Teaching Legal Writing Through Subject-Matter Specialties: A Reconception of Writing Across the Curriculum
DePaul University College of Law
Legal Writing: The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute, Vol. 13, No. 3, 2007
In the 1990's, DePaul's law school created its first of several certificate programs, which enable students to concentrate in an area of law and acquire expertise before they begin practicing law. Shortly afterward, DePaul created its first specialized legal writing section to dovetail with its certificate program in Intellectual Property Law. Three more specialty sections followed, in Family, Health, and Public Interest Law. The specialized legal writing sections provide students with the opportunity to acquire, and then develop, their research and writing skills in the context of the substantive area of law that they choose.
The purposeful instruction of legal writing through subject matter specialties is congruent with, and extends, current educational theory. The theoretical basis for DePaul's pedagogic approach is the writing-across-the-curriculum movement. Writing across the curriculum is an approach to integrated legal education through which doctrinal professors import writing instruction into their classrooms, thereby increasing the number of skills assignments on which students work throughout their educations. Purposely teaching writing in subject-matter specialized sections is the obverse of this approach. It reconceptualizes writing across the curriculum by exporting doctrine to the writing classroom and, in so doing, achieves greater results than can teaching legal writing without the specialty focus. The method of instruction has firm support in the constructivist learning theory, which emphasizes the social context in which learning occurs. The instructional method also has roots in the three composition theories: the process approach, the product approach, and the social discourse theory. By permitting students to enter a pre-existing social context of like-interested students, DePaul creates micro-social discourse communities of specialty students within the larger discourse community of the law, thereby maximizing the benefits of the curricular choices. It is an untraditional, but equally effective, method of integrating law school instruction.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 51
Keywords: legal research and writing, writing across the curriculum, pedagogy, learning theory, educational theory
JEL Classification: K10, K19, K30, K39
Date posted: February 22, 2008