The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Tag: blog

Blog recommendation: etclaims.co.uk

There’s a fantastic book called Employment Tribunal Claims: Tactics and Precedents which I followed religiously when I acted as a lay representative during an Employment Tribunal case earlier in the year. It’s great for providing an overview of how the tribunal system works for someone just looking up at it from the bottom.

The book emerged from the collected resources and experience of a London law centre and is written from the perspective of pro bono representatives who do it a lot. The advice, from if you should claim to how you should cross examine a witness, works for everyone and it might even be worth having a read just in case if you’re an employee.

What I didn’t realise is that there is a companion site to the book at etclaims.co.uk which has a regularly updated blog on employment tribunal practice. If you’re involved in employment cases I can see this being very useful to check.

4dd6465fc78a86d0987870f88dffcb9c

Book review: Typography for Lawyers – Matthew Butterick

What is the ugly truth about why typography is so important for lawyers? :

I believe that most readers are looking for reasons to stop reading… [o]nce the reader’s attention expires, you have no chance to persuade

– Matthew Butterick, Typography for Lawyers: Essential Tools for Polished and Persuasive Documents, Jones McClure Publishing

I was very kindly sent a review copy of the new legal typography book this week and I’ve really been enjoying it. I’ve written about the website which spawned this book before because it gives a useful introduction to the principles of typography, how it relates to legal writing and why it matters at all (hint – it’s important to make your writing inviting and easily readable because of that quote at the top). The book continues that mission with examples, tips and rules written by a professional typographer turned professional lawyer. Just about every section comes with point by point instructions for implementing it in Word 2003; Word 2007 and 2010; WordPerfect and Pages — a broad range of the most common word processors that you might reasonably expect someone to use. Even then, the advice is universal and you don’t even need those programs to benefit from it. Inside the front cover is a useful list of special characters along with a list of 28 key rules for quick reference. It is a very useful working handbook which is worth keeping close to your desk.

There’s always a worry in my mind that when a popular website publishes a book based on the website they will just stick two covers around what the original website said and not a word more. That’s not the case here and the author has unquestionably given value for money with his new book. There’s a lot of extra material written just for the book and it also avoids some of the limitations of a website format. There’s an inherent catch 22 in presenting typography tips on a website as, for example it’s hard to demonstrate the benefits of high-resolution print-optimised fonts on a website — after all, on page 82 you find out that a monitor has less than 3% of the resolution that a laser printer does. In a book you can immediately point out the little details (and make no mistake – each individual element is a fine detail) that are brushed out to make it easier for screen display. Suddenly “this font is better than this font” discussions make much more sense. The issues of subtlety and fine detail come up a lot – you are encouraged to adjust the size of text by 144ths of an inch at a time to see what works best. The changes are subtle, you can instantly see they’re right after you’ve done it and the worst thing is that you would never even know to do to it without being told first (use invisible “optional hyphens” to tell the computer the best place to split words between lines?). This book tells you how.

The best advice Butterick gives about typography is that it is not an exercise in artistic skill or taste but intent. The purpose of someone studying typography for legal writing is not to turn their case or essay into solid gold by changing the font but to polish it to more clearly show the merits. Studies testing marking styles show that an essay written in bad handwriting will score less than the same essay copied out in good handwriting. People like things to look good and people like things that look good. This is particularly true when people are dealing with piles of broadly similar documents. A judge or marker or supervisor or any professional reader probably does not want to read your document all that much but they have to because it’s their job. The best thing you can do for someone in that unenviable situation is to make it a) easy and b) pleasant for them. Content is king but the medium should not be forgotten.

Typography for Lawyers is on sale now for $25 which, thanks to our global village and affordable shipping, is just £16.07 in real money. Consider it recommended to anyone who writes about law because it’s a crucial element of the process explained very well.

But…

For the next edition it would be good to get some more international information. Your reader isn’t going to want to see different things from American ones so the advice travels well but the book is written from an American point of view – The Bluebook is referred to extensively along with The Chicago Manual of Style, the 7th Circuit’s style guide, the Californian Style Manual and others. In an ideal world I’d like to see about the Court of Session too.

4dd6465fc78a86d0987870f88dffcb9c

New theme

I’ve decided to take pity on my failing eyesight by switching to a theme with bigger text. The previous style, Benevolence, let me include a photo I’d taken of the River Clyde in the header but it only had a narrow column for text. I thought this gave the blog a suitably Glaswegian theme and I do miss that in the new theme.

On the other hand, it’s big and it holds the words well and that’s really what I’m looking for in a blog theme.

4dd6465fc78a86d0987870f88dffcb9c

Search Query

In an homage to Michael at Law Actually this is a funny search query post. The majority of my search queries are fairly serious ones, generally focusing on typewriters, laptops and if law is difficult and if so how much and I don’t often get many funny ones. But here is one that caught my eye:

“is white spirit as good as gbl?”

At getting rid of paint, yes. I wouldn’t risk drinking it. If you’re the Mona Lisa it might not be good but it has its place, which is taking paint from surfaces.

4dd6465fc78a86d0987870f88dffcb9c

Saddleback Leather Company

I’ve found myself reading the artofmanliness.com (links to a competition thread – very best of luck to anyone clicking it) over the weekend. I happen to think that it’s a really good idea — it’s a blog dedicated to the idea that it’s good to be manly, in a self-reliant and skilled way rather than a boorish or overly FHM way. I agree with this, I think it’s a good model for someone to aim to be. I actually think that’s a fairly good model for everyone to aim to be, just to be modern.

The blog mainly divides into posts about how to be manly — how to camp, how to put up shelves, that sort of thing — and things that are manly — the pocketknife, hats, Frank Sinatra, that sort of thing. In the second category lies the Saddleback Leather Company’s products, their site is frankly one of the most tempting boutique shopping sites I’ve ever seen. Generally I can look at boutique items and say “right, it’s lovely but it’s wholly impractical as well as very expensive” but in this case I’m looking at leather satchels and bags built to last for generations and thinking “it’s lovely and dammit that’s probably quite practical too.” I do like the idea of buying a bag that’s just not going to wear out, and I say that as someone with a cracked laptop from hitting pavement after a zip on a backpack burst.

I think the idea of me buying a briefcase just now, as an undergrad, would be a massively presumptuous act and I think the smaller items are disproportionately expensive compared to the bags to consider buying one – I think the $140 leather document wallet is a particularly shocking act of pricing that frankly reflects badly on the other items but that doesn’t change the central issue: those are some lovely looking bags. They’re too much money for a student to spend on a single bag in my view (I get by very well with a beaten up Berghaus daypack at uni – you just need something that holds your books) but I think these might be worth looking at when money is less tight even if just because they’re quite pretty.

Edit: I’m at the “know enough to be dangerous” stage of my tax education just now. Would someone get a letter from the revenue if they imported one of the $519 (small) – $607 (large) briefcases?

4dd6465fc78a86d0987870f88dffcb9c

ScotsLawStudent.com mentioned on Law Actually

Many thanks to Michael of Law Actually for his coverage of the blog/blawg, it’s lovely to very nice to get a mention, Law Actually is one of the blogs I regularly read and follow with great interest. Law Actually, as a matter of fact was the point at which it occurred to me that I could blawg about this university thing. I’d actually not noticed just how much the blog was trending into the tech world until he pointed it out. This has deviated from the high brow, dusty black letter aspirations that I had originally held for it and bears considering.  In a hobby project you get to play to your interests and, hey, I’m interested.

In a nod to the next generation (I’m almost up to my third year now) I’d like to add some tips for new students who see this. I get a lot of search hits from people looking at attending law school and deeply suggest that people should start their own blog, with some caveats, because it’s a great way to put your experience out there.

1) Decide if you want to write anonymously or use your name.

I did to keep my baby steps from being intimately connected to my offline, aspiring to get paid as a lawyer, persona. I suspect you could work out who I am reasonably easily but hopefully prospective employers casually doing a google won’t come across my laughably wide-eyed and naive opinions. If not you need to remember to keep your posts employer-safe and to take it pretty seriously, you might never have your masterpiece on “top 10 jokes to play on the falling down drunk” post come back to bite you but the chance is there and I would suggest keeping it away from your equally masterpiece work on “the concept of occupier liability in virtual worlds” in case it affects you further down the line. By no means think you can’t write the first if you want to but I don’t think you should connect it to identity that you hope to have appear before a judge, in the good way.

2) How much of an online presence do you want to have?

This boils down to:

Do you need a website?

Generally no- all you need is a way to put your words online. A blog works for that with aplomb. You can get a free blog with wordpress.com among many others. A website has potential more functionality than a blog on its own but most people would be very surprised at the functionality of blog software and hosts. You don’t need a website just to host files – wordpress.com gives you 2GB of storage for free which lets you handle media of all kinds, 2GB’s enough to provide a fairly decent archive of podcasts, all attached to quick connections and lots of bandwidth.

Choose a good blog host

Blogging is a great way to publish your words, I’m just about old enough to remember when “publishing your words” amounted to plain, hand written HTML files in your 50MB of ISP hosted storage for most people and modern blogging is so much better. You have three main choices – a social networking site (Facebook etc) blog, a dedicated “blawg” or to post about legal topics on a blog you already write. All options work. I happen to go for the dedicated blawg and it’s the route that most other legal bloggers seem to take. It’s possible to move to another host after you’ve started but it’s fairly heavy work to move everything over.

To Tweet or not to Tweet

Twitter is extremely useful to consider because, frankly, Tweets are wonderfully quick to write in a way that a five hundred word blog post is not. I personally have a sporadic presence on Twitter which finds bursts of updates when I rememeber about it. I am ashamed to point out a distinct causual link between the breaking of my easy-tweet panel applet and a dry spell in my posting. It’s not for everyone and if you don’t like it you can stop using it. It is for many people and there’s a lot of good material put on Twitter. I’m unsure I like the ephemeral nature of it though.

3) How much time do you want to spend on it?

Producing good writing is hard work (and tiring, just ask any student why they can’t get up in the morning!) and regularly publishing them takes a considerable amount of time. You can shortcut that by writing less often or, in a manner of speaking, writing less. You can do what I can’t, which is write fewer words, or you can do what I can do, which is research less. I can not do research with the best of them. You probably won’t see a footnote on this entire site. That couldn’t be more different for other people, particularly on practioner blawgs, for example on firm websites, where the blogger is actually reporting on novel legal research. It’s a (non-peer reviewed, mind) journal article you can get to with google. I have found these useful to give me an overview in a particular question of law. You don’t have to write that sort of blog but if you do put your name to it it would be wonderful to be able to show that you can.

I have let the blog lapse a little, it’s true, but I still check it often and try to update it when I get a minute. It’s hard to fit it in and you always have to remember that, unless, your blog by some miracle is generating a great deal of money for you, it’s not a job and real life committments should come before getting a new post out. Twitter is a good option for people who just want to publish their thoughts and opinions and not spend a lot of time on it but it’s equally not for everyone.

4) The tech bit: How should you write your blog

This is actually not as straight forward as it used to be. Previously if you wanted to type an online journal your only avenue was a desktop computer, without it you weren’t going to get much online. Now your options are considerably more varied so much so that the the previously cutting edge al fresco laptop blogger is in danger of becoming passe. I’ve not read that anyone is blogging from a mobile yet (and don’t really fancy it on my bog standard phone keypad) but I imagine it must be getting done – lawyers and the Blackberry are pretty inextricable these days. I have a reasonably ardous bus commute as part of my day and if I had a way to type on the bus I suspect I could get a fair bit done and the smartphone might be a reasonable way to do it. Currently I use the time for reading but typing might be a good way to pass that time too. Beyond that, it’s a typing task like anything else you do. You find a way to type that you can stand and you do it that way. I use a manual typewriter because of the lovely noise. It’s really not much cop on the bus but it’s a nice addition to my desk at home.

Conclusions

I can’t recommend blogging your law school experience enough, if nothing else it’ll be an interesting record to look back over when you finish your career. I think legal blogging fulfills two crucial roles in today’s world – legal reporting and advertising. I think that having sane, reasoned and knowlege legal comment is crucial. Ben Goldacre recently made a wonderful analogy comparing reporting science with reporting snooker. He pointed out that economics and finance get pretty full fat coverage with shedloads of figures and theories being bandied about and you still need 4 years of university education in that too. If you can watch full fat reporting of a complicated game like snooker you can handle full fat reporting on the way the very world works. It’s like that in law too, it needs a lifetime to master but affects everyone and it’s rarely objectively reported. It’s too often you hear unattributed anecdotes about the broken nature of the law without a voice in the wilderness pointing out the reasoning behind it.

The other one is to educate law students – I relied on family members in the profession, who had been qualified for some time, for my introduction to what will happen at law school and things change in that time so I was playing by ear for a lot of what was happening. I only came across a blawg, and only after my first year was already over, by a chance google result. Other people have searched for information online before even applying and this shows slightly more research than I did and fair play to them that’s a good move. Legal bloggers can and do help these people by having a decent coverage of the mystical place for them when they search.

Additionally I’ve got my original aim of going over things I’ve read for the benefit of refreshing it in your mind, that still works although I’ve not been doing much of it on the blog. Any benefit which might improve your ability to analyse and remember law is to be pounced on posthaste.

New domain

In a sort of donation to wordpress.com, my blog provider, I’ve bought the 15 credits they want for domain hosting, I personally don’t actually need it but wordpress.com has been a good, high quality provider for me and they run a mainly free service so it’s primarily giving something back. There’s slightly cheaper places to get your domain hosting from but they don’t have such a nice blog.  I heartily recommend that other wordpress.com users consider the upgrade features, if you find one that’s got a useful purpose for you then do consider paying wordpress.com for it.  It’s expensive to run a very busy site.

It’s only $15 for a year and it’s quite nice to have the scotslawstudent.com address, at the very least it’s my personal act of cybersquatting if someone else wants to take it from me because I’ve still got the scotslawstudent.wordpress.com address to fall back to. In the mean time, this will improve my google search results and that will mean that more people see and hopefully read the blog, which a useful benefit to supporting my service providers.

Both addresses will continue to be used equally and all links to one will be completely valid in other.

Blog Recommendation – Baby Barista

There are many different blogs in the world with very different takes on their many different subjects – as law blogs go Baby Barista manages to be one of the scariest to read.

Baby Barista is the fictionalised account of a trainee barrister as he goes through his pupilage at Chambers down in Oxford. I originally started reading it because it is written by a real world barrister and I hoped it might show me some of the things that training involves, at least in England, and what common problems do advocates and barristers suffer. As I read on, however, I found myself utterly terrified at the attitude of many of the characters of BabyBarista.

I have often said that anyone who manages to become a lawyer in today’s climate is razor sharp, hardened, determined and you can be assured has never failed a test in their life, and in one sense this is extremely good – even if you have a young lawyer that young lawyer will have worked staggeringly hard to get to a point to be able to represent you, but it also raises the concern that the young lawyer has almost literally fought off hordes of his peers to be able to represent you.

The English Chambers system for barristers means that the number of positions for barristers is practically nearly as fixed as that of the judges they appear before. Chambers are literally the offices in which barristers work and are often truly ancient. (In Scotland the system is a lot more open and instead of a stone Chambers building an advocate receives the use of a pigeon hole in the upper court in Edinburgh which means that they are much more flexible as far as numbers go.) Places often open up only on retirement of a current member and competition is terrifyingly fierce for tenancy in the most renowned Chambers.

Needless to say, BabyBarista is competing for tenancy in the one of the most renowned Chambers – one so elite they refuse to have names like “Shawn” on the members list outside and there are 4 or 5 candidates willing to spend years competing for the single tenancy spot at the end of the process. The author even points out that in every other field an interview of hours or at most days is considered perfectly able to select the right candidate for any number of roles. Only barristers (and advocates) have this process of years of fighting just to be selected for the job. Any similarity to Sir Alan Sugar’s “The Apprentice” is not wholly undeserved.

As BabyBarista himself says, if the system was set up to encourage cooperation he’d cooperate better than anyone but the system’s set up for a fight, so they’ll get one. So, rather than justice and wisdom we see a group of stunningly specialised professionals fighting with each other and any weapon is acceptable (even to the point of hiring a “girlfriend tester” to blackmail one of the other candidates). It might be dramatised for entertainment purposes – and it works, the blog is nothing short of enthralling from my perspective – but it makes altogether too much sense.

In contrast, there are the stories given by OldRuin, the “grandpupilmaster” of BabyBarista who appears periodically to give a snippet of wisdom and humanity. His stories are wonderful, touching and disturbingly come across as idyllic, he stands out from the rest of the crowd by simply being the decent, ethical professional most of us wanted to be at university but he seems to be a distinct minority in these Chambers.

As an aside, the character of TheBusker really interests me – this is a barrister who does the job as an art not a science and seems to benefit enormously from it, from the point of stress alone, and it may just be how positively he’s described but that’s who I want to be, the artful, eloquent, ruffled but just about still acceptable professional.

I think that would be fantastic.

BabyBarista is found at:
http://timesonline.typepad.com/baby_barista/

Blog recommendation- The Legality

I have been following blogs on the subject long before I decided to write my own law blog. One of the best I have seen is the University of Oregon’s The Legality.
The Legality describes itself as:

The Legality is written and maintained by students from the University of Oregon School of Law and outside submissions from professors and practitioners. We’re dedicated to providing accessible legal opinion on current events, and update twice a week (Mon & Wed).

And this is exactly what it manages to do, I’ve been entertained and interested by the articles I’ve read so far. The blog is well written and very well researched, finding legally correct details in a number of different jurisdictions- including ones directly relevant to my own, the one I’ve shown below is from England.

As any first year law student struggling with the “reasonable person standard” can tell you, the last thing the legal world needs is more imaginative standards and tests. One novel concept, however, might be an exception: the charmingly named “moron in a hurry.” Like the “reasonable person,” the “moron in a hurry” is a legal fiction employed to represent the decisions someone might make under a given set of circumstances. That “someone,” however, isn’t reasonably prudent at all. Instead, it’s an imaginary conception of the least informed, least diligent consumer in a given market – and it’s making the transition from informal phrase to bona fide legal concept.

The idea of a client needing to be compared to a moron in a hurry so he can get off is a particularly happy thought for when the world gives difficult clients. I’m interested in the level of standards that exist in the law – the balance of probabilities, beyond reasonable doubt to name just two. The more levels, particularly one so “charmingly named” just adds to the nuance.
The Legality runs “Word of Week” articles, as seen above with “Moron in a hurry” as well as “Journal News” which carries the same purpose as General on this forum and finally, and perhaps most interesting is the regular articles – on as wide a range of topics as how far as you can go to improve your odds in a casino before it breaks the law to how Tupac relates to defamation. In my opinion these two sections are legal journalism at the best.
The legality is found at:
http://www.thelegality.com/

The word of the week article “moron in a hurry” is found at:
Moron in a hurry