Post written by Hether Macfarlane.

The most recent article from Ian Gallacher, winner of the 2018 Thomas Blackwell Award, is called My Grandmother Was Mrs. Palsgraf (find it on SSRN). Just as Ian has found a connection between his grandmother and an iconic name from our 1L experience, I propose a connection between Ian’s article and a podcast from RadioLab at WNYC.

Ian’s article focuses on what he sees as the “dehumanization of the 1L experience” and is a plea, among other things, to help students view the plaintiffs and defendants in the cases they read for class as “deserving of our compassion, our empathy, and our respect.” The podcast I recommend, “More Perfect,” presents famous cases in a way that the creators think of as “human, surprising, cinematic.” Most of the episodes consider an important case decided by the Supreme Court by looking at the people involved, not just at the legal issues.  Listening to the podcast, I learned more about the Dred Scott case itself, but also learned about a gathering of Dred Scott’s descendants and the descendants of Justice Taney, who wrote the infamous opinion. I have met the plaintiffs in Craig v. Boren, the case that established the intermediate scrutiny standard, and learned more about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s connection to that case. I have learned about the background to District of Columbia v. Heller and the development of Second Amendment jurisprudence. And that is just part of the second season.

To get back to the connection, like Ian, I always try to get my students to think about the people in the cases we use in my LRW classes and to think about the “clients” they write to and for. I will start recommending More Perfect to them as a way to encourage them to think about the plaintiffs and defendants in the cases they read in my classes and their other classes. Perhaps listening to these podcasts will help my 2Ls who are taking constitutional law understand the various levels of scrutiny in First Amendment cases, a concept that seems to be eluding some of them. More importantly, perhaps the students will begin to think of their future careers as involving clients and opposing parties “deserving of our compassion, our empathy, and our respect.” And, at the least, they will find a way to learn about the law that is itself both informative and entertaining.

If you have not discovered this podcast, I recommend it to you as both fascinating and often enlightening.

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My new podcast has just posted on CAP·impact, the McGeorge  Blog on telling a compelling story. In this In Practice podcast, I discuss how telling a compelling story can help an advocate clarify points and simplify complex topics. To be able to tell these stories, an advocate’s skills are greatly enhanced by a solid grasp of how to effectively use imagery, simile, and metaphor; the podcast explains further and provides examples. I hope you’ll give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Post Written by: Hether Macfarlane

The Association of Legal Writing Directors and the Legal Writing Institute announced today that Professor Ian Gallagher, Professor of Law and Director of Legal Communication and Research at Syracuse University School of Law, is the 2018 recipient of the Thomas Blackwell Award.

Ian Gallacher

The Award is given annually to someone who has made outstanding contributions to the field of Legal Writing, both in the classroom and within the profession. The award will be presented during the AALS annual meeting, on Friday, January 5, at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Ian has always been one of the truly nice people in a field crowded with nice people. I honestly cannot remember when I first met Ian, but from the beginning he impressed me as a gentle soul with great intelligence and many talents. I was fortunate enough to be asked to review one of Ian’s law review articles as part of his promotion to Associate Professor at Syracuse. While we have many interesting and talented people in the field, I don’t know of anyone else who could have written an article entitled Conducting the Constitution: Justice Scalia, Textualism, and the Eroica Symphony. I found it enlightening on both Justice Scalia and the art of conducting. While Ian’s book “A Form and Style Manual for Lawyers” is somewhat less “enlightening,” it is full of sound advice on writing in general, on writing mechanics such as punctuation, and on practice-oriented formatting advice for both litigation and business documents. Given Ian’s broad interests and many accomplishments, it’s no wonder he was chosen for this year’s Blackwell Award.

Mary-Beth Moylan recently sat down with Judge Allison Claire, a United States Magistrate Judge in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California to discuss her advice to attorneys practicing in her courtroom and chambers, and in the Eastern District more generally. You can listen to this interview on CAP·impact, the McGeorge  Blog: Advocacy In Practice with Judge Allison Claire.

This is the first in a series of judicial interviews with GLS Director and Assoc. Dean for Experiential Learning Mary-Beth Moylan, so look forward to more local judicial insight to follow.

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I hope you will check out my first podcast posted today on CAP·impact, the McGeorge  Blog. In this In Practice podcast on Credibility and Ethos in Persuasion, I talk about ways advocates can bolster the ethos of their arguments, that is, strengthen their credibility with the audience and the judge, as well as some pitfalls to avoid that can undermine an advocate’s credibility.

Also, look for more GLS podcasts in the future!

Post written by Lindsey Blanchard

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As a professor of lawyering skills, one of the questions I am asked most frequently by my students and colleagues is, “What do you think is the most important attribute of good legal writing?”  My answer used to be that there is not just one quality that defines “good” legal writing.  Good legal writing must be well-organized and accurate, thorough yet concise, logical and well-reasoned, and engaging but not dramatic.  It must be grammatically correct and supported by citations to relevant authorities, and it must have a clear sense of audience and purpose.  But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is one most important attribute of good legal writing:  clarity.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “clarity” as “the quality of being easily understood.”  Certainly, there can be no more important attribute of a piece of legal writing than that it is easily understood by its intended audience.  If a brief submitted to a court cannot be easily understood by the law clerks and judges who read it, not only is the attorney less likely to get what she wants, but the judges may think that the attorney does not know what she wants or that her client is not entitled to the relief sought.  If an associate drafts a memo for a partner that the partner cannot decipher, the associate is less likely to get more work from that partner.  Worse yet, if the associate drafts a memo that the partner misunderstands, the client might receive faulty advice.

So, what gives legal writing the quality of being easily understood?  Logical organization, thorough analysis, brevity, a sense of purpose, correct grammar and punctuation, and awareness of the intended audience are all necessary qualities.  On the flip side, legal writing that is not well-organized and complete, that rambles or is illogical, or that has no obvious point, will not be easily understood.  In other words, “clarity” really just sums up the many attributes of good legal writing mentioned above.

To some extent, then, “clarity” probably isn’t a fair answer to the question, “What do you think is the most important attribute of good legal writing?”  But, I have not found another word that more accurately describes the quality that is essential to all “good” legal writing.  The real estate industry describes the most important considerations in evaluating a piece of property as:  “Location!  Location!  Location!”  Well, “Clarity!  Clarity!  Clarity!” is my new motto for describing the most important considerations in evaluating a piece of legal writing.

On Saturday, September 27, I had the pleasure of presenting materials and leading a discussion on advanced persuasive techniques as part of our school’s Alumni Day activities. Working with alumni gives me the opportunity to engage with experienced legal writers and advocates from various areas of practice and obtain real-world feedback. I appreciate the chance to learn what kinds of persuasive techniques seasoned professionals have had great success with, and which have been less effective. This allows me to add “practice pointers” and context when I teach these concepts in the classroom.

On this day we were able to talk about the importance of credibility in legal argument, and methods to enhance an advocate’s ethos. For example, respect, candor, and zeal contribute to an advocate’s perceived moral character. These attributes can be lost or undermined by trivial errors in presentation or by use of insult or sarcasm. We seemed to be unanimous that the “adverb” method of persuasion, e.g. “clearly, obviously” is ineffective and can adversely affect credibility by emphasizing the obvious nature of something to a judge, or by perhaps understating a complex rule by calling it “obvious.”

We also talked about the value of persistence and reiteration of concepts and arguments. The audience will be fatigued by the persistence; but science indicates that that fatigued audience is more likely to be persuaded as a result. This includes pushing strong arguments over weaker, and layering in theme throughout.

Telling a good story seems crucial to all persuasive presentations; audiences are more likely to be persuaded when they feel some emotional connection to the parties or the underlying claim. We agreed that it is a skill that most litigators develop over time, as it requires more than a simple listing of the relevant facts. This connected well to our discussion on using imagery to present concepts to the audience, both in the story and in the argument. If the audience clearly understands the concepts involved, it is more likely to accept the premises being presented.

I hope that those participating were able to take away a few new techniques they might try more deliberately to include in their next brief or oral argument. I certainly feel better educated now on integrating persuasive techniques into real-world practice, and can now better present that information to my students. So win-win (I hope).


Post Written by Jeffrey Proske

Special kudos to Emory University School of Law for recognizing the enormous achievements of Tina L. Stark in the field of transactional drafting. On September 1, 2017, Emory announced the “Tina L. Stark Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Transactional Law and Skills.” According to Emory’s announcement, the award will be given annually to an educator who is:

  • committed to training students to be practice-ready transactional attorneys
  • dedicated to engaging, inspiring, motivating, and nurturing students
  • devoted to teaching with passion, using creative and innovative methods
  • known for achievement in curriculum or program development and pedagogy
  • pledged to advance the cause of transactional law and skills education

I’m sure I’m only one of many voices in the crowd of transactional skills professors who owe Tina Stark a debt of gratitude for her groundbreaking work in teaching transactional skills. There could not be a more fitting tribute to her legacy than this award.

When I started teaching nine years ago, I wanted to impart transactional negotiation and drafting skills to my students, but had no idea how to begin the process of creating a syllabus for such a class, or how to teach the skills effectively.  I thank my lucky stars for meeting Tina at the Emory Transactional Law Conference in 2010, and for discovering Tina’s excellent drafting text – “Drafting Contracts: How and Why Lawyers Do What They Do.” I have used her text every time I’ve taught drafting courses since.

Beyond the guidance Tina’s book gave me in developing my course, Tina personally assisted me week after week the first time I taught the course to walk me through the best practices for implementing the interactive exercises in the book. She took my panicked calls in the days leading up to each class and made special efforts to make sure I felt comfortable with the materials. She was a great mentor to me, and I could not be more pleased to know that her efforts through the years are being celebrated.

After teaching my transactional skills course for eight years, there are now several hundred more practicing lawyers who competently and confidently advise clients with their transactions thanks in great measure to the work of Tina Stark.

Post Written by Lindsey Blanchard

Welcome to the new school year and to McGeorge School of Law’s new Global Lawyering Skills Blog! In addition to the activities that accompany the beginning of every school year—meeting incoming students, talking to former students about their summer experiences, creating legal writing problems, and figuring out why the lights won’t work in your classroom—we hope you will add perusing our blog to your agenda!

McGeorge has a two-year legal research and writing program—Global Lawyering Skills (GLS)—that is designed to produce skilled, practice-ready graduates. We provide students with numerous hands-on learning opportunities tied to research, writing, oral advocacy, and a variety of other lawyering skills, with both a national and transnational perspective. And, we love what we do!  So, the idea for this blog is to create a forum for discussing all things legal writing-related, and to connect with others who share our passion.

In this inaugural post, the McGeorge GLS faculty would like to share an exciting piece of news—the appointment of our Director of Global Lawyering Skills, Mary-Beth Moylan, as Associate Dean for Experiential Learning. If you’re wondering what, exactly, that means, you’re not alone.  After reading the very lengthy job description, I had the same question. So, I asked Mary-Beth to tell me about her new position, now that she is eight weeks in.

While it turns out that Mary-Beth is not actually running the world, as her job description would suggest, she comes pretty close. In addition to her duties as Director of Global Lawyering Skills, Mary-Beth will now coordinate and facilitate McGeorge’s entire pool of practical skills education. In other words, she will cultivate the links between our first- and second-year Global Lawyering Skills courses; our first-year professional identity and career exploration course (The Legal Profession); our clinics, externships, and capstone experiential courses; and our mock trial and moot court competition teams to ensure that McGeorge students experience an integrated experiential curriculum.

I wondered what—given such a tall order—Mary-Beth’s greatest challenges have been so far. Not surprisingly, as with any endeavor to achieve organization-wide integration, the answer was two-fold:  first, finding the time to get up to speed on all of the different things going on in the courses and programs with which she was not previously intimately involved; and, second, breaking down the silos housing those courses and programs in order to build communication channels. That being said, overcoming those challenges will lead to what Mary-Beth perceives to be the biggest benefit to the school and the students—a cohesive program of experiential learning with a clear scaffolding of skills to support the students’ careers.  According to Mary-Beth, her ultimate goal is for our students “to have the skills they need to pursue law-related careers in our community and beyond.”

But, the school and the students are not the only groups who will benefit from Mary-Beth’s new position. Mary-Beth believes that there is always more we can do for our community, and she is particularly excited about the opportunity to systematize and increase the students’ pro bono efforts.

We will report back on the (hopefully all) triumphs and (hopefully few) tribulations as Mary-Beth forges on. In the meantime, we would like to hear about the duties, goals, and challenges of people with similar positions at other institutions. If you are interested in sharing your experiences, please send us an email!

Coming soon . . . Adrienne’s trip to Moscow!