One Small Step for Legal Writing, One Giant Leap for Legal Education: Making the Case for More Writing Opportunities in the 'Practice-Ready' Law School Curriculum
Sherri Lee Keene
University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
Mercer Law Review Vol. 65, p. 467, 2014
U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-31
Legal writing is more than an isolated practical skill or a law school course; it is a valuable tool for broadening and deepening law students’ and new attorneys’ knowledge and understanding of the law. If experienced legal professionals, both professors and practitioners alike, take a hard look back at their careers, many will no doubt remember how their work on significant legal writing projects advanced their own knowledge of the law and enhanced their professional competence. Legal writing practice helps the writer to gain expertise in a number of ways: first, the act of writing itself promotes learning; second, close work on legal writing assignments provides a unique opportunity for less-experienced attorneys to engage in meaningful dialogue with more-experienced attorneys, with the assignment acting as a catalyst for the transfer of knowledge of law and legal practice from expert to novice; and lastly, meaningful feedback on legal writing provides an opportunity for more-experienced attorneys to evaluate and critique a less-experienced attorney’s thinking, including her analysis of substantive law and legal concepts, as well as her professional decision-making. Indeed, legal writing projects afford legal novices an invaluable opportunity to apply their knowledge of the law, engage legal experts through work on discrete matters, and receive useful individual guidance on the substance of their work and their judgment on practice matters.
While legal writing classes are well-established as fundamental courses in the modern law school curriculum, particularly during the first year, the many benefits of legal writing have not been fully realized in law school teaching. Given recent demands for law schools to produce students who are better prepared to meet the demands of legal practice, the time has come for law schools to take a fresh look at the role of writing in legal education. This Article articulates a plan for law schools going forward that will help bridge the gap that currently exists between legal theory and practice in legal education. The paper argues that to better prepare law students for practice, law school teaching must consistently go beyond the acquisition of knowledge of the law, and more frequently include the application of this knowledge to a client’s legal problem. As legal writing provides a particularly useful opportunity for students to engage in the meaningful study of law and to apply their knowledge of law in a practice context, this Article brings legal writing into the current “practice-ready” debate. This Article urges law schools to rethink the role that legal writing can play in preparing students for the challenges of today’s legal practice, and to increase the quantity and quality of legal writing practice opportunities in their curriculums.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 34
Keywords: legal writing, law practice, legal education
Date posted: May 23, 2013 ; Last revised: November 26, 2014
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