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.

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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.

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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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