Lawyers Who Exercise Both Sides of Their Brains

We lawyers are frequently thought of as an intellectually-focused and logic-driven group, often found knee deep in dusty casebooks, statutes and even the Tax Code. It may surprise lay readers, and even some lawyers, to know that lawyers are people too, and even embark on creative, self-exploratory pursuits in their somewhat rare free time. So, it comes as no surprise to me that there are lawyer poets out there prolifically creating verse more pleasing to the ear than an explanation of how in rem jurisdiction applies in the instant dispute in an Opposition to a Motion to Dismiss.

Thanks to Victoria Pynchon, over at Settle It Now, for this great link to Strangers To Us All: Lawyers and Poetry. The site is full of listings and resources, anthologies and books about and by poet / lawyers. I enjoyed poking around, repeatedly finding myself smiling at the refreshing marriage of law and poetry. While I have written a song lyric or two in my day, I cannot claim the poetic touch exhibited by the drafter of the text on the site’s homepage, which concludes with this:

We may find that the poet, like the lawyer, sees the world in a nuanced way that demands it be addressed with a special language, language that calls attention to itself and sets itself apart by form, rhythm, and practice. Both poetry and law are acquired taste, all the more surprising, to have such tastes acquired by a single person.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. For more creatively intellectual stimulation, check out the poetry section from the current edition of r.kv.r.y quarterly journal for some choice selections.

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Official Gmail Blog: Say hello to Gmail voice and video chat

A good day for Googlers, Gmail is introducing voice and video chat. From Justin Uberti over at the official Google blog:

[T]oday we’re launching voice and video chat — right inside Gmail. We’ve tried to make this an easy-to-use, seamless experience, with high-quality audio and video — all for free. All you have to do is download and install the voice and video plugin and we take care of the rest. And in the spirit of open communications, we designed this feature using Internet standards such as XMPP, RTP, and H.264, which means that third-party applications and networks can choose to interoperate with Gmail voice and video chat.

And why should you use it in your practice?

Our team is spread between Google offices in the US and Sweden, and video has really changed the way we work. Collaborating across continents and timezones is a fact of life for us, and it sure is easier (and greener) to click “Start video chat” than to get on a plane! And when I do have to visit another Google office, I can use Gmail voice and video chat to check in with my family.

More easy and free from the Big G!

Official Gmail Blog: Say hello to Gmail voice and video chat

More of "More Info Less Hassle"

 I love RSS. I mean, I REALLY love RSS. Other than Twitter, it is the fastest means for information retrieval I have found on the Web. Louis Gray has provided a great list of 30 ways to use RSS to your advantage in speeding up your information flow. Included is Tabbloid, which I reported about here a few posts ago. Check it out and see if you can “Hot Rod” your Internet experience.

louisgray.com: 30 Different Uses for RSS

Google: Get Around Academic Paper Restrictions

A quick tip from Lifehacker on how to get around subscription restriction on academic papers in Google search results. More information, less hassle! 

Google: Get Around Academic Paper Restrictions

Writing Skills Require Higher Level Learning

Hat tip to Legal Writing Prof Blog for a mention of this article by Mark Richardson over at The Chronicle of Higher Education called “Writing Is Not Just A Basic Skill.” Richardson’s article has great meaning for legal writers, particularly in light of the recent complaints in the press about the poor quality of writing among law students in particular and business writers in general.

Richardson complains that “common sense” notions of writing are impeding proper training in rhetoric and composition in institutions of higher learning. Richardson’s explanation regarding the genesis of these “common sense” ideas lays the groundwork for his theory as to why these ideas do not support to proper writing instruction in specific fields.

Enter the explosion of rhetoric and composition theory and practice in the 1960s. According to Richardson, ideas generated out of this explosion “fly in the face” of the previously accepted “common sense” notions. Richardson’s “truths” that conflict with “common sense” include:

Students who do one kind of writing well will not automatically do other kinds of writing well.

The conventions of thought and expression in disciplines differ, enough so that what one learns in order to write in one discipline might have to be unlearned to write in another.

Writing is not the expression of thought; it is thought itself. Papers are not containers for ideas, containers that need only to be well formed for those ideas to emerge clearly. Papers are the working out of ideas. The thought and the container take shape simultaneously (and develop slowly, with revision).

When students are faced with an unfamiliar writing challenge, their apparent ability to write will falter across a broad range of “skills.” For example, a student who handles grammatical usage, mechanics, organization, and tone competently in an explanation of the effects of global warming on coral reefs might look like a much weaker writer when she tries her hand at a chemistry-lab report for the first time.

Teaching students grammar and mechanics through drills often does not work.

Patterns of language usage, tangled up in complex issues like personal and group identities, are not easy to change.

Rhetorical considerations like ethos, purpose, audience, and occasion are crucial to even such seemingly small considerations as word choice and word order.

Writing involves abilities we develop over our lifetimes. Some students are more advanced in them when they come to college than are others. Those who are less advanced will not develop to a level comparable to the more-prepared students in one year or even in two, although they may reach adequate levels of ability over time.

The conflict is quite apparent at the University level, according to Richardson , when it inhibits proper writing instruction. Richardson relates beliefs held by administrators that composition is a “basic skill” that should be learned no later than the end of the first undergraduate year, that first year composition should be “remedial” and that basic composition is the foundation for all types of writing. “Common sense” beliefs are not bourne out when students then pursue writing in their specialized courses, particularly when higher level texts adhere to writing “rules” that are diametrically opposed.

Richardson concludes that reliance on the first year generic composition course is dangerous to higher level writing. He suggests that the better practice would be to pair rhetoric and composition instructors with professors in the various disciplines tasked with fashioning topic-specific writing courses that are tailored to the particular field of study.

What a great idea! Students interested in pursuing philosophy, logic and pre-law would be better served by instruction in proper methods of composition tailored to legal writing than by general, “remedial” instruction that does little to enhance their skill set. This is particularly true if time constraints make such instruction an “either-or” proposition. Perhaps re-thinking writing instruction at the undergraduate level will stem the flow of complaints about poor writing in the real world. Richardson’s concept certainly makes “common sense” to me.

More Google-y Goodness For Your Searching Pleasure

ABA Law Technology Resource Center reports on new Google features to make your searching easier to perform and more effective. Here is the quoted text from the ABA entry in full:

New Search Results

Google quietly rolled out “universal search” results on the main Google search results page. Now video results from their recent acquisition YouTube, as well as images, books, blog posts, news, and local information will appear in the main results set, as opposed to only appearing in their individual search pages. Another change is in the options for each result. In the past users could choose to see “similar pages” and “cached pages”. Now, appears the option to “Note This”. This option leads the user to the new Google Notes, a concept similar to eSnips or Furl. If you like having all your services in one Google basket you should check this out. 

The new search results are bound to change ranking status for some companies, and will cause a scramble to get to the top spot for those in the search engine optimization business.

Still Playing with Search

Google is also experimenting with a new user interface with a site called “SearchMash”. The Google brand is nowhere to be found, but most things look familiar. A dead giveaway is if you explore the privacy policy very far you will find yourself in the Google privacy policy. The new interface is very similar to some of the metasearch engines like Clusty and Vivisimo (in looks only), and shows a main results set with the option to expand subsearch sets in images, blogs, videos, and Wikipedia. The handy  Google feature “search this site” has been retooled as well. Now you can drill into a site for your original query simply by clicking on the domain in the results set – no retyping or trying to remember the syntax to search within a site. It has a lot of potential and it should be interesting to see where this will go. For now, just enjoy the BETA

Defender of the Universe?

According to some sources Google is readying to police the web, automatically identifying compromised sites that could carry malware and drive-by downloads by marking the sites in the search results as “potentially harmful”. The interesting part here is the treatment of Web 2.0 sites, and how Google will attempt to discovery malware in a site, such as a blog, that has constantly changing content. Google security specialist Niels Provos, along with four of his Google colleagues, has written a paper “The Ghost in the Browser” discussing Google’s plans to incorporate security analysis into its index.  The Google researchers reviewed 4.5 million Web sites and found that about one in 10 Web pages could successfully “drive-by download” a Trojan horse virus onto a visitor’s computer.

For those who would like to be warned of potential malware on websites right now, McAfee’s SiteAdvisor offers some help, and shows site ratings for search results in MSN, Google, and Yahoo!

Happy Hunting!