: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at

Bryan Garner’s Interviews with Judges on the Art of (legal) Writing

I came across a treasure trove of interviews done by legal writing guru Bryan Garner with top judges across the country On The Art of Writing

Library of Videos

Westlaw: A Day in the Life of a Case

Ever wonder about the inner workings of case reporting? Westlaw has a day in the life of a case once the opinion is handed down.

When the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller in June, striking down a ban on gun possession in D.C., a team at West went to work to get this landmark case loaded to Westlaw, complete with the insight and analysis that is critical to legal researchers.

The West editorial process involves specific steps, including fact-checking, headnoting and classification. This Westcast video podcast highlights that process. The result is a rare glimpse behind the scenes at the skills and trusted editorial experience involved in the daily work here at West.

Video: A day in the life of a case

Westcast: A day in the life of a case

Student Law Review Articles With Legs

It’s easy for law students to think of the articles they write for law review as necessary evils, grown-up book reports that demonstrate their research and writing ability to potential employers and justify the prestige-grab of law review. Eugene Volokh, whose excellent Legal Academic Writing will show up on any recommended reading list, is tracking down students whose student writing not only burnished the resume but has had an impact on legal thought as evidenced in citations in other academic work and the opinions of actual cases.

Volokh Conspiracy: Interview with Victor Cosentino, Author of a Very Successful Student Note

FAMU Law School Legal Writing Director embarrassed by grammatical errors, nonsensical passages in Paper

St. Petersburg Times: Errors mar law prof’s paper, Hat tip to How Appealing.

The paper — which Dawson had removed from the site after the Times began asking questions — is peppered with spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. Even the title is off: “Environmental Dispute Resolution: Developing Mechanisims (sic) for Effective Transnational Enforcement of International Environmental Standards.”

Examples of clumsy writing can be found throughout: “Old pipes, rusty and in possible need of repair, run above ground, crisscrossing every which way in cumbersome clusters may have experienced undetected leaks.”

Another example: “He consulted with government officials and he sent his general manager of asset management representative repeatedly crossed the creek to negotiate with village leaders of Ugborodo during the women’s 10-day occupation.”

Another example of where something posted online can come back to haunt you. Apparently a more thoroughly edited version appeared in the Fall 2006 edition of the Missouri Environmental Law & Policy Review.

The idea of teaching legal research and writing strikes me as somewhere between the 4th and 6th circle of hell, but you never know. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to break out the old spell check on the Blawgraphy.

More on Storytelling and the Law

In Duke Rape Case Fall Out – the Power to change our Collective Narratives? I discussed narrative as the little hypotheticals we go through to test the believability of facts when we’re evaluating something we’ve been told. A lawyer-friend of mine started me on this idea of narrative and the law a few days ago and now I’m seeing it everywhere.

New Orleans Attorney Raymond Ward had a perfect illustration of how savvy judges deal with narrative in a recent post Counting each shot -

In Atkins, a majority of the Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits execution of the mentally retarded. Justice Stevens, writing for the majority, wants to make the defendant’s mental retardation outweigh the heinousness of the crime. So he must downplay the crime. Notice how he does this:

At approximately midnight on August 16, 1996, Atkins and William Jones, armed with a semiautomatic handgun, abducted Eric Nesbitt, robbed him of the money on his person, drove him to an automated teller machine in his pickup truck where cameras recorded their withdrawal of additional cash, then took him to an isolated location where he was shot eight times and killed.

Justice Stevens relegates the murder to a subordinate clause, puts it in the passive voice, and describes it in just seven words. With no punctuation in Justice Stevens’s description, the reader can zoom past the murder without slowing down.

Justice Scalia, writing in dissent, has the opposite goal: he wants to show that the heinousness of the crime outweighs the defendant’s retardation. Notice how he accomplishes his goal:

After spending the day drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, petitioner Daryl Renard Atkins and a partner in crime drove to a convenience store, intending to rob a customer. Their victim was Eric Nesbitt, an airman from Langley Air Force Base, whom they abducted, drove to a nearby automated teller machine, and forced to withdraw $200. They then drove him to a deserted area, ignoring his pleas to leave him unharmed. According to the co-conspirator, whose testimony the jury evidently credited, Atkins ordered Nesbitt out of the vehicle and, after he had taken only a few steps, shot him one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight times in the thorax, chest, abdomen, arms, and legs.

Justice Scalia adds details that Justice Stevens omits, including details about the victim. He puts all the action in active voice, with the defendant as the actor. And when he gets to the actual murder, he renders it in slow motion. He counts each shot.

Noted Houston trial attorney Jim Perdue has been known to teach a course here at the University of Houston Law Center from time to time on Storytelling in the law, based on his books Winning with Stories, I Remember Atticus, and Who Will Speak for the Victim?. All three are available at the UHLC library for those interested.

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