A Better Beginning: Why and How to Help Novice Legal Writers Build a Solid Foundation by Shifting Their Focus from Product to Process
24 Pages Posted: 23 May 2011
Date Written: May 17, 2011
Several years ago, we set out to discover why early legal writing is so difficult for many beginning law students and what we can do to make it easier. In a prior article, we described several key factors that contributed to student overconfidence and illustrated how this overconfidence impeded students’ progress in both early legal analysis and early legal writing. In this follow-up article, we suggest strategies for better orienting students to law school learning and better managing their goals for legal writing at the beginning of the first-year course. The legal writing classroom is usually the place where students are first introduced to the foundational process of legal analysis. It is also usually the place where students receive their earliest feedback on how well they are learning this process. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that legal writing professors design “a better beginning” for their first-year students. In Part II of this Article, we discuss the importance of giving students a fuller, clearer orientation to the study of law in general; this orientation should emphasize the process of legal analysis as the foundation for all other law school learning. In Part III of the Article, we suggest three specific ways that legal writing professors can design their courses and teaching practices to facilitate students’ receptivity to this process: (1) setting clear, realistic goals and objectives for the first semester of legal writing and communicating them transparently; (2) deliberately encouraging students to be more active metacognitive learners; and (3) providing more opportunities for students to pre-write and to “write to learn” before asking them to “write to communicate” to a legal reader.
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