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Advice on Writing a "Recent Development"

I used Prof. Eugene Volokh’s book, Academic Legal Writing, and found it extremely helpful for when I was writing my student note for Journal, and other assignments as well. The original note that I submitted, for which I received journal credit, will not be published. But I was asked to write another note, this one on a particular case. Such a note is called a “Recent Development,” or “Case Note.” My case was Campbell v. General Dynamics Gov’t Sys. Corp, 407 F.3d 546 (1st Cir. 2005).

In the 2005 version of Academic Legal Writing, Prof. Volokh says the following: “An article that describes a single case and then critiques it is likely to be fairly obvious, even if it’s novel and useful; and it generally doesn’t show off your skills at research and at tying together threads from different contexts” (p. 29) This is true.

Prof. Volokh describes in greater detail the difficulties involved in writing a case note on pages 31-32. He also suggests several ways that a law student can turn such a narrow assignment into something worthwhile. Any law student who is writing a “Recent Development” or “Case Note” should read this section.

Several of Prof. Volokh's suggestions are related to criticizing the opinion. These include “internal criticisms of the majority opinion” (such as that it “misinterprets or misapplies precedents,” “misinterprets the statutory or constitutional text,” etc.); “argu[ing] that the majority reached the right result, but for the wrong reason”; “[c]riticisms that  point to the bad results that the majority opinion may lead to”; “[c]riticisms of the vagueness or uncertainty of the majority’s rule”; and “[c]riticisms of the concurring and dissenting opinions” (p. 32).

Unfortunately, in my case I found very little to criticize in the opinion, and the only concurrence was to express appreciation for how a certain precedent was applied. I think most readers of Campbell would agree with the court that a mass email sent out by a company to its employees, with a hyperlink that leads to an inconspicuous arbitration agreement, does not provide sufficient notice. (It’s more complicated than that, but my point right now is not an explanation of the case.)

When I wrote my Recent Development on Campbell, I specifically cited to several other Case Notes written by other law students. I am going to try to contact each one of these students, whether they are still in law school or have moved on. And I am going to ask them for their own advice based on writing a Case Note. How did they try to make their case note interesting? What were the limitations and benefits of writing on only one case? Do they believe it was a worthwhile experience?  What advice would they give to law students who are about to write one? I will collect that advice, and post it here.

If there are other students (or former students) out there who have written such a Case Note or Recent Development, please let me know your own answers to these questions, and whatever else you want to add. You can leave a comment to this post.

Of course, as is often the situation with law reviews, once a Recent Development is published it is no longer a recent development. This is one reason why some people think that blogs are more useful to practitioners than law reviews.

So I have come up with an idea to make my Recent Development more interesting, and also to make certain that it is always kept “recent.” I discuss my idea for an Electronic Footnote below (or here). 

February 13, 2006 in Writing a Case Note | Permalink


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I received this email offering advice on writing a recent development. I'd like to thank Mr. Lowenberg for his response:

[From email:]
Just read your blog and the questions you rose re: writing a case note/recent development. I have had some success in that area and think I can help. (Here are citations for my two publiications: 36 St. Mary's L. J. 149 and 36 St. Mary's L. J. 669). Now, to your questions:

1. "How did they try to make their case note interesting?"

- Work hard to find a case or topic that interests you. An obsession and enthusiasm for your topic/case/message/idea that keeps you up late on a Saturday night researching it and writing about it pretty much
guarantees that the finished product will be interesting. Along these lines, make your opinion known. Opinions are interesting. Students' opinions, of course are verboten when it comes to student comments and casenotes, but there is a way to do it properly that will make you stand

- Seek out colorful analogies and pithy illustrations to convey your thoughts and analysis. Even the most boring subject (and there are lots of them in the law) can be spiced up thus.

- Short sentences.

- Edit, edit, edit.

2. "What were the limitations and benefits of writing on only one case?"

- Well, I think it's pretty much impossible to write about just one case in a casenote or recent development. It may be one case, but inevitably, you'll have to discuss and reference and compare other cases.

3. "Do they believe it was a worthwhile experience? What advice would they give to law students who are about to write one?"

- Writing for law journal was the most valuable "class" I had in law school. In fact, I think I learned more in 3 weeks doing the write-on competition for law journal than I did in an entire year of 1L legal research and writing. I've already mentioned the best advice to law students who are about to write one - find a topic you love or at least can live with for 6 months; do that, and the rest will take care of itself.

- Daniel J. Lowenberg

Posted by: 3L Epiphany | Jun 9, 2006 2:54:14 PM

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