Imagining the Law-Trained Reader: The Faulty Description of the Audience in Legal Writing Textbooks
40 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2006
Date Written: September 8, 2006
In law schools today, first-year legal writing courses play a crucial role in helping students learn to communicate about the law. Many legal writing teachers approach legal writing education in a practical way, attempting to pass on their own experiences in law practice settings to students. Unfortunately, as other writers have observed, such reliance on personal knowledge about what lawyers are like may lead legal writing teachers to oversimplify a complicated matter - the needs and preferences of the audience for legal writing - and may even amount to indoctrination in stereotypes about law practice.
This article offers a closer look than past critiques at the actual depiction of the law-trained reader in some popular legal writing textbooks. These texts deliver surprisingly consistent messages about what lawyers are like, namely, extraordinarily impatient with other people (even in their thinking and reasoning processes); aggressively critical; and conservative and formalistic in outlook. Such over-generalizations about the audience for legal writing seem unlikely to help students improve their legal writing. Worse yet, uncritical presentation of these particular generalizations probably exacerbates student difficulties in reconciling their personal and professional identities during the first year of law school, and may impact female and minority students in a disproportionately negative manner.
Legal writing education should stop inviting law students to imagine the audience for their writing as extraordinarily impatient, aggressive critics, red pens and format guides in hand. Instead, we should develop more careful and reflective methods to assist students in negotiating between their personal and professional voices and grappling with the complex audiences and purposes for their legal writing.
Keywords: legal writing, audience, legal education, student, identity, humanism, voice, feminism, outsider, pedagogy, legal education
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