PROFILE IN BRIEF: Sense of Style Law professor nixes pretentious verbiage

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Jeremy Francis knows bad writing when he sees it.

And over the years -- as a high school teacher in Lakewood, Colo., and in Okemos, Mich., then as a teacher in the Michigan State University Teacher Education and English departments -- he's seen plenty of examples.

Now, as Writing Skills Specialist and Associate Clinical Professor at MSU College of Law, he helps first-year law students grasp the conventions of legal style, and the finer points of grammar and punctuation. He coordinates with MSU Law Clinics to support clinicians and student workers in writing and editing, works with the foreign LLM program to teach fundamental writing skills, and his workshops, seminars, and one-on-one sessions help prepare students to pass a required proficiency test.

"Writing instruction in our country is more a collection of fetishes than a thoughtful approach to language," he says. "Many writers follow pseudo-rules because some past teacher had a grudge against some style issue.

"When you stick to the basics -- 'what can I do to make my writing more precise and more understandable to my reader?' -- slavishly following 'rules' gives way to rhetorical choice.

"I tell my students: don't write like a parody of a pretentious Victorian judge."

Francis offers his seminars within the Research, Writing & Advocacy program.

"We have a fantastic legal writing program," he says. "The legal writing faculty wanted to further develop students' fundamental writing skills, and professor Daphne O'Regan and I have worked to build this program."

Francis, a native of California's Bay Area, lived in Texas from sixth grade through high school graduation. He earned a bachelor's degree in English from Colorado State University, and a master's degree in education from the University of Denver, before moving to East Lansing to earn Ph.D. in Critical Studies in the Teaching of English from MSU in 2007.

He also spent time in Greece, studying Demotic Greek, Modern Greek Literature, Ancient Drama, and Eastern Orthodox Theology at Beaver College in Athens.

"When you study language, you get to study everything," he says. "Language mediates thought. I have too many academic interests to stick to one subject."

Francis joined the MSU College of Law in 2006.

"MSU Law has talented students, wise administrators, and a brilliant faculty," he says.

Francis won the Legal Writing Institute's 2010 Deborah Hecht Memorial Writing Contest Award for "Finding Your Voice While Learning to Dance," his article on helping law students develop their own sense of style in their legal writing. The article appeared in the fall 2009 issue of The Second Draft, the LWI biannual newsletter.

He also is a reviewer and editorial adviser for Res Ipsa Loquitur; assistant editor of the Language Arts Journal of Michigan; an honors thesis adviser in the MSU Department of English; a reviewer for the American Education Research Association 2005 Conference; and an academic coach to the MSU Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

In his spare time, Francis enjoys racquetball, squash, cooking, and swimming - two years ago he swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco, and last summer he swam across Donner Lake in California, a 2.7-mile swim. He and his wife Andrea, a professor in the psychology department at Albion College, are expecting their second child in October, a sister for their 2-year-old son Alex.

Published: Wed, Sep 7, 2011