Tag Archives: BlueBook

Learning from Mistakes: Editing Tips for Legal Writing

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’ve all had that experience—you drafted an assignment for a legal writing class or upper-level writing course, or maybe a project for a legal internship or job. When you got the assignment back from your professor or supervisor, it was covered in corrections and comments. The real question: What did you do next? If you were required to revise the assignment, you probably made the corrections and submitted the final version. But did you take any steps to learn from your mistakes so that you won’t repeat them in future assignments?

Successful law students and lawyers constantly strive to improve their writing. One of the best ways to improve your writing is to learn from past mistakes. But learning from mistakes requires some conscious effort—simply making corrections to an existing document is usually not enough to reinforce how you should approach your writing in the future. Instead, one way to learn from your mistakes is to create your own customized editing checklist. You may already have an editing checklist that a professor or supervisor has given you. If so, you should continue to use that checklist as well. The customized checklist should supplement any more general checklist, focusing on specific issues that you personally have had trouble with in the past.

Here are some tips for creating and using a customized editing checklist:

  1. Divide a large piece of paper into five columns. At the top of each column, put one of the following headings: (a) grammar errors; (b) citation/Bluebook errors; (c) analytical issues; (4) writing style issues; and (5) formatting problems.
  2. Pull out old assignments that contain corrections and comments from a professor or supervisor. Go through each of those assignments, placing each error in one of the five columns you’ve created. For example, maybe your professor commented that you improperly used a comma to separate two independent clauses. That issue would go in the “grammar errors” column. Maybe you find a comment about your analysis being too conclusory. You would place that feedback in the “analytical issues” column. Maybe you keep forgetting to italicize “Id.” Put that error in your citation/Bluebook errors column.
  3. Each time that you see a comment or correction that relates to an issue you’ve already put in your checklist, add a star by that issue in the checklist. Making the same error multiple times is a sign that you want to focus on that issue more.
  4. For grammar and citation errors in particular, look up the appropriate rule in a grammar guide or the Bluebook. Make a note of the proper rule(s) that relate to that issue, as well as where that rule is found. When you edit documents in the future, you will then have easy access to the rule as well as the cross-reference for where to find further information if necessary.
  5. After completing a draft of a new assignment, use your customized checklist to make sure that you do not repeat old mistakes. Go through the paper focusing on one column at a time so that you don’t miss anything in the editing process.
  6. As you get feedback on new assignments, go through the same process. Add any new editing issues to your checklist. Regularly update your checklist to reflect your editing priorities. And, as you improve your writing, analysis, and citations you may remove old issues that are no longer a problem for you.

Creating a customized editing checklist is one of the best ways to learn from your past mistakes so that you don’t repeat them. Take an intentional approach to your editing, and your legal writing will continue to improve more and more over time.



Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments

How Citations Strengthen Legal Writing

It’s that time of year when first-year law students are developing their understanding of legal citation, whether they use the Bluebook, the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) Guide to Legal Citation, or some other citation guide. Law students face a perennial struggle with identifying and using appropriate citation forms for legal authority. The rules for legal citations are much different than those used in other types of writing. The legal citation rules are complicated, and it’s easy to become frustrated when the professor takes off points because you should not have put a space after the period in the citation. Even upper-level law students struggle sometimes with citations. It is one of those aspects of legal writing that law students generally dread.

So why is there so much emphasis on citation in law school? Why do these details really matter? I’m not talking about universal reasons here—of course there are benefits to having a uniform system of legal citation so that it is easier to identify law and locate it in the original legal sources. But what I want to talk about today is why citations should matter to you. Why should you care if you apply the appropriate citation rules and your citations follow the proper form? A sarcastic student might say, “Because the professor cares, and he or she will lower my grade if my citations aren’t accurate.” This reason is also true, but there’s still more to it than that.

Specific, accurate citations are important because they signal information to the reader about your competence as a law student and, ultimately, as an attorney. Clients want to feel confident that their attorney pays attention to the legal details, and they are more likely to feel that confidence if they see that the attorney pays attentions to details even when it comes to the small things like citation. (In law school, your professors are your clients—these observations still hold true in that context!) If you make mistakes in punctuating citations because you have decided that the punctuation and spacing rules are unimportant, you signal that you might not pay close attention to nuances in the law as well—even if that is not your intent, and even if it is not actually true.

Likewise, providing specific pincites (in other words, the page number(s) on which the information can be found) is also important. When you provide generic citations, you are basically saying, “Trust me. What I am saying here is found somewhere in the case, but I can’t be bothered to tell you where.” That approach does not build the reader’s confidence in your writing. Like accuracy, specificity builds the reader’s confidence in your legal competence.

If you reframe how you think about citations, you can use them to strengthen your legal writing. Specific, accurate citations are an opportunity to add to the persuasive quality of your writing, and they can increase the reader’s confidence in your professionalism and analytical skills.


Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments

Law Student Voices: The Top 5 Apps for Law Students

For two years in a row now, I’ve done a presentation titled “Technology for Law Students” as part of my school’s 1L Orientation program. Much of what I discuss in that segment revolves around the use of apps to make studying for classes or drafting assignments easier and/or more effective for new law students. While I rely exclusively on iPhone/iPad apps, there are likely equivalents on Android and other platforms. Here, in no particular order, are my five favorite apps for law school:

1. Dropbox (Free)

DropboxDropbox is great for accessing files across all of your devices (i.e., laptop, tablet, phone) and also for sharing folders with classmates. One of my professors had a ban on laptops in the classroom, but didn’t have a problem with tablets. I was able to take advantage of that exception to view my briefs in class, eliminating the need to print them out beforehand. Dropbox is also useful for working on collaborative projects by creating a shared reservoir for research material and work product drafts. An alternative to Dropbox that builds upon that particular feature is Google Drive, though my own experience with Drive is limited.

2. Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th ed. ($54.99) ***Update: 10th edition now available!!!

Blacks Law Dictionary 1I feel forever indebted to this app for giving me a competitive advantage in my first year of law school. Black’s 9th allowed me to quickly search for terms and find related concepts even in the heat of a cold call. Not only does the app boast an impressive collection of definitions, Black’s 9th also contains highlighted terms within those definitions to explore large sections of the law with ease and speed.Blacks Law Dictionary 2

***Update: The App for the 10th Edition is now available. You can find it here. According to the Thomson Reuters website, the 10th edition has added roughly 5,000 terms (bringing the total to over 50,000) and also doubled the sources quoted and cited over the 9th.

3. Genius Scan (Free + $6.99 for Full Version)

Genius scan 1The concept here is simple: Genius Scan takes pictures using the camera on your phone or tablet and makes the image look as-if you ran the document through a traditional scanner. The app also allows you to organize collections of scans. There is also a full version for $6.99 called Genius Scan+ that removes ads and allows for printing, cloud export, and customizable email signatures.Genius scan 2

Sometimes school-provided scanners can be a pain. Other times, they aren’t accessible because you’re home or at work. Whatever the case may be, the first year especially is filled with administrative hurdles and it never hurts to have a scanner in your pocket to send professional-looking forms in a pinch. Having the ability to organize your scans is important on its own as you can separate pictures of your reading assignments from those taken in your bathroom mirror (selfies).

4. Rulebook (Free + $39.99 for Bluebook)

Rulebook 1Rulebook is free. Content that you can download through its library function is not, however. For example, The Bluebook can be downloaded through Rulebook for $39.99. Much like my recommendation for Black’s Law Dictionary, I find the searching and indexing functions of a digital book far more effective for the purposes of law school than a hardcopy can provide. As a perk, the Rulebook creators update the Bluebook fairly often with bug fixes and also respond to tech support questions quickly.Rulebook 2

5. Flashcardlet (Free)

flashcardlet 1Many people learn best using flash cards. While there is a surprising lack of good apps for flash cards on the App Store, Flashcardlet is pretty effective. Cards can be created within the app or through an internet browser. Decks of cards can then be shared with friends or classmates for efficient studying (if you have a friend that you trust to make good cards). A personal example: I created cards for the note cases in my contracts class while two other friends split up the main cases. We then had a productive study session together where we were able to draw out other interpretations and points-of-view about the cases.flashcardlet 2

In addition to these five, the large research databases make spectacular appearances on the iPad, including HeinOnline, JSTOR, LexisAdvance, and WestlawNext. In fact, I personally find Hein’s iPad app easier to navigate than its website. Finding preferences such as that are essential to learning efficient practices. Students should experiment with technology early on in order to find their own path to success in law school. The students who understand their own habits and resources first have a unique advantage over others in their class.

I used the iPad’s built-in screenshot function to capture all images contained in this review, with the exception of the Genius Scan photos. Those images were provided to the App Store and I saved them from there.

This review was authored by Justin Iverson, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2015, Savannah Law School.

**This review is not intended to be an endorsement of any product. Its sole purpose is to provide useful information to law students.


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Law Student Voices: A Review of Citeus Legalus

One of the more daunting aspects of being a 1L is learning to make effective use of The Bluebook. Most students entering law school are familiar with one citation style or another (MLA, APA, etc.), but few have ever used a system as complex and seemingly arbitrary as The Bluebook. Kirk Sigmon, Cornell J.D. and associate attorney at Morrison & Foerster in Washington, D.C., saw an opportunity to straighten out the “veritable leviathan” known as The Bluebook by automating its formatting rules into a website. The result: Citeus Legalus.

Citeus is a fun site, owing in no small part to the comical mascot (a parody of Sigmon) drawn by artist Naomi Milliken. Sigmon has even referred to the site as “the legal citation generator for lazy law students.” However, I would caution readers against writing off this website as academically suspect—there is some serious infrastructure operating behind the scenes.

image 1Students can generate citations based on cases, periodicals, books, statutes, constitutions, and several types of government documents. Importantly, there is no generator for internet citations. The reason for that missing feature likely has to do with the endless variety of sources available online. Once a student chooses a category, he or she can manually enter the relevant information, or search for it through a database. For example, if I wanted to cite a casebook, I would select “Search and Cite” under the Books tab. In the search field, I would type “Roberts Remedies,” and a list of books would pop up with cover photos. After finding the correct book and selecting “Cite This Book,” all of the available publishing information is auto-generated with just a couple fields left for me to do myself. Additionally, students can save their citations in the Cite Briefcase for later retrieval.

image 2Citeus has the potential to teach The Bluebook as thoroughly or more so than those endless Legal Writing workshops and late night scavenger hunts. Building citations from scratch can certainly be beneficial, but it is not the only method of instruction. Legal Writing professors and law reviews both make use of the problem-spotting method where students must painstakingly analyze a citation to ensure conformity with The Bluebook. Used in this way, Citeus eliminates the stress of foraging while reinforcing rule analysis. To utilize Citeus to its maximum effect, students should generate their citations automatically and then thoroughly check them against The Bluebook. In my opinion, students who are not willing to do that extra step should avoid using any automatic citation generator, whether it is created by a law student, Westlaw, or any other reputable source.

image 3I contacted Sigmon prior to this review to get a peek at some features that may be coming in the future. While not mentioning an app specifically, he did indicate that there would be some level of mobile functionality such that students could smoothly generate citations from their phones and tablets. Further, Sigmon hopes to integrate Citeus with scholarship databases such as Google Scholar, which would allow a sort of “one-click citation” functionality. Stay tuned, folks!

This review was authored by Justin Iverson, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2015, Savannah Law School.

**This review is not intended to be an endorsement of any product. Its sole purpose is to provide useful information to law students.


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Why Law Review?: Five Ways that Serving on a Law Review Contributes to Academic Success

It’s that time of year in law school when 1Ls (now rising 2Ls) are completing law review writing competitions, hoping for the invitation to join the journal of their choice. Sure, working on a law review staff is a lot of work, but there are also many benefits. For those of you who are on the fence about whether to join a law review, I thought I would put together a list of five ways that serving on a law review can contribute to your overall academic success in law school. Here it is:

1. You will gain an in-depth understanding of the BlueBook. No longer will you hesitate when trying to remember how to abbreviate case names, when there is a space after a period in a citation versus when there is not, or when it is proper to use “see” as a signal. Your newfound confidence in your Bluebooking expertise will serve you throughout the remainder of your law school days, as well as in law practice afterwards.

2. Working with good (and bad) writing helps to make you a better writer. The more writing that you read and critique, the better your own writing skills get. As you read and edit other people’s writing, you will become more conscious of your own writing. Of course, you will learn more about grammar through this process, but you will also learn about what it takes to write effectively—in other words, to communicate precisely, clearly, and concisely.

3. You will learn how to manage your time more efficiently. It is no secret that working on the staff of a law review requires significant time. And time is already in short supply in law school, as you discovered during your first year as a student. Juggling your journal work with your studies will inspire you to develop even better time management skills.

4. You will find new mentors. One of the greatest benefits to working on a law review is that you will develop new relationships with upper-level law students. During your 1L year, you take all of your classes with the same people, who are all 1Ls as well. Once you are a 2L, your classmates will be more diverse. Working with upper-level students on law review is a great way to make connections with some of those new classmates. They can be great resources for you, as they have more experience.

5. You will learn how to collaborate better with others. The law school environment tends to be pretty competitive, but law review is one place where you quickly learn the benefits of collaboration. The people skills you learn by working on a journal will help you not only in getting issues to press but also in classes where teamwork and cooperation is often essential, such as Negotiations, Mediation, and Trial Practice.

Only you know if working on a law review is the right thing for you—but, as you can see, there are a lot of hidden benefits to journal service!


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