Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

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Geist13
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Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby Geist13 » Sat Jun 30, 2012 10:49 pm

So I'm in the middle of grading the submissions for next years group of law review hopefuls. I have a couple suggestions that next years 1Ls may appreciate.

1) Pick an original, nuanced topic. Seriously guys, you don't know how terrible it is to read the same thing and the same arguments written in different ways over and over and over. I cannot help but perk up when someone writes something different that is a little non-obvious. EVERYONE writes basically about the same thing, so if you can differentiate yourself a little bit, it goes a long way. There's no question that the handful I have read that have gone in unique directions get much more benefit of the doubt than everyone else.

2) My fucking god. Follow the organizational structure that the board members give you in your instructions. WE have to read so many of these fuckers that graders become lazy readers. Following the expected organizational structure allows them to see what they expect to see in the right place. It only helps you. After doing this for 8 hours, if a paper doesn't follow the instructed organization, they are basically not getting on law review. It lets me dispense with their submission easily and with less thought.

3) Spend time on the writing. When I wrote on for law review, I spent most of my time making sure that every citation was perfect. I figured there's an objective component to the paper which I can use to my advantage if I do it really well. WRONG. As a grader, I'm paying very little attention to your technical blue booking skills. I look through it and all, but I'm not checking every citation. I'm just looking for errors that stand out.

4) Write well. If you write really well, you're going to stand a decent chance. Its the only thing I can really focus on and judge without having to spend too much time on details. If it reads well, you'll be in good shape from the graders perspective.

5) DO NOT MISSTATE THE LAW. You may not be able to avoid this because you may have limited materials. I understand that, but if I read something that I know is wrong you're done for, even if its not something you should know (i.e. its something that would have been outside your assigned materials). So to avoid that, don't make any statements you can't support with authority in your packet. That should be a given, but seriously, some people like to just shoot from the hip. Again, it just gives me an easy way to grade you down without having to read your entire submission.

That's it for now. Others may feel free to chip in.

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ph14
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby ph14 » Sat Jun 30, 2012 11:06 pm

What school do you go to and what is the write on format (i.e. Case comment, etc.)?

Geist13
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby Geist13 » Sat Jun 30, 2012 11:21 pm

ph14 wrote:What school do you go to and what is the write on format (i.e. Case comment, etc.)?


Format is case comment. Write on participants get a huge packet (usually 400ish pages I think) and that's all the material they are allowed to use. The case is always on a recent circuit decision that's been granted cert. for the following year. Usually its something kind of sexy that people like to talk about (first amendment, crim pro stuff like that). The packet is a mix of the main case, precedent, legislative materials, law review articles, and random secondary sources (anything goes, from professor blogs, to newspaper articles, to random internet comments). Everyone has to write on the case, and use only these materials.

So when I talk about picking a topic, I mean within the range of possibilities of the main case. Almost every submission picks out the one MAJOR issue and argues that it was incorrect or correct according to precedent. That's a terrible way to do it simply because that's what everyone else does. A better way is to really think about the holding and what it implicates and what it means. Are there any detailed factual or logical implications that you can pick up on which you can use as a theme to discuss why the holding was correct/incorrect? Really think hard about it. And then don't just write about your random thoughts. Go through the packet again and read materials with an eye to that specific thing. That way no only is it original, but you're not shooting from the hip, which is the worst thing you can do from the perspective of legal writing.

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ph14
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby ph14 » Sun Jul 01, 2012 12:17 am

Geist13 wrote:
ph14 wrote:What school do you go to and what is the write on format (i.e. Case comment, etc.)?


Format is case comment. Write on participants get a huge packet (usually 400ish pages I think) and that's all the material they are allowed to use. The case is always on a recent circuit decision that's been granted cert. for the following year. Usually its something kind of sexy that people like to talk about (first amendment, crim pro stuff like that). The packet is a mix of the main case, precedent, legislative materials, law review articles, and random secondary sources (anything goes, from professor blogs, to newspaper articles, to random internet comments). Everyone has to write on the case, and use only these materials.

So when I talk about picking a topic, I mean within the range of possibilities of the main case. Almost every submission picks out the one MAJOR issue and argues that it was incorrect or correct according to precedent. That's a terrible way to do it simply because that's what everyone else does. A better way is to really think about the holding and what it implicates and what it means. Are there any detailed factual or logical implications that you can pick up on which you can use as a theme to discuss why the holding was correct/incorrect? Really think hard about it. And then don't just write about your random thoughts. Go through the packet again and read materials with an eye to that specific thing. That way no only is it original, but you're not shooting from the hip, which is the worst thing you can do from the perspective of legal writing.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts. If only I had read this a couple of months ago :).

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drmguy
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby drmguy » Sun Jul 01, 2012 12:52 am

Thanks for this

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Flips88
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby Flips88 » Sun Jul 01, 2012 1:19 am

Our write on gave us two cases that SCOTUS had granted cert that were about the same federal statute. We also got a couple more precedent cases and circuit split cases, law review articles, magazine articles, etc. The prompt was framed as argue what the SCOTUS should decide on Issue 1 and Issue 2. So basically there were four possible sides to pick and I felt like there wasn't that much creativity to be had. I guess your reasoning is where you would try to stand out. Seems like the more open ended write on prompts allow for more creativity in making an argument.

Geist13
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby Geist13 » Sun Jul 01, 2012 2:28 am

Flips88 wrote:Our write on gave us two cases that SCOTUS had granted cert that were about the same federal statute. We also got a couple more precedent cases and circuit split cases, law review articles, magazine articles, etc. The prompt was framed as argue what the SCOTUS should decide on Issue 1 and Issue 2. So basically there were four possible sides to pick and I felt like there wasn't that much creativity to be had. I guess your reasoning is where you would try to stand out. Seems like the more open ended write on prompts allow for more creativity in making an argument.


Yeah we don't have a particular prompt. The write on instructions specifically state that you are allowed to write anything about the case; it just has to be about the case. But writing about the holding does not mean you can't be original. Think about the holding; are there any unstated, or unintended aspects to it that are worth making more explicit? Then you can analyze those unstated assumptions or implications against how the court has gone in the past. Your still arguing it departs from precedent, but you're doing it in a more subtle way, that departs from just whats on the face of the holding. Not only does the content of this type of thoughtfulness differentiate your submission from everyone else's but it will show you are a thoughtful person, which is exactly the type of person I want to be working with next year. I'm mostly advocating going beyond what's just on the face of a the case, think deeper about it, and then look for support for what you're saying in your materials. It'll be there. That's what I did when I wrote on, and it's clearly the better way to approach it, having gone through the grading process.

Going into my write on, so many people told me, play it safe, just don't mess up. I think that's false. Go out on a limb, be original, that's whats going to get you in. But you need to do it in a way that is well supported, clear, and well written.

shock259
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby shock259 » Sun Jul 01, 2012 3:34 am

Pretty sure I'm mostly fucked. But I'm sure future generations will appreciate this wisdom.

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howell
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby howell » Sun Jul 01, 2012 12:11 pm

When I graded writing submissions, most students could have greatly increased their scores through very simple, relatively easy changes along the lines of what OP mentioned. Writing was the biggest issue. I'm not talking about crafting brilliant prose; I'm talking about being able to get through a sentence without an egregious spelling, grammar, or punctuation error. Every error I see pisses me off and lowers my opinion of your effort and/or intelligence. If I could spend 30 minutes with your submission and get rid of over 90% of the errors, either you spent no time on the detail work or you are incapable of writing at a high school level. When I then try to read your legal analysis, everything is colored by that perception.

Organization can also completely torpedo your submission. If we ask for background, analysis, and proposal sections, and I don't see a clearly labeled analysis section, I am not going to parse through your writing to determine whether each sentence should be graded under the analysis or proposal section. In all likelihood, I will murder you on your analysis score, and that 20% or whatever of your score just went mostly out the door.

No one is looking for brilliant legal thinking. In fact, it might be difficult to come up with anything significantly different from your competitors based on the packet and the directions. Very few points were settled based on the amazingness of the proposal; most of the differences in scores were based on things that could be fixed through hard work - writing, bluebooking, organization, etc.

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JusticeHarlan
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby JusticeHarlan » Sun Jul 01, 2012 12:42 pm

howell wrote:When I graded writing submissions, most students could have greatly increased their scores through very simple, relatively easy changes along the lines of what OP mentioned. Writing was the biggest issue. I'm not talking about crafting brilliant prose; I'm talking about being able to get through a sentence without an egregious spelling, grammar, or punctuation error. Every error I see pisses me off and lowers my opinion of your effort and/or intelligence. If I could spend 30 minutes with your submission and get rid of over 90% of the errors, either you spent no time on the detail work or you are incapable of writing at a high school level. When I then try to read your legal analysis, everything is colored by that perception.

Organization can also completely torpedo your submission. If we ask for background, analysis, and proposal sections, and I don't see a clearly labeled analysis section, I am not going to parse through your writing to determine whether each sentence should be graded under the analysis or proposal section. In all likelihood, I will murder you on your analysis score, and that 20% or whatever of your score just went mostly out the door.

No one is looking for brilliant legal thinking. In fact, it might be difficult to come up with anything significantly different from your competitors based on the packet and the directions. Very few points were settled based on the amazingness of the proposal; most of the differences in scores were based on things that could be fixed through hard work - writing, bluebooking, organization, etc.

While the end product for this writing competition seems very different from the memo required for the writing competition I've been grading, this is spot on. Good writing and a good organizational structure with clear headings are the two easiest way to gain points, or lose them if you're sloppy. Most people do a pretty good job with the legal part. Just write well and let me know what you're saying in each section.

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Gamecubesupreme
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby Gamecubesupreme » Wed Jul 04, 2012 5:12 am

Would it be okay if I send a copy of my LR write on to one of you LR graders and see if my spelling/grammar/organization is considered okay?

My competition has been over for over a month, but I'm actually not sure if this is allowed or not.

If it is, shoot me a PM and I will send you my write-on piece.

My confidence in it is decreasingly rapidly every day.

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sundance95
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby sundance95 » Wed Jul 04, 2012 5:44 am

Gamecubesupreme wrote:Would it be okay if I send a copy of my LR write on to one of you LR graders and see if my spelling/grammar/organization is considered okay?

My competition has been over for over a month, but I'm actually not sure if this is allowed or not.

If it is, shoot me a PM and I will send you my write-on piece.

My confidence in it is decreasingly rapidly every day.

This is a terrible, terrible idea. Why would you want to torture yourself like this?

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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby ajaxconstructions » Wed Jul 04, 2012 6:32 am

Gamecubesupreme wrote:Would it be okay if I send a copy of my LR write on to one of you LR graders and see if my spelling/grammar/organization is considered okay?

My competition has been over for over a month, but I'm actually not sure if this is allowed or not.

If it is, shoot me a PM and I will send you my write-on piece.

My confidence in it is decreasingly rapidly every day.


STRIVER spotted

Geist13
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby Geist13 » Wed Jul 04, 2012 5:23 pm

Gamecubesupreme wrote:Would it be okay if I send a copy of my LR write on to one of you LR graders and see if my spelling/grammar/organization is considered okay?

My competition has been over for over a month, but I'm actually not sure if this is allowed or not.

If it is, shoot me a PM and I will send you my write-on piece.

My confidence in it is decreasingly rapidly every day.


Don't due this dude. A) its silly. Just forget about it. If someone was to find some glaring errors, you'd go crazy with worry. If they said it was the best thing they've ever read, you'd be in the same exact position you are now; just waiting to find out. Only bad things can come from it. B) It's very possibly a violation of the rules. I have no idea of the official rules at my school. But if I heard about a write-on applicant doing it, my initial reaction would be "that's probably not allowed." I mean you're releasing information about a pretty tightly guarded process. Here, only a handful of 3Ls are even told what the topic of the write-on is before the submission actually come in. Yes, the write on is over, but it still seems pretty sensitive. Since there is no upside (see above) and since you are maybe putting yourself at risk for breaking the rules (or putting yourself at risk of appearing to break the rules, which is not good), I suggest you do not send your submission out to anyone.

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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby Reprisal » Thu Jul 05, 2012 6:12 pm

good thread, OP


My #1 distinguisher when grading write-on submissions was a fiery, well supported conclusion. People who took a stand, whether staid or extreme, and then backed it up with conviction and gusto got massive boosts from me.

Strong conclusions take bravery, and I rewarded it. Many times I could tell just by the conclusion how well written the rest of the paper was, because it's almost impossible to have a good conclusion without also having good history, analysis, and writing.

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Perseus_I
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby Perseus_I » Thu Jul 05, 2012 6:21 pm

I wish I had read this advice about creative approaches before the write-on submission.

While I chose a topic that many other people likely chose, I took a strong stand on it and came at it from a perspective that few others likely took. (I'm the guy whose essay on the dissent in Citizens United basically tried to create the realist support for the majority's famously unexplained formalist reasoning). I think my arguments for this are creative based on the materials assigned (most professors of which I'm aware did not cover Citizens United at all in class), but the way I framed my topic is anything but creative. Law school beat out most of my former creativity.

I hope this is sufficient, but I am not optimistic. I am sure others picked far more obscure topics and used a lot more brainpower to make more intelligent points.

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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby nymario » Fri Jul 06, 2012 8:06 am

I want to weigh in here as a designer and grader of the bluebooking portion of our Writing Competition.

First off the bad news: You're all terrible at it.

Now the good news: Even those of us who are "good" at it now were terrible a year ago, and those of us who tried got better fairly fast. And we're still learning. So being terrible is ok. For now.

The one thing that nearly everybody wasted copious amounts of time on was stylistic editing. The piece we chose wasn't the best in terms of usage and readability -- in fact that was a feature when we chose it. Some of you did heroic jobs trying to make it sound better. The author extends his appreciation for the advice. However, for that hard work, you receive no credit.

Instead, you receive credit on the bluebooking portion of the writing competition for: Bluebooking. Over 90% of the errors could be solved by using the Bluebook. *Occasionally* we'll change an "its" to an "it's" in above the line text just to catch people napping, but this is a bluebook test. You could ignore everything above the line and get a better score than every single person who took my test (353 students) even if you missed a half dozen or more below the line errors. Show off your command of the English language in your comment. For our test, you should be looking for citation sentences, order of authorities, proper citation format for the source, typeface, quotations.

Yes, we (un)italicize commas to mess with you. It sucks.

About quotations: we made small errors in numerous quotations -- that's what you have to fix in text. Make sure the source material matches the excerpt. And omissions and alterations. We're dicks about that too.

Large and small caps hide our trickery extremely well. it's hard to tell if it says it or It -- in or In. By the way, "It" is correct and "in" is correct (if it's not starting the sentence). When buried in large and small caps, that's one that 1% of students got right.

I'd be happy to answer specific questions (though not specific to this actual test if you're from my school). But I want to close this tl;dr with why I think this nonsense is important:

This nonsense is important because being able to pay attention to tiny details that ultimately may affect absolutely nothing for seemingly no purpose is EXACTLY WHAT BIGLAW FIRMS WANT IN THEIR ASSOCIATES. By being good at this BS, you're signalling to the law firms and judges out there that you want to work for that you will put up with their BS as well. Congrats.

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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby target » Fri Jul 06, 2012 7:23 pm

do you italicize period to trick student too? :mrgreen:

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TTH
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby TTH » Mon Jul 09, 2012 11:36 am

This is a good thread and someone should take this and make an article about it for the main TLS page.

Here are my thoughts after grading write-ons. They cover a lot of the same ground already mentioned, but they're worth stressing.

1. Organization. I was surprised by how many of the submissions I graded had piss poor organization. We're talking English 101/102 stuff. Write an introduction paragraph that sets up a thesis statement that comes in either the first or second paragraph. Then give me a roadmap so I know what to expect for the rest of the essay and stick to it. Use headings and make those headings persuasive or at least reflective of the argument you're going to make in a given section (and every sub-section should be argumentative. This is an article, not a brief, don't do a facts section).

example wrote:The Individual Mandate Is a Constitutional Exercise of the Power to Regulate Interstate Commerce.

NOT: Commerce Clause Issues


Also, use topic sentences, then make sure the topic sentence is paid off in that paragraph.

This may seem like simple, undergrad stuff, but I was stunned by how badly people did with this. Even if a Journal's rubric doesn't award a lot of points to organization, it may be hard to find other points (i.e. for legal analysis or quality of argument), if we can't find that stuff due to shitty organization.

2. Grammar, Usage, and Spelling. These should be perfect. I'm pretty forgiving for bluebooking since first-year legal writing tends to teach how to bluebook as a practitioner, not for a journal. However, when I see bad spelling, punctuation, or word usage, my opinion of the essay plummets. It doesn't even reflect stupidity, just plain laziness. When I see you screwed something up like this, it says to me you either: (1) couldn't be bothered to proofread; (2) managed your time so poorly you didn't have time to proofread. Given that the whole point of law review is to finely review really bad writing with a pedantic level of detail, demonstrating an inability to turn in technically sound writing is a death knell where I'm concerned.

Note: I suppose the quality of your analysis should be good and I know Journals stress that, but I don't think many of the actual graders care too much about it. As a Managing Editor, I don't give a shit about your eventual note/comment. But I'm very concerned with making sure I don't have to double check your editing work to make sure it's right and we're advancing the article the way we should.

3. Keep It Simple, Stupid. I lose patience really quickly when I'm reading a submission that has large, unwieldy sentence constructions, too much passive voice, and where the author went to town with their thesaurus. As a general rule, the quicker I get through your paper at a high level of comprehension, the more I'm going to like it. You're not going to impress anyone with overly ornate prose or vocabulary. Write for someone who has to read 150 pages of essays just like yours.

4. Don't Equivocate. While I'm not super concerned with the quality of your argument (and in that I admit I may be in the minority of graders, but I doubt it), I get annoyed when the essay is chickenshit about taking a side. If you're arguing that Party A is liable for tort B, say it. Don't tiptoe around it saying stuff like, "Defendant's conduct seems to violate the Bird Law Act of 1933." Make sure when you're discussing/explaining authority, you're doing it in a way that supports your position. Don't just summarize authority. When you're drafting, keep in mind that it's disastrous for your submission if the grader forgets what side you're taking.

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gaud
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby gaud » Mon Jul 09, 2012 11:38 am

drmguy wrote:Thanks for this

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howell
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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby howell » Mon Jul 09, 2012 12:15 pm

TTH wrote:3. Keep It Simple, Stupid. I lose patience really quickly when I'm reading a submission that has large, unwieldy sentence constructions, too much passive voice, and where the author went to town with their thesaurus. As a general rule, the quicker I get through your paper at a high level of comprehension, the more I'm going to like it. You're not going to impress anyone with overly ornate prose or vocabulary. Write for someone who has to read 150 pages of essays just like yours.


Great point. I saw it a little more in the notes we had to grade for publication consideration, but it was a quick way to lose points in the write-on competition too.

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Re: Tips for LR hopefuls, after grading writing submissions

Postby Green Crayons » Mon Jul 09, 2012 9:27 pm

My experience: being on the first round of grading the writing portion. So many bad writers. I now know why it takes professors forever to grade exams.

Pointers:

Use headings. Bonus points if your headings actually convey a point.

Use short sentences. Use paragraph breaks.

Tell me what you're going to say before you say it. Then say it in short sentences.

Make a point. Have an argument. Bonus points if it is not the same point that everyone is going to make. I don't care what it is. If your entire submission can boil down to "a thing happened," you just wasted everyone's time.

You aren't citing nearly enough.




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