Lawyers at Work: A Study of the Reading, Writing, and Communication Practices of Legal Professionals

Legal Writing Journal, Vol. 21, Forthcoming

U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-11

75 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2016

See all articles by Ann Sinsheimer

Ann Sinsheimer

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law

David J. Herring


Date Written: March 14, 2016


This paper reports the results of a three-year ethnographic study of attorneys in the workplace. The authors applied ethnographic methods to identify how junior associates in law firm settings engaged in reading and writing tasks in their daily practice. The authors were able to identify the types of texts junior associates encountered in the workplace and to isolate the strategies these attorneys used to read and compose texts.

The findings suggest that lawyering is fundamentally about reading. The attorneys observed for this study read constantly, encountering a large variety of texts and engaging in many styles of reading, including close reading and also reading broadly, skimming and scanning texts for information. Their writing processes typically began by reading and rereading the information they used to substantiate their written work. They functioned in stressful environments in which they felt pressed for time and had to juggle multiple tasks.

This paper explores the implications of these findings for a variety of audiences, including legal educators, law firms training junior associates, and those doing research on legal pedagogy. For legal educators, the results of this study can be used to develop classroom exercises and to train new teachers. Notably, legal educators should consider devoting more time to teaching reading skills. Although legal educators often assume that law students possess the necessary reading skills, this study indicates that this assumption is faulty and that instruction in this area is likely a key component in the successful transition to practice. For law firms, this study sheds light on the tasks with which new attorneys struggle and reveals the areas in which new attorneys require the most facility. In terms of legal research, this ethnography provides a model that can be expanded to study these same practice areas and other practice areas at law firms of all sizes throughout the country.

Keywords: Legal Education, Legal Pedagogy, Law School, Legal Practice, Reading, Writing, Ethnography

Suggested Citation

Sinsheimer, Ann and Herring, David J., Lawyers at Work: A Study of the Reading, Writing, and Communication Practices of Legal Professionals (March 14, 2016). Legal Writing Journal, Vol. 21, Forthcoming, U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-11, Available at SSRN:

Ann Sinsheimer (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )

3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States
412-648-1281 (Phone)
412-648-2648 (Fax)


David J. Herring

Independent ( email )

6958 Reynolds Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15208

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