What to Write About

question markYou have to write a paper and so far you’ve gotten as far as “what should I write about?”  It’s still the beginning of the semester, so you’re okay, but you need to find a topic soon.  If you’re still stuck on the first step, here are a few hints.

First, think about your paper as more than an assignment.  True, you wouldn’t be writing it if it weren’t an assignment and you will be receiving a grade for work, but more than that, you have the opportunity to add important ideas to the body of legal discourse.  You should be looking for a topic that is novel — you shouldn’t just be summarizing what everyone else has already said but pick a topic that you can say something new about.

Regardless of the topic you choose, you will learn something about the law you didn’t know before and think about the law in a way you never contemplated — your professor knows this; it’s why you were assigned the paper in the first place.  This paper will add something to how you practice law.

Second, write about something that really interests you.  Before you commit to a topic, think about it for a little while, discuss it with your classmates and friends.  If you find yourself getting excited when you talk about it, it’s probably a good topic.  On the other hand, if your mind starts to wander as soon as you sit down to research or you come up with a series of excuses not to start your research, consider finding a new topic, one that sparks your interest more than any of those excuses.

Good advice, but still, where do you find that magic topic?  Start with what you know.  You did something before you came to law school — had a job, a career, studied a subject other than law.  You have hobbies and interests.  For example, you’re an artist — think about intellectual property; you’re a scientist — how do courts treat scientific evidence; an athlete — international sports law.

Talk to your professors, either the one who assigned the paper or one who teaches a subject you’re interested in.  They will know what’s going on in their areas of law, where the controversies are and what’s being discussed on the listservs and blogs.  They can help you take a germ of an idea and turn it into a paper topic, or narrow a broad topic into a concise thesis.

What’s going on in town?  In the state?  In the region?  Read or watch the news.  What makes you yell at the television or puzzle at how something will be resolved?  There are plenty of news stories that are directly legal and plenty of others with legal aspects.

Congress, your state legislature, and your city council are probably up to something, whether it’s something that you support or something you absolutely disagree with.  Congress, state legislatures and even city councils have websites you can look at to track current legislation.  The Library of Congress’s new Congress.gov website is a great place to start researching federal legislation.  In Montana, the legislature meets only every-other year and won’t be in session again until Jan. 2015, but you can research what they did at their last session (and other previous sessions) on the Montana Legislature website.  Legislative hearings are a great way to understand the multiple sides of an issue — likely there will be at least one side you agree with and one that drives you nuts.

See what lawyers are talking about.  If you work at a law firm, ask the lawyers there for an idea — chances are, there are unanswered questions they have been considering.  The American Bar Association sections all have websites with various resources that might make you start thinking about an issue.

If you’re still baffled, peruse legal news and current awareness sources.  Here are a few:

And if after all that you still don’t know what to write about, go visit with your librarian.  We have new books, newsletters, journals, databases, all of which are full of interesting legal issues and controversies.

Selecting a topic and formulating a thesis is part of the writing process; instead of being frustrated by it, think about what you’re learning just by digging into the law.


All in One Place — Finding Calls for Papers and More

medium_3633878845Have you ever noticed that it’s not all that unusual to find several different car dealerships pretty much side by side along a certain stretch of road?  I asked someone once why this was so.  The reason given was that it benefits both buyers and dealers.  Buyers are lured by having a lot of options in basically once place and dealers end up with more buyers coming through their doors as a result.  When it comes to locating options for scholarly writing the same idea applies — it’s the best of all possible worlds when you can find several options in one place rather than having to hunt down individual Calls for Papers, Conferences, Symposia and the like.

In this post we offer a selection of websites that maintain lists of Calls for Papers and other scholarly writing opportunities for law faculty — and law students.

A word to students interested in scholarly writing opportunities:  In the sites below, you may have to search a bit harder to find opportunities especially for students.  But note:  Cal Western has a site devoted just to student writing competitions.  More on this site at the end of the post.

Keeping in line with the idea of congregating similar products in one area, we’ve included a linked list to each of these sites on our blog for you.  Look in the right column of our blog for “Calls for Papers & More.”  No need to search for this post again or to bookmark anything … well, except for bookmarking our blog site!

Legal Scholarship Blog

One reason why I like this site is because it offers the option to search by area of law, something you won’t find elsewhere.  Other features include:

  • Colloquia Series — list of colloquiums, some of which offer student or junior scholar opportunities
  • Grants — a list of organizations, agencies, and societies providing support for research, project, and teaching opportunities.
  • Research Dean — links to information on law review submissions, law review studies, articles on legal scholarship, research deans, and writing abstracts
  • Teaching — loads of information for prospective law professors and current law professors alike  (categories within include: general information, diversity, fellowships, process, casebooks, examinations, evaluation, pedagogical technology, technique & theory)

Legal Scholarship Network

From the folks at SSRN, this is a clean, no -frills website list.  Within categories, postings are listed by submission deadline date.  A small drawback — you can’t select by area of law.  Use the linked categories at the top of the page to go directly to the type of opportunity you are interested in.  The categories:

  • Calls for Papers and Participants–Conferences
  • Calls for Papers–Research Projects/Proposals
  • Calls for Papers–Journals & Books
  • Call for Applicants — Academic Programs
  • Awards, Grants, Fellowships, and Scholarships Available

Calling All Papers!

The University of Georgia Law Library maintains this list of Calls for Papers and Journals and Conferences/Symposia.  The default opening list is by date posted to the website and provides all details about an opportunity.  But, you can view a quick, unexpanded list by looking at the archive list in the right column and you can narrow your search by date using the calendar by clicking on dates that are underscored.

The Faculty Lounge Blog

As part of its conversations about law, culture, and academia, The Faculty Lounge Blog includes a category devoted to Calls for Papers.  Again, opportunities are listed by date posted to the website.  Each post contains a brief description of the opportunity with a link to additional information.

AALS Workshops & Conferences

The American Association of Law Schools (AALS) posts upcoming workshops and conferences they sponsor, which generally include calls for papers.  Events posted extend far into the future, giving you the opportunity for advanced planning.  Links to details may not always be available for events that extend beyond the next few months.

Just for Students: Cal Western-Student Writing Competitions

Opportunities are organized by title, topic, and submission deadline.  Simply click on the column header to sort by that column. For more information on a particular competition, click on its title.

Photo via morgueFile

Who Knows Where Your Law Degree Could Take You?

question markI came across a website the other day – for the Fashion Law Institute.  Really?  There’s a niche in the law for someone to practice only fashion law?  Cool, I thought, for those with sartorial inclinations (I bet they look awesome in court!).   It made me wonder:  how does someone end up with a practice in fashion law – or in some other unique and unusual area of law practice?  I had to investigate further and in the process found a neat little column from the New York City Bar Association that profiles attorneys who have made interesting and unusual transitions in the workforce.

What’s interesting is that most of these attorneys didn’t jump immediately into the area that has now become either a percentage or full-time part of their law business.   They had (or developed) a personal interest in the area they ended up in, but for most of them their career start in the law gave no indication that this is where they might end up one day.  In other words, they didn’t know where their law degree was going to take them.  Read on for a recap of three lawyers profiled in the NYC Bar’s “Spotlight” series.

fashion-runwayFashion Law

Staci Jennifer Riordan spent a number of years running production and fashion companies, so it was a natural fit to use her law degree to start a fashion law practice.  She doesn’t glamorize her job, however, and says that a love for fashion isn’t enough – the work can be taxing and workdays long.  Riordan emphasizes that it’s critical to learn as much as possible about the inner workings of the fashion industry and to connect with clients and understand their needs.  The challenge – and what Riordan enjoys and is good at – is explaining legal concepts to creative people in a manner they understand.  She loves client counseling.  To gain some insight into fashion law take a look at Riordan’s blog where she writes about the business of fashion and the website of the Fashion Law Institute, “the word’s first center dedicated to law and the business of fashion,” located at Fordham Law School.

Equine Law


John Fabiani owned several horses and had a personal interest in the racing industry.  When a partner in the insurance defense firm he worked at left, he persuaded the powers that be to let him take over the departed partner’s equine cases.  Fabiani is quick to note that not only understanding the law is necessary, but understanding the industry is a major key as well.  He immersed himself in the trade publications and learned about practical issues by talking to farm managers, breeders, and vets.  He also found a mentor who helped with important introductions and networking.  Although most of Fabiani’s practice continues to be insurance defense, he gains a lot of satisfaction from the small percentage of equine law that comes his way, which includes insurance issues, partnership issues, misrepresentation, and syndication of interests in valuable racehorses.  To learn about cases and statutes related to equine law, take a look at the Animal Legal & Historical Center (search for both horses and equine law).   Also consider checking out the University of Vermont website on equine law and horsemanship which serves as a resource for horsemen, lawyers, and law students.

aviation-jetplaneAviation Law

Abram Bohrer actually didn’t have an interest one way or the other regarding aviation law when by coincidence he happened to share office space with another lawyer whose family owned a freight forwarding business.  His interest was piqued.  Then he received a case from someone who had been injured in an airplane restroom.  At the settlement stage he was faced with a “pithy” settlement by the insurance adjuster.  He couldn’t have predicted that a leader in aviation law would be visiting his mentor at the same time, which led to a conversation about the settlement.  Bohrer learned that the case could be litigated under the Warsaw Convention, which governs international commercial air travel.  He did his homework and delved into all the information he could find, ultimately settling for an amount many times the initial offer. Like Fabiani and Riordan, Bohrer has acquired a deep knowledge of the industry, including an understanding of mechanics, weather, and accident reconstruction using scientific formula.  Aviation law has become a full-time business for Bohrer who on a typical day deals with issues involving jurisdiction, products liability, federal pre-emption, and conflict of laws.  To learn more about aviation law there are a couple of association websites (Lawyer Pilots Bar Association and National Aviation Trial Lawyers Association) and the Aviation Law Profs Blog to get you on your way.

To read about other lawyers who have made interesting and unusual career transitions within and out of the legal field, visit the NYC Bar’s “Spotlight on Careers.

Photo credits:  All via photopin.com cc: question mark; runway; horse race; plane

Time for a Little Mid-Semester Comic Relief

mf-flower with sunglassesYup, it’s that time of year — mid-semester — mid-terms are looming — tension is blooming.   It’s definitely time for a bit of mid-semester comic relief to restore some balance back into your lives.   With that in mind, we’ve gathered a few links to an assortment of smile-cracking, haha-inducing chuckles just for you.   So come up for a bit of comic-relief fresh air and a short respite from the daily grind.

Husband and wife team Maddy Dodson and Stu Reeves, Harvard Law graduates, have been publishing Stu’s Views since 2002.   After a stint practicing criminal prosecution, Maddy is now a full-time cartoonist.   Stu practiced IP law for a couple of years and now splits his time between cartooning and a solo legal practice representing — of course — hundreds of cartoonists.

…  I’m at a law school / Trying to keep cool / All of my prospects looking blue / Just doing my readings / Motions and pleadings / And case briefing International Shoe …    Sounding familiar?   Then check out Andy Loud’s YouTube video parody of Maroon 5’s Payphone.   Loud, now a 3L at West Virginia University College of Law, put together his music video in March of this year and it received over 100,000 hits in its first two weeks.   Loud also notes in this short article in  Law News Now that probably 10,000 of those hits came from his mom clicking on “refresh.”

Do you think you could write a six-word story about law school or a law-related theme?  Lisa Mazzie, legal writing professor at Marquette asked her students to write their own six-word tales, inspired by the story of a bet Ernest Hemingway won when he was challenged to write a story in six words.   You can find a few more of these six-word wonders at  Law News Now and at the TaxProf Blog.   Here’s one on law school:

  “Sanity sustained by pounds of coffee.”VasanthSarathy-legallydrawn-okaytousewithoutpermission-withlinkback

Legally Drawn is a cartoon blog started by Vasanth Sarathy (cartoonized right) while a law student at Boston University School of Law.   It features commentary on law, law school, law firms — basically, pretty much anything legal.   Sarathy currently works for Ropes & Gray, a global law firm of more than 1,100 attorneys.

How do you know you’re a law student?  Question answered at the tumblr blog collection named — naturally — You know you are a law student when…   Here’s one to get you started … “you know you’re a law student when…this semester’s textbooks are worth more than your car is…”

Let’s sneak in one more.   Andrew Jay McClurg is the law professor behind Lawhaha.com, a source for “large archives of academically oriented legal humor.”   McClurg (aka Tortman) teaches tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy at University of Memphis School of Law.   Be sure to take a look at Tortland, “an odyssey into the great body of mishaps, missteps, misdeeds, slips, falls, spills, chills, thrills, botched operations, vicious dogs, tainted food, falling ladders, collapsing reservoirs, defective products, slander, libel, and pain and suffering…”  Some funny stuff here.  How about it; can you “Spot the Tort” in the picture below?rolling-tort-in-atlanta-300x237


We hope you’ve gotten a laugh or two out of this post and can get back to your studying feeling a bit refreshed.   Come back again whenever you feel the need to come up for some comic-relief fresh air!

Photos: sunflower via MorgueFile; sketch Vasanth Sarathy via LegallyDrawn.com; loaded car via Lawhaha.com

Know Your Library


Well, here we are at the start of a new school year with a whole new crop of 1L’s and a whole bunch of returning 2 and 3L’s ready to dig into the heavy stuff.   I guess what I’m going to say is skewed to 1L’s who aren’t “set in their ways” yet, but for all the rest of you too, I’m going to give you a tip that will help you greatly now and later on in your career.   The advice is simple — get to know your library.   I mean really, really well!

Sometimes the irony of the view from the reference desk gets to me.   I watch students sit in the library and look at their laptop screens all day long while surrounded by thousands and thousands of books, never looking up, never going into the stacks, never asking questions.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-technology.   I love gadgets.   I’ve got two laptops, a netbook, a chromebook, and two smartphones.   I also happen to love libraries (always have) and had years of library use experience before I ever started working in one.   So I can go either way on research and, more importantly, my library knowledge informs the way I use technology.

There have been alarms raised in education circles for about two decades now about the decline in student library skills, research skills, literacy and writing skills, and even cognitive reasoning skills.   School library budgets have shrunk and shrunk, public libraries are in financial crisis, and the technology explosion fostered the idea that analog is irrelevant.   Though the topic I’m getting to is legal research, it’s true in general that if you have the idea “If it’s not online it doesn’t exist” or “If it’s not online I’m not going to do it,” then you have severely limited yourself in a lot of areas.

If you are one of those whose library skills are lacking, you have a golden opportunity to not only boost your law school success but boost your future law career success as well.   Here’s the plan — learn one thing about the library every day.   I know you’re busy and have millions of pages to read and papers to write, but just take 15 minutes a day to learn one library thing, especially if you’re in the library anyway.   Start by taking a break from your laptop, get up, stretch, and just walk around a little to see what is there.   Those cryptic looking call numbers that look so scary — you can learn the basic number system in 15 minutes.  Then you just need to know which direction the numbers go on the shelves and you’re on your way to finding anything quickly.   Play around with the catalog to see how it works and get familiar with it.   Ask questions about “How do I…”   If you’re saying to yourself, as many people do, “Ahhh, legal research is all online now,” you have crippled you research capabilities.

What kicked off this whole topic was the article “Law Firm Legal Research Requirements for New Attorneys” in the Law Library Journal, which you can read here.   You should read it. Here is a quote:

Many students and entry-level attorneys do not know how to conduct secondary source research (or see the need to do so), yet firms are requiring that they perform thorough secondary source research.  Law firms are reporting with alarm that new associates have the dangerous tendency to start a research project in an unfamiliar area of law by searching primary law databases instead of first consulting a good practice guide in order to learn the law and language of a particular subject area. Here is a typical comment:

Most [new associates] do not know how to use a library catalog to find materials.   Most of them do not know how to use an index.  Most of them do not know the difference between the table of contents and the index.   Most of them think that they need to go directly to researching case law online, and are unaware of how secondary sources should be used.

So the modest proposal of fifteen minutes a day will obviously not only help you with success in law school studies, but could be a crucial key to your career success.   Library skills are learned by doing, so go ahead and get to know your library.   You’ll be glad you did, and so will your future boss.

Photo: William J. Jameson Law Library, courtesy Bob  Peck

Law Review Online Companions: A Scholarly Publication Opportunity for Faculty & Law Students

If you are searching for an opportunity to publish your scholarly work in a “short form” scale — and a relatively quick publication time frame — a law review online companion may be just the option for you.  The first law review online companion, Yale’s The Pocket Part (now called The Yale Law Journal Online or YLJ Online) was first published in 2005.   When Matthew Bodie wrote his essay on law review companions two years later for the launch of Connecticut Law Review’s CONNtemplations there were eight online companions.   Today, there are over 50.

While variations exist, law review online companions generally have the following characteristics:

  • Short (sometimes very short) in length.  The range is anywhere from 1500 words to a maximum of 10,000 words; a fairly typical average is around 3000 to 4000 words.  A few limit by page number, 15 pages being about average.
  • Lightly footnoted.  Note that the word count above generally includes footnotes.
  • Timely, relevant pieces.  Online companions publish shorter pieces with more immediacy than is possible in the traditional law review process.
  • Quick acceptance and expedited publication.  Again, turnaround varies, but because of the desire for timely, newsworthy pieces, the process is expedited.  Some may notify authors as quickly as within a week of submission, if selected.  A few are more stringent and have a longer more rigorous review process (e.g., North Carolina Law Review’s Addendum).
  • Rolling submissions and frequent publication.  A good number accept submissions on a rolling basis and publish often throughout the year.
  • Submission via email to the editors of the online companion rather than through an online submission service such as ExpressO or Scholastica.
  • Traditional print law review citation to works.  Publication to the website may also be formatted and paginated like the print volumes, but not always.
  • Online publication only — no print versions.  Pieces are placed permanently on the law review companion website.  A growing number are now available on Lexis and Westlaw, and a couple appear on HeinOnline (PENNumbra and Addendum).

The goal of online companions is primarily to provide a forum for thoughtful responses to traditional print law review articles and for the inclusion of shorter forms of original legal scholarship on timely current legal issues.  Here’s what some online companions have to say about what their mission is:

  • Maryland Law Review’s Endnotes looks to “facilitate more robust discussion of [their] print articles and quickly disseminate commentary on important judicial decisions, legal policy issues, and legislative developments.”
  • The California Law Review online companion, The Circuit, states it seeks to publish a “wide variety of timely legal commentaries, essays, response pieces, reviews, debates, and student work.”
  • de•novo, Cardozo’s online companion, says it is a “home for shorter articles on timely legal issues … [and] also hosts ‘mini-symposia’ that feature articles from professors and practitioners across political and sociological lines in order to create a lively debate on a selected legal issue.”
  • Southern California Law Review’s Postscript notes that their online companion permits them to “publish a wider variety of worthwhile material than [they] can accommodate in [their] printed journal.”

The actual content accepted by individual companions can vary quite a bit, although most seek to publish a wide variety of timely legal commentaries, essays, response pieces to print journal articles, reviews, debates, and student work.  Some are more restrictive and may limit pieces to responses and reactions to articles published in their print journal or limit pieces to state-specific and/or federal circuit legal developments and issues.  Texas Law Review’s Dicta, for example, is quite specific — it focuses solely on reviews of “recently published books that are of interest to the legal academy.”

For more complete details, consult the helpful lists below:

  • Colin Miller’s Submission Guide for Online Law Review Supplements, Version 6.2 is available on SSRN.  His list of 46 online companions includes the journal title and link, types of pieces accepted, submission information, and submission format.
  • Texas Wesleyan School of Law maintains a PDF list that includes not only online companions, but also law reviews with blogs, and online-only law reviews (of the over 100 listed, 55 are identified as online companions).  The list provides the publication name, website URL, identifies type of publication, description of works accepted, and whether available on Lexis and Westlaw.  Also, when available, the list indicates whether the online companion is limited to responses and comments, whether it allows creative pieces, how frequently it is published, timeline for response to a submission, information on the submission process, and word length limit/recommendation.
  • Weidener School of Law publishes a list of 43 law review online companions.  The list includes the URLS for the print journal and for submission to the online supplement, the name of the online companion, and a brief description of the submission requirements.

10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Summer Legal Job

law officeYou did it!   You landed that summer legal job!   Hooray and congratulations!   You might be interning at the public defender’s office or perhaps clerking for a judge.   Or maybe you’re working at a local law firm as a summer associate or with a legal-aid agency.   Whatever summer legal job you may have, you’ll want to make the most out of it.    Below are 10 tips for maximizing your upcoming work experience.

1.  Dress code.

Check out the dress code…ahem…before the first day.   When in doubt, dress professionally.

2.  Attitude — the little big difference.

Show enthusiasm for the job and let folks know you are appreciative of the fact you got the position.   Smiles and friendly greetings are always in style.

3.  Office support staff.

Treat these folks with respect and courtesy.   You’ll also discover a wealth of information at the fingertips of paralegals, secretaries, librarians, and other support staff .   Need a research tip or shortcut?  Want to know how to present your work?   Wondering how to do those court filings?    They can be your best friend!

4.  Work product.

Produce an excellent work product every time.   Refresh your legal research knowledge and writing skills before you start.   Be sure you understand what you’ve been asked to do.   Carry a notepad for writing down instructions.   Do not miss deadlines!  And remember, some research questions have no definite answer.

5.  Know your limits.

If you try to do too much, you can find yourself overloaded.   Don’t be afraid to turn down assignments.

6.  Be proactive.

Shake off your shrinking violet.   Get face-to-face time with the lawyers, judges, and staff where you work.    Seek out opportunities to go to court, attend brown-bag lunches, and sit in on meetings.

7.  Communicate.

Ask questions!   It’s okay to admit you don’t know what you’re doing.   That’s why you’re there — to learn.   Remember, people aren’t mind readers.

8.  Embrace the learning curve.

You aren’t expected to know everything.   It’s your inexperience that’s expected.   Work conditions may not be ideal or what you’re used to.   Your employer will watch to see how well you meet the unfamiliar.   Flexibility is key.

9.  Common sense — use it.

Demonstrate a level of maturity.   Be professional in your demeanor — including at any social functions or events you might attend.

10.  It’s not just another summer job.

This is your first (or second) opportunity to “practice” law.   It’s also a chance to leave a meaningful impression.   You might think of your summer legal job as one very long interview — with the potential for job offers and recommendations when it’s over.

That’s the long of it.   The short of it comes from a wise woman I used to know who often said:  “work hard and be nice — and you’ll do just fine.”    And, so you will.

Photo credit: Brent Nashville via Photopin cc