Katie Joseph

Nebraska Law Class of 2015

Category: Posts

Pro-tip: Go with Post-It Tabs

My second year of law school involved a number of thick statutory supplements.  First semester, I marked the important stuff using Post-It flags, which which quickly bent, curled, and became useless.  Second semester, I got smart and used Post-It Tabs.

They don’t bend, and because they’re a little sturdier, they make it faster to locate the stuff you need.  I also use them to mark all the Bluebook rules that I know exist but whose details never quite stick in my brain.

Study Music: Christopher O’Riley

A lovely piano interpretation of Radiohead.  This is my go-to music if I need to block out background noise and read.

Writing tips

I did a whole lot of legal research and writing over the summer.  The experience reinforced the notion that end goal of legal writing is a functional document with a defined purpose — whether to explain the state of the law on a particular issue, or convince a judge to issue a particular order.

When I started law school a year ago, I felt like I was learning to read and write all over again.  In a way, I was.  For those with that same feeling, I highly recommend The Lawyer’s Essential Guide to Writing: Proven Tools and Techniques by Marie Buckley.  The book practices what it preaches and presents well-organized tips on how to write effectively.   The “How to Write” chapter of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law is a pithy collection of great writing advice, for those with less time.  For those who aren’t so much into books (your loss), Judge Richard Kopf has an excellent post on writing to an audience on the federal bench.

I don’t have ten tips worth writing, but here are a handful of rules I try to stick to.

1. Don’t try to sound smart.  It is painfully obvious when writers do so, and does not achieve the intended effect.

2. Be clear.  In legal writing, certain terms have a very precise meaning.  Make sure you are using them correctly.

3. Keep your sentences short.  Your reader is usually a busy person whose goal is to extract useful information from what you’ve written and get on with his or her life.  Short sentences make that task easier.

4. Organize your writing.  I tend to front-load my paragraphs with the meat at the top and details below.  I also use descriptive headings (but never presume that the reader will actually read them.)


ProTip: Thank-you notes

My mother always made us write thank-you notes for gifts before we played with or used them.  She was a stickler, too — not only did the note have to say thank you, but it also had to include something about why we liked the gift or how we intended to use it.  The practice gradually faded during my busy high-school years but resurfaced at my last job and again in law school.

Mom’s policy of promptly sending thank-you notes has served me well for a couple of reasons.  First, expressing gratitude is the polite thing to do, and probably makes the giver’s day a little brighter.  Second, in a professional context, a thank-you note sent shortly after a job interview or a lunch meeting is a great opportunity to follow up and reinforce the connection.  My general rule is to keep it short, genuine, and unique to the recipient.  For professional connections, I generally use e-mail.  For friends and family, a hand-written note is a nice touch.

To prospective law students who have stumbled across this blog: if thank you notes aren’t in your repertoire, it’s time to add them starting right now!  And: thanks for reading.



Study Music: Darwin Deez

My husband discovered Darwin Deez about six months ago.  It’s poppy and catchy without being trite, and sweet without being cloying.  Though I would really like to give the artist a haircut, I enjoy the music a great deal.

Study Music: Inventions – Bach

Glenn Gould & Bach — a perfect soundtrack for getting things done.

Study Music: Calexico – Feast of Wire

Calexico is one of my favorite bands, and playing this album is like putting on a broken-in pair of shoes; it makes going about one’s work much more pleasant.

Five Law School Essentials

I am a firm believer in using good tools to make frequent tasks faster and more efficient.  A good tool isn’t necessarily gadget-y or flashy or even newly invented; often the best tools are simple, humble things that have been around for years and just make life a little easier.  There are handful of tools that have made the first semester of law school easier for me:

1.  The Brother MFC7860DW Printer with Scanner, Copier & Fax

The 7860 has all the features I love in a full-size copier: two-sided printing, duplex and reduce/enlarge.  I haven’t tallied up my cost per page so far, but I’d be willing to wager that it’s well below the 10 cents/page cost on campus.  It’s handy to have a copier at home as well — if I’m traveling and don’t have room for the whole casebook, I can just copy the assigned pages and bring them along.

Prospective law students, take note: if you want to print at home, use a laser printer and not an inkjet printer.  You don’t need color printing capabilities for a research memo.

2.  Pentel Energel fine-point pens


I hand write class notes, so using a decent pen means that my notes are more legible and my hand doesn’t get tired as quickly.  The ink dries pretty quickly on note paper (though can be a bit smear-y on the pages of a textbook.)  One pen lasts through about a week of classes, and refills are available.  I’ve also taken to underlining rather than highlighting in casebooks since I don’t have to switch writing utensils to add a note in the margin.

3. Travel Organizer

Nebraska Law provides lockers for students so we don’t have to carry 40+ pounds of casebooks around all day.  I picked up a travel organizer to handle all the bits and bobs that are too small to justify shelf space, like extra pens, erasers, change for vending machines, tissues, etc.  The clear pockets make it easy to find what I’m looking for, and zippers keep things from falling out.

4.  My Timbuk2 laptop bag bag.  It’s big enough for a laptop, casebook and three-ring binder but not so large as to permit over-stuffing.  It’s also water-resistant, which is a big plus since I’m a bicycle commuter.

5.  Black’s Law Dictionary, Pocket Edition

This was at my side constantly for the first month or two of law school, and still gets frequent use.  Context clues don’t work as well in legal reading as they do in ordinary texts.  You can miss a nuance, or even the substance of a case if you don’t know what a particular word means.  The full-sized edition of Black’s was on the list of recommended materials, but since our library scatters copies of the full edition around the study area, I’ve been able to get by with the pocket edition alone.

Study Music: Criteria – En Garde

Despite all the signs requesting silence, the library can get noisy around finals time.  To stay sane while condensing outlines and taking practice tests, I brought in my trusty headphones (Grado SR-60s) and listened to my favorite records, including this one from former White Octave front man Stephen Pedersen.  It’s been around since 2003 but still stands up to repeat plays.  Behind the music: Stephen is also a lawyer.