Six-Words Sums Up Complex Legal Concepts for Shrewd Law Students

Much to our delight, we’ve seen the Six-Word Memoir format used often in primary and secondary schools as a tool and writing strategy for students to reflect creatively—and succinctly—on their lives. If you’ve been reading along with all of our Six in Schools classroom projects, you know how much we love this! But we must admit to a recent thrill: Six-Words has also found a home in graduate school classrooms like Herb Hinkle’s “Estates & Trusts” at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden.

Now, those of us without a law degree may wonder what, exactly, “Estates & Trusts'' entails. Cue Professor Hinkle: “Estates & Trusts covers the basics of writing and the executing of fundamental estate planning documents: a will, durable power of attorney, medical directives, and trusts.” 

Herb Hinkle

That’s where Professor Hinkle’s academic writing strategy comes into play: Six-Words is a writing strategy example that can help law students summarize lengthy papers and concepts. The professor’s students are required to write a short paper on a topic related to estates and trusts—such as: what to do if a person, who was declared legally dead, returns to the living; establishing trusts for pets; or even how to handle bitcoins–and present that paper to the class. After these presentations, the graduate students create a Six-Word summary on their topic, and then the class votes on the best Six for each subject.

Although being a successful lawyer may seem like a profession that’s all business, these crafty future counselors proved that they can think humorously about their work. When it comes to Six-Words, humor is exactly what appealed to Professor Hinkle about the writing strategy. He understood that the format “underscores how much can be conveyed in a few words. Despite all that is said about legalese, there is a need to be clear and concise, especially when writing documents or examining witnesses at trial. It is also necessary for lawyers to be aware of how words can carry multiple and sometimes unintended meanings.” Six-Words just happens to work beautifully as a teaching writing strategy for these courtroom-ready skills.

Here are the best Sixes per paper topic, as chosen by Professor Hinkle’s students:

On Bitcoins:
   “Damn, I should have bought more.”

On Transferring Oil & Gas Interests:
   “Never been prouder to have gas!”

On Living Wills:
   “Medical care is expensive; kill yourself.”

On GRATs (Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts):
   “American Dream: Be rich, avoid taxes.”

On Charitable Giving:
   “Charity shows all: duty and grace.”

What if the dead come back?:
   “Missing – spouse with policy. No reward.”

On Season Ticket Transfers:
   “Lose your life, lose your seat.”
   “Waitlists are full of murder suspects.”

On Same Sex Marriage:
   “Now, Even Estate Planning is Fabulous!!!”

Inspired by Professor Hinkle’s students, we’ve come up with our own six-word summary of Estates & Trusts:
   “You can die in peace now.”