Annotate Pro – the Author’s Experience and Perspective

Editor’s Note: Professor Mitch Nathanson, of Villanova Law School, authored the extensive library of comments that comes pre-loaded with Annotate PRO for Legal Writing. We asked him to give us some background on his thinking behind the comments and the impact Annotate has had on his teaching.

The Annotate experience is designed to enable legal writing professors to grade not only more quickly than ever before (right out of the box it should cut your grading time in half and then even more once you customize it and make it even more responsive to your specific needs), but more comprehensively as well.

Rather than struggling with copying and pasting comments via Word’s comment bubbles or creating your own cumbersome macros, Annotate installs a ribbon right onto the top of your screen, complete with drop-downs of comments focusing on all the different aspects of briefs and memos that one would normally focus on in grading student’s memos and briefs (I focused on substance, style, as well as grammar).  Although the 300+ preloaded comments were written by me and drawn from my thirteen years of experience as a legal writing professor, you’re not wedded to them.  Instead, you can customize them however you wish such that you can add your own comments and/or replace any of my comments with your own and they will appear on the ribbon as well so you can easily (via a single click of the mouse) access them whenever you’re evaluating your students’ work – now and into the future.

Annotate also enables you to embed links to anything you want (i.e., your in-class PowerPoints, your Blackboard, or virtually anything else available electronically via the Web) which permits you to not merely explain to a student how they can improve, but to show them by sending them directly to a primary source.

With regard to grammar, Annotate comes with dozens of preloaded links to the 11guide so once you identify a grammatical problem, all you need to do is highlight it and Annotate will automatically embed a link to a specific 11guide discussion where the student will find an explanation for his or her particular grammatical problem.  And here as well, you can customize this and add links to whatever you like.  In short, I designed the program to arrive on your desktop ready for use on Day One but flexible enough to permit users to customize it to be responsive to the needs of their particular legal writing courses and grading styles.

In the years that I’ve used it, I expected Annotate to significantly reduce my overall grading time, and it has, but I was surprised to hear from so many students how helpful they’ve found the embedded comments to be. I cannot count the number of times a student has responded to my analysis of their work with something along the lines of “I’ve gone through your comments and now I understand what went wrong and what I need to work on.” Although I wasn’t expecting such a favorable reaction from my students, perhaps I should have been because it only makes sense that the comments I’ve thought through and honed throughout the years would be more responsive and helpful to my students than the ones I previously came up with on the spot, in the midst of yet another grading deluge, and which I was foisting upon my students for the first time, every time.

Each grading cycle presents me with an opportunity to further hone my comments and add whatever additional comments I need to fully respond to my students’ work.  In the end, I think that everybody – student and professor alike – benefits from the thoughtfulness and elegance of the Annotate method.

Mitch Nathanson is a professor of legal writing at the Villanova University School of Law whose scholarship focuses on the intersection of sports, law and society. He has written numerous articles examining the interplay between, most notably, baseball and American culture. His article, “The Irrelevance of Baseball’s Antitrust Exemption: A Historical Review,” won the 2006 McFarland-SABR Award which is presented in recognition of the best historical or biographical baseball articles of the year. His 2008 book, The Fall of the 1977 Phillies: How a Baseball Team’s Collapse Sank a City’s Spirit, is a social history of 20th century Philadelphia as told through the relationship between the city and its baseball teams – the Athletics and the Phillies. In 2009 he was the co-producer and writer of “Base Ball: The Philadelphia Game,” a documentary “webisode” on the 19th century development of the game within the city that is part of a larger documentary project, “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment,” currently in production and to which he is a contributing scholar. In addition, he was a scholarly advisor to the 2011 HBO production, “The Curious Case of Curt Flood.”

In the United States, he has lectured at, among other venues, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and since 2011 has been a Guest Professor in the International Sports Law Program at the Instituto Superior de Derecho y Economia in Madrid, Spain. In addition to his most recent book, A People’s History of Baseball, he is authoring a chapter on law and politics for the upcoming textbook: Understanding Baseball: Approaches to the Scholarly Study of America’s Game (McFarland & Co., Inc., Publishers).

His latest article “Who Exempted Baseball, Anyway: The Curious Development of the Antitrust Exemption that Never Was,” was published in the Winter, 2013 edition of the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and won the 2013 McFarland-SABR Award.

He is currently at work on a biography of controversial slugger Dick Allen, to be published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2015.

Mitch Nathanson

Professor, Villanova University Law School