A Contemporary Model for Using Teaching Assistants in Legal Writing Programs
44 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2015 Last revised: 22 Jul 2015
Date Written: June 15, 2015
As law schools downsize their faculty to offset falling student enrollment, faculty members will likely face greater teaching loads and increased pressure to produce graduates who can not only pass the bar, but are “practice ready.” Frequent assessments, prompt and individualized feedback, mentoring, and one-on-one conferences are all integral to achieving those goals. As a consequence, faculty will need to rethink their approach to teaching so that they can meet these new expectations. This is particularly true in legal writing courses, where students are researching and writing throughout the year, and the demand for practice writing opportunities and feedback is high. Teaching assistants are an underutilized resource available at law schools that could greatly assist legal writing faculty in preparing “practice ready” lawyers.
Thus, this Article argues that legal writing programs should integrate teaching assistants into their teaching model. To the extent legal writing faculty already rely on teaching assistants to teach research and citation, or provide general instruction in predictive and persuasive writing, they should assess whether they are maximizing their use to improve first-year students’ performance in these essential skills. Specifically, the Article discusses the best way to use teaching assistants to reinforce what first-year students have learned in their large classes and expand on their knowledge and experience in small group sessions. This requires that teaching assistants do more than mentor students and expand beyond an affective role. The Article also explores how using teaching assistants benefits everyone: first-year students, professors, and the teaching assistants themselves. Peer teaching helps first-year students acquire a firmer grasp on concepts. Professors can use their time more efficiently. And, teaching assistants hone their research and writing skills. In addition to these benefits, using teaching assistants is a very low-cost and reliable alternative to improving first-year students’ legal research and writing skills. Thus, they should be utilized more and more effectively.
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