How Judges, Practitioners, and Legal Writing Teachers Assess the Writing Skills of New Law Graduates: A Comparative Study
Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 53, p. 80, March 2003
23 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2007
This article discusses the results of a survey which asked members of the profession - attorneys, judges and law professors - what they thought of the writing skills of their colleagues. To quantify the responses we asked specifically about the respondents' opinions concerning elements generally acknowledged as key to good legal writing. In particular, we provided survey respondents with a checklist of elements that are commonly included in the various sections of appellate briefs and memoranda. Respondents were then asked to rank the elements in each section. This ranking gave us an idea of what each group perceived to be the best indicators of good writing.
When we began this project, we anticipated that there would be wide discrepancies between the views of law professors and members of the profession generally. This turns out not to be the case, however. There was no difference among respondents as to which elements were identified. The attorneys, judges and legal writing professors all ranked clarity and concision as the two most essential elements of good writing. This suggests that legal writing professors are teaching what the bench and bar perceive to be key to good writing.
The second part of the article examines possible reasons why lawyers do not write well. Some of these include:
Lawyers do not write well because they did not take a legal writing class in law school.
Lawyers do not write well because they do not get enough practice in law school.
Lawyers do not write well because of deficiencies in early education.
Lawyers do not write well because the profession offers very little continuing education on improving writing skills.
Lawyers do not write well because of their time and financial restraints.
Lawyers do not write well because of technology.
Lawyers do not write well because many do not have the opportunity to write regularly.
Ultimately we concluded that the factors that contribute to poor writing by members of the profession are varied and complex. We recommend implementing more robust legal writing and skills components in all American law schools. This includes increasing the status of the professors who teach this most important skill as well as more offerings in the law school curriculum. In addition, increased access to ongoing writing instruction for current members of the profession is vital to improving the quality of writing.
Keywords: legal writing, survey, judges, practitioners, legal writing teachers
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