The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Tag: book

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.

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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.

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The most unlikely law study aid ever?

As I am an avid reader and notorious for it, it’s not unusual for me to get books at Christmas, and last year I received a copy of Derren Brown “Tricks of the Mind“. This book, although not ever intended specifically for it, may actually become the most unususal law study aid I have thus far tried.

My reason for this conclusion – the title of Part 3 : “Memory”

A law student needs to remember a great deal for closed book exams and this is a common complaint – I’ve already written about the issue in the short time this blog has been established.

Now, in no way am I suggesting that reading Brown should supercede reading Gane & Stoddard but any law student, any student whatsoever, on reading him recount listing Shakespeare’s plays in chronological order of their being written by mentally walking a path through a theatre wishes to God that he’s giving a genuine tip that might help him to remember, for example, common law case lines. Teasingly, Derren Brown himself studied law while at university and applies his system to remembering a case name and year – very promising stuff.  For those interested, it’s Pharmaceuticals Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemists 1953.

For example, a very common problem seen before the court is that of parties making a mistake in their contract or their understanding of it and disputes arising from it. Obviously not all mistakes are equal so the law has created a series of tiers and definitions of these – one of which is Unilateral Error, the induced version being close to misrepresentation and ending with the contract becoming voidable and I learnt that the cases of Morrisson v Robertson and Shogun Finance Ltd v Hudson told me the common law principles that govern this form of error. However, should that unilateral error be uninduced then the issue is much more unclear and I have to remember that MacBryde has written authority on exactly this issue so it would be good to be able to quote it and I know that case wise it was decided in 1875 through the case of Steuart’s Trs v Hart that mala fides, knowledge and non-disclosure were relevant factors. This seems fine and reasonably memorable, however, as far as I understand it in 1890 Stewart v Kennedy pretty much denied the very existence of uninduced unilateral error, instead prefering “error plus” and declared that it had to be induced to be effective and that was upheld and followed several times as recently as 1990, that’s confusing but it sounds like the later cases have superceded the earlier one. However in 1992 Angus v Bryden went back to the 1875 case and decided that knowledge and bad faith were once again indeed remediable faults.

Thus, there were two lines of active case law operating in the same area of law and a lot of authoritative cases, which cruelly happen to have the same sounding name. This is the kind of situation where you need a visual alternative to a sound and it is the kind of thing that Brown teaches in his book – moving everything to images, even using rhyme to convert numbers to images. It’s a fantastic plan but I’ve always been concerned that it seems like more work than just learning the facts as they stand. I think if you managed to leverage the visual memory system that he advocates you would see a marked improvement in your ability to recall facts and their relationships with other facts and that would pay off very well.

Just as you need to be able to read quickly in law school, a good memory for what you have taken in is essential if you want to get the most out of your reading and note taking. There is nothing like struggling to remember if a case was anomalous because it was decided after a landmark authority or came before and represented the established way of thinking and remembering cases as, for example, things on plinths in alcoves of a hallway (my attempt at transferring this method to contract law) would help you remember if the case came before or after another. Physically remembering the year on the case report which you studied is my current method for exam preparation but I think it is too fleeting, I effectively bulk up on rapidly memorised facts and stomp into the exam hall and forget everything I ever knew in the stress (large blocks of higher maths are no longer clear memories to me).

However, I was watching one of his TV series, Trick or Treat, on channel 4 and spotted the mother-lode of research gifts. In that he apparently managed to get a regular human being, Glen, to record the contents of a library by dragging his fingers down each page in a book and sort of glancing at the page.

Let me tell you, I’m an authority on sort of glancing at the page while studying and I’m pretty certain it doesn’t work. If it did work though, that is an unbelievable system which seriously changes how schooling will happen around the world. Until then I will dream on that the speed reading + eidetic memory is as effective and as effortless as Derren has made out.

The fact that Glen, a man who by all accounts cited his poor memory as a failing when he applied to go on the show single handedly managed to beat off all but one team in the All England Pub Quiz just rubs my quiz loving nose in it. I literally had a daydream while watching the show of being able to do that with Stair, Hume, the dear Scots Law Times and basically the rest of the library too. It’s a dream of students on reading heavy courses to be able to speed it up, so improved retention and improved speed will both help and I realised I needed to make this a priority.

Derren, aside from his sometimes evil nature, is very entertaining and I make a point of watching the majority of his shows as they’re broadcast. I would never go to see him live because he’s a scary man but I’ll watch him on TV and cheer him on from a safe distance. This is a man who has rolled a human being -tied up in a sack- into a lake and not been particularly shook up about it.

In the words of Charlie Brooker, my favourite columnist for the Guardian, Derren Brown is:

“Clearly the best dinner-party guest in history – he’s either a balls-out con artist or the scariest man in Britain.”

Amen to that.