Teaching Legal Analysis: A Tale from the Front
Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing Vol. 27 No. 2
13 Pages Posted: 18 May 2020
Date Written: May 15, 2020
Legal analysis is the foundational skill of lawyering, and it is at least part of what captivated us as law students. But because legal analysis is as much art as science, explaining it—now as teachers—can be a somewhat elusive process. Inspired by a colleague’s simple but effective presentation at a conference I attended four years ago, and armed with a great textbook, I have embarked on a teaching journey that has been remarkably fulfilling—for my students and for me.
While the specific approach I have developed is not earth-shattering, it nonetheless offers some solid techniques and addresses some of the difficulties in cultivating singular focus and intense scrutiny in our millennial law students. I hope that sharing my teaching experience will be helpful to those charged with the task of teaching legal analysis. I note also that the principles explored herein could fruitfully be applied in other contexts. For instance, an abbreviated series of legal analysis exercises deployed in a pre-1L program could provide a wonderful foundation for more effective 1L learning. Similarly, the course content I describe below could be parceled out in academic support workshops or one-on-one meetings, giving the academic support professional a tried and true, turn-key platform to develop students’ analytical skills.
This Article will explore four key aspects of the course I have entitled “Mastering Legal Analysis.” The first key aspect is the necessity of introducing (or at least re-introducing) students to the classification of information and the examination of inferences, both of which are essentially ways of figuring out the relationship between the concepts that lurk behind our terminology. Second is the deliberate and thorough deconstruction of the process of legal analysis itself—breaking an often-inscrutable monolith into discrete, manageable tasks. Third is a summary of the overarching strategy and specific techniques by which my students are challenged to move through a wonderfully practice-oriented textbook. Finally, I describe how student engagement in this cumulative process culminates in a longish office memorandum that serves both as proof of the skills they’ve acquired and a template for the union of thinking and communication that will help them in law school, on the bar exam, and in the practice of law.
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