Abe Lincoln, lawyer

Some other comments on Lincoln.  This week, a Civ Pro profs listserve distributed the text of notes apparently prepared by Lincoln for a lecture at the Ohio State & Union Law School in Cleveland in 1856. Many of Lincoln’s observations are as timely today as they were over 150 years ago.  Below, I add headings; also, the order of the paragraphs is rearranged and some paragraphs are combined into single paragraphs to correspond to their relevant heading.

Lincoln on Humility and Success

I am not an accomplished lawyer. I find quite as much material for a lecture in those points wherein I have failed, as in those wherein I have been moderately successful.

Lincoln on Lawyers and their Image of Dishonesty

There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest. I say vague, because when we consider to what extent confidence and honors are reposed in and conferred upon lawyers by the people, it appears improbable that their impression of dishonesty is very distinct and vivid. Yet the impression is common, almost universal. Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief — resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.

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Advice for new law students, part V: avoid Monty Python “Yes it is!, No it isn’t!” argumentation

When engaging in legal analysis, avoid being conclusory.  As I tell my 1Ls, always follow the advice of Dorothy from the song Follow the Yellow-Brick Road (emphasis added):

If ever, oh ever, a Wiz there was the Wizard of Oz is one because
Because, because, because, because, because
of the wonderful things he does.

Always give the “because.”  If you state a conclusion (that the Wizard of Oz is a “Wiz”), make sure you give the reasons — i.e., state the issue, rule of law, analysis, and counter-analysis — that support the conclusion.  Thus, always make sure you’ve given the “because, because, because.”  Why is he a wizard?  Because of the wonderful things he does.

Of course, Dorothy’s analysis is still lacking.  She says the Wizard of Oz is a Wiz because of the wonderful things he does.  What are those things?  Explain.  Why are those things wonderful?  Because . . . .  And so on. So Dorothy shows what should be done: always give the “becauses.”

An illustration of what not to do can be found in Monty Python’s classic sketch Argument Clinic.  When I was in law school, one of my professors would mock students who engaged in what he called “Monty Python” arguing.  In the sketch, Michael Palin buys a five-minute argument.  John Cleese, in turn, simply contradicts everything Palin says.  Exasperted, Palin argues with Cleese over what is a proper argument:

Palin:  An argument is a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition.

Cleese:   No it isn’t.

Palin:  Yes it is! It’s isn’t just contradiction.

Cleese:   Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.

Palin:  But it isn’t just saying “No it isn’t.”

Cleese:   Yes it is!

Palin:   No it isn’t!

Cleese:   Yes it is!

Palin:  Argument’s an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

Cleese:  No it isn’t.

Advice part I (life and stress) here.
Advice part II (studying and attitudes) here.
Advice part III (back up your data) here.
Advice part IV (essay exams) here.
Advice part V (conclusory argumentation) here.
Advice part VI (incomplete argumentation) here.

Advice for new law students, part IV: essay exams

Understandably, new law students stress over how to write essay exams.  In my Civil Procedure class, I run multiple review sessions including an essay exam writing workshop.  For the workshop, I hand out tips and techniques on doing Civ Pro essay exams in my class.  Although the materials below are geared towards Civil Procedure and my class in particular, some may have relevance to other first-year classes.  Keep in mind that other professors may have differing expectations, so the suggestions below may not be applicable to your class.

Substantive considerations:

Argue the facts presented. A common error on essay exams is failing to argue the facts provided.  Sometimes I see relevant facts omitted from the discussion.  Other times, students change facts or invent facts that aren’t in the exam.  Sometimes this is because students don’t want to discuss the issues presented. You can’t do that.  However, if you believe that additional facts are needed for your analysis, state what those facts are how they would affect your analysis.

Focus on the issues raised. Do not raise irrelevant issues.  Use your judgment as to the main issues that are likely to be worth more points.  Minor issues are likely to be worth fewer or no points.  You get no points for “negative issue-spotting.”

Do not be conclusory. Always be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, i.e., provide the “because, because, because.”  (Think of the lyrics to “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”)  If you state a conclusion without indicating (in that sentence or surrounding sentences) “why” or “because,” then you’re probably being conclusory.  Conclusory is bad.

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Sites and course pages

For new STU students, welcome to law school!

My home page is at http://nathenson.org.

This site, digital garbage, is my academic blog on law and technology.

I also run a personal blog at http://nathenson.org/blog.

Course pages are available to STU students through Blackboard at http://webcourses.lexisnexis.com.   You’ll need to get your Lexis ID from the law library.

UPDATE: Lexis is in the process of updating its main law school homepage.  The update has led to problems for users of Internet Explorer 7.  If you have difficulty logging into Blackboard, try using Mozilla Firefox.