal writing.


This.

I was an engineer in UG, so at the beginning of 1L I felt like I had to flower-up my language and complicate my sentence structure to get on par with all the english/etc...majors in LS. On my first assignment for legal writing, I got a really shitty grade. Distraught and confused, I visited my professor to see what went wrong. The first thing she asked me was whether I was an engineer in UG (probably remembered that fact from some stupid 'icebreaker' activity we did during class...because there were only like 12 ppl in the class). I said that I was. She then asked, "why don't you write like one?"

So I did. And scored As in both fall and spring LRW. As some poster above mentioned, the keys are brevity, conciseness, and simplified sentences. The idea is that someday, you'll have to write for a really busy, overworked partner or judge that has no time to appreciate your special mastery of the English language.

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TCScrutinizer
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby TCScrutinizer » Wed Nov 17, 2010 11:56 am

Big Shrimpin wrote:
kalvano wrote:Whatever your undergraduate professors know about writing is wrong when it comes to legal writing.


This.

I was an engineer in UG, so at the beginning of 1L I felt like I had to flower-up my language and complicate my sentence structure to get on par with all the english/etc...majors in LS. On my first assignment for legal writing, I got a really shitty grade. Distraught and confused, I visited my professor to see what went wrong. The first thing she asked me was whether I was an engineer in UG (probably remembered that fact from some stupid 'icebreaker' activity we did during class...because there were only like 12 ppl in the class). I said that I was. She then asked, "why don't you write like one?"

So I did. And scored As in both fall and spring LRW. As some poster above mentioned, the keys are brevity, conciseness, and simplified sentences. The idea is that someday, you'll have to write for a really busy, overworked partner or judge that has no time to appreciate your special mastery of the English language.


Yeah. No one cares how many synonyms you know. No one cares what your vocabulary is like. That got me into trouble on the first draft of my memo, and I've since corrected it. Mostly.

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JazzOne
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby JazzOne » Wed Nov 17, 2010 12:05 pm

TCScrutinizer wrote:
Big Shrimpin wrote:
kalvano wrote:Whatever your undergraduate professors know about writing is wrong when it comes to legal writing.


This.

I was an engineer in UG, so at the beginning of 1L I felt like I had to flower-up my language and complicate my sentence structure to get on par with all the english/etc...majors in LS. On my first assignment for legal writing, I got a really shitty grade. Distraught and confused, I visited my professor to see what went wrong. The first thing she asked me was whether I was an engineer in UG (probably remembered that fact from some stupid 'icebreaker' activity we did during class...because there were only like 12 ppl in the class). I said that I was. She then asked, "why don't you write like one?"

So I did. And scored As in both fall and spring LRW. As some poster above mentioned, the keys are brevity, conciseness, and simplified sentences. The idea is that someday, you'll have to write for a really busy, overworked partner or judge that has no time to appreciate your special mastery of the English language.


Yeah. No one cares how many synonyms you know. No one cares what your vocabulary is like. That got me into trouble on the first draft of my memo, and I've since corrected it. Mostly.

Synonyms actually weaken legal writing. When a court or a statute uses particular language, it's not ok to use synonyms just for variety. The original language is important, and creativity is not.

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plenipotentiary
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby plenipotentiary » Wed Nov 17, 2010 12:17 pm

JazzOne wrote:Synonyms actually weaken legal writing. When a court or a statute uses particular language, it's not ok to use synonyms just for variety. The original language is important, and creativity is not.


This is really good to know! Thank you.

spondee
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby spondee » Wed Nov 17, 2010 1:11 pm

GoGetIt wrote:T-14 students, what do your law school professors stress in written assignments and in general for that matter. My professor at Princeton University once preached to me that great writing is developed in such a way that every sentence is answering the "why" question to the one preceding it--it's quite difficult to explicate here; he stressed acting as if your reader knows nothing about anything on the paper. In contrast, another professor, who received his masters at Columbia University, insisted that it's not essential to explain everything in a paper as if the reader knows nothing and that great writing consists of this. Both are stating that most professors will agree with them on their respective claims. Which one is true from your experience thus far in law school? They're confusing me.


Your first professor's method is a way of thinking about writing that fosters clarity. It's a good skill-building exercise, but it's an obviously fallacious rule: your audience isn't always dumb.

Writing is information -> audience. Good writing does this most effectively by fitting the style to the information and to the audience.

In legal writing, the core information is usually some form of line drawing, and the audience is other (educated) lawyers. So the best style is clear, concise, and exact.

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JazzOne
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby JazzOne » Wed Nov 17, 2010 1:14 pm

Nice avatar OP. There is a Ferrari dealership about half a mile from my house, and I drive by there frequently. I haven't built up the nerve to walk in there yet. I know it's no big deal, but I just think the salesmen must get annoyed when tools walk in who have no chance of ever buying a Ferrari.

spondee
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby spondee » Wed Nov 17, 2010 1:18 pm

.
Last edited by spondee on Wed Nov 17, 2010 2:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Blindmelon
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby Blindmelon » Wed Nov 17, 2010 2:18 pm

GoGetIt wrote:T-14 students, what do your law school professors stress in written assignments and in general for that matter. My professor at Princeton University once preached to me that great writing is developed in such a way that every sentence is answering the "why" question to the one preceding it--it's quite difficult to explicate here; he stressed acting as if your reader knows nothing about anything on the paper. In contrast, another professor, who received his masters at Columbia University, insisted that it's not essential to explain everything in a paper as if the reader knows nothing and that great writing consists of this. Both are stating that most professors will agree with them on their respective claims. Which one is true from your experience thus far in law school? They're confusing me.


Well my professor at Harvard University thinks your professor at Princeton University doesn't know anything.

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Pizon
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby Pizon » Wed Nov 17, 2010 2:29 pm

I also took engineering in college, but because engineers are notoriously bad writers (we were taught that most engineers think too scientifically to communicate effectively) our papers were graded for style by an English professor. She liked my writing and "complex structure" so much that she asked me to resubmit a paper to be used as a sample for her next class.

In law school, this did not work in my favor. My first memo had sentences like "That the defendant admitted he withheld plans seems like a trick or device." When I saw the professor, he asked me to recount my argument to him in plain conversation. I did, and he responded: "See what you did there? You don't start sentences with 'That the defendant...' when you speak. You say, 'The defendant admitted he withheld plans. That seems like a trick or device.' Write like that."

Basically, use short and choppy sentences that serve functional purposes. Don't try to be a "good writer" in the classical sense of the term.

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worldtraveler
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby worldtraveler » Wed Nov 17, 2010 6:29 pm

Good think you told us it's a Princeton professor.

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Mike12188
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby Mike12188 » Wed Nov 17, 2010 6:37 pm

JazzOne wrote:Nice avatar OP. There is a Ferrari dealership about half a mile from my house, and I drive by there frequently. I haven't built up the nerve to walk in there yet. I know it's no big deal, but I just think the salesmen must get annoyed when tools walk in who have no chance of ever buying a Ferrari.


My friend went into the one by me with his fathers AMEX black card (His father owns a pretty good business and they have the same name) and convinced the sales person to let him test drive one, I was shocked it worked. He tried it again a couple months later and they told him to GTFO :lol:

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Veyron
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby Veyron » Wed Nov 17, 2010 6:43 pm

GoGetIt wrote:T-14 students, what do your law school professors stress in written assignments and in general for that matter. My professor at Princeton University once preached to me that great writing is developed in such a way that every sentence is answering the "why" question to the one preceding it--it's quite difficult to explicate here; he stressed acting as if your reader knows nothing about anything on the paper. In contrast, another professor, who received his masters at Columbia University, insisted that it's not essential to explain everything in a paper as if the reader knows nothing and that great writing consists of this. Both are stating that most professors will agree with them on their respective claims. Which one is true from your experience thus far in law school? They're confusing me.


We don't have graded written assignments at my T-14, just exams.

Read Orwell's essay "Politics and the English language", its rules for good writing are directly applicable to legal writing - nothing else that you may have learned is.

The 5 rules:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent (yes, even law professors hate unnecessary legal jargon, obviously you still have to say stuff like Res Ipsa and shit).

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twert
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby twert » Wed Nov 17, 2010 6:57 pm

Good legal writing is clear, economical and structured to meet the reader's expectations. Non-legal writing is the exact same thing. It annoys me when people think there is some great gulf between the two. Most people, professors included, are bad writers in all contexts.

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Veyron
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby Veyron » Wed Nov 17, 2010 7:44 pm

twert wrote:Good legal writing is clear, economical and structured to meet the reader's expectations. Non-legal writing is the exact same thing. It annoys me when people think there is some great gulf between the two. Most people, professors included, are bad writers in all contexts.


This. The sheer number of "not-un" constructions in the cases we read makes me want to punch a kitten.

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20160810
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby 20160810 » Wed Nov 17, 2010 7:47 pm

Just remember: This guy went to Princeton and he only wants to hear from T-14 students.

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twert
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby twert » Wed Nov 17, 2010 7:48 pm

Veyron wrote:
twert wrote:Good legal writing is clear, economical and structured to meet the reader's expectations. Non-legal writing is the exact same thing. It annoys me when people think there is some great gulf between the two. Most people, professors included, are bad writers in all contexts.


This. The sheer number of "not-un" constructions in the cases we read makes me want to punch a kitten.

the not unsmall dog chased the not unsmall rabbit across the not ungreen field. :D

love Orwell

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TCScrutinizer
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby TCScrutinizer » Wed Nov 17, 2010 9:08 pm

SBL wrote:Just remember: This guy went to Princeton and he only wants to hear from T-14 students.


--ImageRemoved--

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chicagolaw2013
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby chicagolaw2013 » Wed Nov 17, 2010 9:28 pm

TCScrutinizer wrote:
SBL wrote:Just remember: This guy went to Princeton and he only wants to hear from T-14 students.


--ImageRemoved--


Best meme I've seen in a while.

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Veyron
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby Veyron » Wed Nov 17, 2010 9:32 pm

GoGetIt wrote:T-14 students, what do your law school professors stress in written assignments and in general for that matter. My professor at Princeton University once preached to me that great writing is developed in such a way that every sentence is answering the "why" question to the one preceding it--it's quite difficult to explicate here; he stressed acting as if your reader knows nothing about anything on the paper. In contrast, another professor, who received his masters at Columbia University, insisted that it's not essential to explain everything in a paper as if the reader knows nothing and that great writing consists of this. Both are stating that most professors will agree with them on their respective claims. Which one is true from your experience thus far in law school? They're confusing me.


P.S. I can't believe that someone who writes this poorly goes to Princeton. Well, maybe some bullshit LA masters programs that they have, but not "real" Princeton.

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underdawg
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Re: Aspiring law school student with a question

Postby underdawg » Wed Nov 17, 2010 11:08 pm

Veyron wrote:
twert wrote:Good legal writing is clear, economical and structured to meet the reader's expectations. Non-legal writing is the exact same thing. It annoys me when people think there is some great gulf between the two. Most people, professors included, are bad writers in all contexts.


This. The sheer number of "not-un" constructions in the cases we read makes me want to punch a kitten.

while annoying, using "not-un" is not exactly the same as not using anything at all. it might show that the judge isn't really entirely sure of himself

many professors do write shitty tho, especially the ones who obviously just like to hear themselves talk (read themselves write?). judges that make things unclear just to make jokes get on my nerves too




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