Well, our long national nightmare is over. The Spring 2017 volume of the Journal of Legal Education has hit the digital newsstands; this volume includes my review essay on the latest edition of every lawyer’s favorite citation guide, The Bluebook. Early reviews of my essay have been uniformly… mediocre:
“[David Ziff] reviews the Bluebook”
—Ryan Calo, UW School of Law
— Cristian Farias, Huffington Post
“Everybody knows The Bluebook sucks. What this article presupposes is—maybe it doesn’t?”
— Ron Fisher, Latham & Watkins
“I nearly puked but I’ll still read it”
—Sasha Moss, R Street Institute
“Scariest thing I’ve seen today… by far!”
—Eric Segall, Georgia State University College of Law
“Anyone who wrote a 27 page book review of the Bluebook is not to be trusted.”
— Jim Tyre, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Okay, so maybe those reviews are not great. But I’m pretty sure they were offered in the playful spirit shared by the essay itself. Seriously. I figured I couldn’t take myself too seriously while writing a 27-page book review of a legal citation manual. So while I certainly intended the essay to raise some important issues, I also tried to make it a fun read. I hope you enjoy it!
I’ve noticed a few folks tweeting about their keyboard shortcuts for legal writing symbols, likely related to this new keyboard for lawyers. Seriously! If you’re not already using custom keyboard shortcuts in MS Word, you should be. Here’s one way to easily insert commonly used symbols into your legal writing (if you use MS Word):
1. Pull up the “Symbol” window as if you’re going to insert a symbol. Here, I’m pretending to create a shortcut for the symbol μ, because my imaginary law practice includes many briefs involving the coefficient of friction.
See how the “Shortcut key” is assigned as “Alt+0181”? What the heck is that? Well, we can change it by clicking on the “Shortcut Key” button. Continue reading
Today is the first day of winter quarter (or Winter Quarter, depending on how you feel about it) here at the University of Washington School of Law. For my 1L Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing class, that means we turn from common law (which we covered in the fall) to statutes. I really like this quarter, and I start the class with a general lecture on how to think about statutes. I figured some of that might be interesting to y’all out there on the interwebs, so here goes….
I think it’s easy to underestimate the difference between (1) reading and understanding case law and (2) reading and understanding statutes, especially for first-year students. During the entire fall quarter, my class discusses common law doctrines, reads cases, argues about holdings, makes predictions based on dicta, etc. When reading a case, determining the holding is partially based on what the court says, but much of it is based on the reader’s own reading between the lines. Sure, the court said any family member could recover, but that case involved a biological father-daughter relationship. Same result for a great-grandmother? What if they lived together? What about a step-father? What if they are estranged? You know the game. Testing a holding—narrowing it down to the relevant facts—is a huge part of the first quarter. And it takes a long time for many students to get into that mode of thinking.
And then—record scratch—we introduce statutes. The familiar “Okay, but what does that really mean?” method of analysis doesn’t quite work on statutes. Students comfortable divining and then applying abstract principles from a series of cases are in for a rude awakening when attempting to apply that divination skill to a statute. “Yes, the statute says ‘prevailing party,’ but what that really means is….” Nope. It means “prevailing party.” Words matter for statutes in a way they don’t for cases.
I like to illustrate the point with two different statues (yes, statues, not statutes). Here’s a familiar one:
Fontaine de la Justice via Wikimedia Commons
I’m taking a break from post-election thoughts to write about something much less upsetting: The Bluebook. I recently wrote a 27-page book review of the 20th Edition. Seriously. You should check it out.
In the review, I argue that many critiques of The Bluebook don’t critique the actual book. Rather, they seem to be upset about something altogether different, with The Bluebook just providing an easy target for their scorn.
An instant classic of the genre appeared today in Above The Law. An in-house lawyer offers a recommendation to future in-house lawyers: “Burn Your Bluebook.” Yikes! Look, I admit I’ve never worked as in-house counsel. And I wouldn’t be surprised if in-house lawyers rarely used The Bluebook. But the complaints in the article have almost nothing to do with The Bluebook. You could burn (or not burn) pretty much anything and you’d have just as much of an effect on the problems outlined in the article, since the author’s dispute is not with The Bluebook as a citation guide. Rather, the author seems to dislike providing any legal authority whatsoever in his memoranda. That’s fine! But that has nothing to do with The Bluebook, which contains rules to follow for when you do want to cite to legal authority in your memoranda. Continue reading
In the Autumn issue of the Journal of Legal Education, Professor Michael Dorf reviews Judge Richard Posner’s Divergent Paths. And Judge Posner responds. Judge Posner’s book, Professor Dorf’s review, and Judge Posner’s response are all worth reading in full, but I’d like to highlight a few parts that might be of particular interest to legal writing professors.
Judge Posner’s book is highly critical of legal writing professors, who he claims teach law students to write in a jargon-filled, Latin-peppered, opaque style. This was news to me, and contrary to the way I teach, the way my colleagues at UW School of Law teach, every legal writing text I’ve ever read, and every discussion I’ve had with other legal writing instructors. I’ve yet to meet someone who tells their students to end a memo with quod erat demonstrandum. Continue reading
The “sensitivity” of law students is getting a lot of press these days. Scott Greenfield wrote about it over at Simple Justice. Then Above the Law picked it up. I had my little post two days ago. And then today, Conor Friedersdorf offered this lengthy examination in The Atlantic.
Friedersdorf’s column does a nice job of making a couple of distinctions, which I’d like to expand on a bit. First, he acknowledges the possibility of rejecting a student complaint without unnecessarily disparaging the student. Here’s what he says: Continue reading
Don’t worry: no spoilers. (Okay, one little bitty spoiler a ways down, but you’ll get a second warning.)
A few weeks back, following the death of Ben Bradlee, I re-watched All the President’s Men. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t seen the movie since before I went to law school. Even by that time, it was an “old” movie, but it still holds up.
And of course, like everyone else, I’ve been listening to the Serial podcast, which wrapped up this morning. Listening to Serial and watching All the President’s Men got me thinking: investigation of facts is a critical aspect of good advocacy, and something law schools could probably do a better job of teaching. Continue reading