Skills Without Stigma: Using the JURIST Method to Teach Legal Research and Writing
Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 59, p. 173, 2009
19 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2010
Date Written: November 2, 2009
Common to every practice area of the law is the need for clear, concise writing which conveys the relevant legal principles and precedents. However, practitioners constantly report that their new associates are unprepared for the work required of them upon graduating from law school, a dilemma consistent with data indicating that law schools are not improving students’ legal information literacy skills.
Law schools put students through legal writing programs, and writing plays an important role in helping or hindering a lawyer’s career advancement, yet students graduate grossly underequipped to meet the demands of this crucial aspect of their chosen professions. Add to these troubles the debate over skills training and the expansion of the material which is expected to fit into a first-year legal writing class, and one can see the growing need for new and more efficient teaching methods.
This article explores the reasons why the current legal writing curriculum is not meeting the needs of the modern law student, ultimately proposing that instructors consider and implement various aspects of the legal research and writing model pioneered by JURIST, the online legal news and commentary service hosted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Previous parallels have been drawn between the training of journalists and the teaching of legal writing, but no one else has made full use of this relationship.
JURIST’s student staffers are put through a rigorous training process which improves their research and writing skills by teaching them innovative methods of comprehension and analysis. The method is specially tailored to the learning style of the modern student and encourages self-structuring. The legal news stories posted on JURIST’s website are essentially mini-casebooks which can serve as a model for many forms of writing in almost any discipline.
The positive results of JURIST’s teaching method are evident not only from the student work which is published on the website, but also from the student staffers themselves, who report being better-prepared for classes, feeling more tied-in with the subject matter because they have seen law in action, and having a much easier time of researching effectively and writing quickly and succinctly under pressure. Not every student can write for JURIST, and Pitt is the only law school with such a unique clinic-like law documentation project, but every professor can use JURIST as a teaching tool. The article concludes by providing a variety of easily-implemented classroom applications.
Keywords: Law, Legal Writing, Legal Research, JURIST, Legal Education, Journalism, Law School
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