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
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
I like to assign peer reviews for my 1L Legal Writing class. Generally, the course’s collaboration rules don’t let students help each other with their final graded assignments. But I make an exception for in-class peer review.
Anyway, this quarter I wanted to try something different: I wanted each student to have two peer review partners, instead of just one. So at the end of the class before the peer review I randomly assigned each student two different partners. Everyone exchanged papers with their two partners and read their two partners’ papers before the next class. My plan was to then break the peer-review class into two separate periods. During the first half of class each student would meet with one partner and discuss each other’s papers. And then during the second half of class each student would meet with the other partner and discuss each other’s papers.
The idea was that everyone would be discussing papers during the entire class, and no student would need to meet with their partner after class. Nice and easy! But perhaps you can see the problem. I’d like to think I would have seen it if I’d thought about it for a second. Oh well. 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
There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content. That, I think, about covers the ground.
— Fred Rodell, Goodbye to Law Reviews, 23 Va. L. Rev. 38 (1936).
Law reviews have been taking a beating recently. Or, more specifically, the enterprise of law professors writing long and heavily footnoted scholarship that is then selected and edited by students has been taking a beating. I’ve been meaning to write a post in defense of the law reviews (and the enterprise) for some time. But this is not that post.
No, this post is a shout-out to the essay that provides this post’s title: Fred Rodell, Goodbye to Law Reviews, 23 Va. L. Rev. 38 (1936). I found Rodell’s essay as I was poking through my copy of American Legal Realism (William W. Fisher III et al. eds., 1993), while pulling together my Spring Quarter syllabus. Since the essay is hilarious, and since nearly 80 years later people are still saying “goodbye” to the law reviews, I figured you might enjoy reading some highlights. Continue reading