October 14, 2011
Reflections of a Business Law Prof on Blog Writing versus Law Journal Writing
Posted by David Groshoff

I’m the first to admit that I’m not a good writer.  That fact is one of many that underlies why I integrate a practical, plain-English, writing component into each week’s material in my business law classes and why I require significant document drafting in what is typically a doctrinal class (Biz Orgs). 

I want our students (and me) to be able to improve their writing as much as possible.  Beyond having students draft business documents as a two-month out-of-class project related to some of the materials we study by the semester’s midpoint, I also have each student choose one paragraph from a case in each week’s reading of the student’s choosing that the believe is poorly written and then re-write the paragraph, citing rules from supplemental texts such as Plain English for Lawyers, U.N. Judge Mark Painter, and others.  In class, hand writing note takers e-mail me their paragraphs in advance, and laptop users must be ready to e-mail the paragraph to me if cold-called. 

We then spend about five minutes each week putting a paragraph of the case that we’ve just read on the drop-down screens, examine how the re-write improved clarity, and, via red-lining/blue-lining, look for further ways through which we can continue sharpening the re-write to make the paragraph even better.

Student reviews indicate that about as many students like the exercise as despise it, and I ran the exercise past our legal research and writing director prior to implementing it in my classes to ensure I wasn't "going rogue," despite my belief that effective writing is, perhaps, the most important skill in a business lawyer’s repertoire. 

Some of my friends both in and out of the academy are tremendous writers.  What they put on paper (or facebook) the first time is brilliantly written and worthy of my envy.  And while I’m not a good writer, I think that I am a solid enough editor.  When I write an article (typically), I write it and then go through literally hundreds of drafts, editing and refining the entire manuscript each time, not based on content but rather based on stylistic and grammatical issues.  And then I read the manuscript post-publication, and I see all sorts of additional edits that I should’ve made that would have allowed for a better written piece.

As a result, blogging has been a real (and welcomed) challenge for me to quickly write something without editing what I write (beyond a quick once-over).  Heightening my challenge is knowing that other members of the academy may view my not-so-well-written stuff as evidence of my inability to interface with the written word. 

Please don't get me wrong: I’m tremendously enjoying my time here at the Glom, and I'm extremely thankful for the opportunity.  But what I’m discovering is that blogging hasn't yet allowed me to think through (to the point of writing about them) some material issues as well as I’d like, prior to writing them. 

For example, in a prior post regarding JPMorgan, I said “full disclosure” and mentioned something about my no longer having an equity stake in my former employer.  Yet full and more meaningful disclosure, of course, would have led me to state whether JPM was a creditor of mine.  The creditor interest is at least as important as the equity stake, in my opinion, which left my “full disclosure” as more like “fool disclosure.”  But it’s gaffes like that, I hope, that help me to continue to think more quickly with the written word, to write more effectively the first time, and to thank the Glom for giving me the opportunity to improve.

Next week, during my final week here as a guestblogger, I hope to discuss a few securities law related matters, marketized education, and maybe some additional business law teaching ideas.

Have a great weekend!!

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