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Killing the Poetry: English Majors Transform their Rhetorical Identities in Law School
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Killing the Poetry: English Majors Transform their Rhetorical Identities in Law School

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Presented at the SAGES Interdisciplinary Conference: Bondage & Liberation …

Presented at the SAGES Interdisciplinary Conference: Bondage & Liberation
February 27, 2013

Introducing and exploring the rhetorical transformation that English majors must make in law school to succeed as legal writers

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  • AS English majors, we are oftentimes bound to ideas about what makes “good writing”—the sound and beauty—the art or poetry of “flow”. In order to be successful legal writers, English majors have to liberate themselves from those ideals of what “sounds right” to their ears. The students I see and talk to who are English majors at the law school seem to have a more difficult time adjusting to the rhetorical identity of a legal writer, because they have first have to let go of those ideals.
  • English majors are everywhere in law school. At least at Akron, there are only more political science majors than English majors.
  • Students told me that many of the basic skills from their English courses were useful, and truly, these are the basic skills that law students use most often: writing, research, and analysis. Learning how to apply those skills to a new field and pedagogical space is what they find most challenging.
  • Generally, these are students who are used to succeeding. But the pedagogical space of law school is very different. IT is a stressful environment, which makes learning a new way of doing things that much more difficult.
  • My focus is on the differences in writing styles that the law students must adopt when writing for their law classes. What is considered “successful writing” in an English class is quite different than in an LARW class.
  • *Actual example from an English paper written by a first-year law student—Name has been changed*Notice all of those features we just mentioned: long, complex sentence, concerned with pulling a universal theme from the reading. And the English majors in the room will recognize that the sentence flows nicely to our ears.
  • While this sentence from “Anna” is definitely shorter than the last, there are still holdovers from her English-influenced ideas of what makes for good writing.
  • Items that stick out to me: 1. nominalization of “totality” & passive voice: “Was provoked”
  • “Existential there” and repetition of many and different
  • And most English majors want to start their sentences with dependent clauses, cramming multiple points into one sentence. Our LARW professors discourage this, and we often will have students separate ideas into 2 sentences.This is demonstrative of what we help students do at the Writing Center—help them see their words in a different light, and try to help them liberate themselves from a specific idea of what is good writing.
  • The LARW classroom is a unique space, in that it endeavors to use many of the composition practices we would recognize, in the pedagogically hostile environment of the law school. There are unique issues to be navigated, but the recognizable space I think helps English students make the transition + recognition of the expertise of Compositionists in teaching writing—another kind of liberation.

Transcript

  • 1. Killing the Poetry: English Majors Liberate their “Rhetorical Identities” in Law School Tabitha Martin
  • 2. Why “Killing the Poetry”?
  • 3. Rhetorical Identity How students identify their “writing selves” in the rhetorical tradition of literature, specifically
  • 4. Undergraduate Majors in Akron Law, 2012 Psychology Political Science Philosophy Marketing International Studies Interdisciplinary Studies Geography English Economics Criminal Justice Chemistry Business Administration Accounting 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
  • 5. Resear ch Analysi s Common Skills Writing
  • 6. Law School Pedagogy “Law school is not an extension of your undergraduate work; it is unlike anything you’ve ever done before. “Your first-year grades follow you not just throughout law school but far into your legal career.” “If you prepare for law school the way you prepared for college, you will underperform.” “Only the strong survive” from Acing Your First Year of Law School
  • 7. Discordant Discourses English Law Grammatically complex Grammatical economy Long sentences One breath rule Universals Specifics “Flow” “Plain Language”
  • 8. “Anna Smith” Honors English major First-year law student at Akron Law Lifelong writer
  • 9. “These vignettes, all dealing with aspects of war or death, allow Hemingway to venture away from his subject matter within the short stories and delve deeper into human interaction while still reining in the tone of the collection, keeping it under tight control when a story is finished.” “Anna Smith”: "A Soldier is a Soldier: the Unified Emotions of Humanity in Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time”
  • 10. “Being that the test for provocation involves a totality of the circumstances test to determine whether or not the dog was provoked, there are many different types of circumstances that can be considered.” “Anna Smith”: LARW Brief, RE: Patrick Connelly; Dog Bite
  • 11. “Being that the test for provocation involves a totality of the circumstances test to determine whether or not the dog was provoked, there are many different types of circumstances that can be considered.” “Anna Smith”: LARW Brief, RE: Patrick Connelly; Dog Bite
  • 12. “Being that the test for provocation involves a totality of the circumstances test to determine whether or not the dog was provoked, there are many different types of circumstances that can be considered.” “Anna Smith”: LARW Brief, RE: Patrick Connelly; Dog Bite
  • 13. Helping Students Revisetest for provocation The “Being that the test for provocation involves a considers the totality of totality of the circumstances. circumstances test to determine whether or not the dog was provoked, there are many Therefore, all aspects of the case are considered to determine if the dog was provoked. different types of circumstances that can be (or) … if Connelly considered.” provoked the dog
  • 14. Becoming Another Kind of “Good Writer” Writing-specific classroom: Multiple drafts Peer review Models Conferences Rhetorical Analysis Trying to hold on to what they think are writing “universals” But aren’t always
  • 15. In some ways, writing is writing  Similar writing practices in writing & LARW classes Danger of getting too bound to one type of writing  Different rhetorical purposes ask for different approaches
  • 16. Thank You! Tabitha Martin Akron Law Writing Center tmf32@uakron.edu