August 27, 2012
Gunner-Up 1Ls If You Want to Try to Transfer to Yale Law School Next Year
Oftentimes the profs who teach 1L doctrinal courses really like the subject matter. But sometimes they are teaching the course simply because they drew the short straw. Either way, the 1L doctrinal courses at most schools tend to be large lecture hall courses populated with some many students that the prof really doesn't get to know individual students very well (except for the gunners). The one exception in the 1L curriculum is 1L LWR courses when they are taught by legal skills profs (sometimes with the help of academic law librarians) who from my observation like teaching their courses despite being considered "second class" citizens in much of the legal academy.
Unlike 1L doctrinal courses, each year's LWR class prep takes a fair amount of dedication. New assignments crafted each year to avoid 1Ls "borrowing" 2Ls writing output from when they took the course. Class size tends to be much smaller, more typically section by section classes instead of combined sections for Con Law, Torts, Contracts, etc. That often means teaching loads may be higher. Interaction between LRW profs and individual students more frequent and more one-on-one. That often means more scheduled office hours than the typical prof teaching 1L doctrinal courses. Even, like OMG dude, interaction between the LRW profs and reference librarians during the semester to see if students are "getting it."
For students applying to transfer to another law school, a letter of recommendation from a legal skills prof would seem to be a logical choice because their profs tend to know something about the student's academic ability. On the other hand, a 1L doctrinal law prof might not even recognize the student without the memory aid of a seating chart that includes the student's headshot (except, of course, the gunners).
Well, dear 1L, if you are thinking about applying to transfer to Yale School School next year it is best if you go with the illogical choice. In a much talked about official YLS blog post, Yale Associate Dean of Admissions, Asha Rangappa, advises against having a LRW prof submit a letter of recommendation on your behalf unless it is tossed in as a third letter. Frankly, it sounds like that third letter won't be taken into consideration because only two letters are required. My hunch is that if a student tosses in a fourth letter from an academic law librarian who is involved in teaching the research component (and helping with the research assignments) it won't be read.
Dean Rangappa writes:
[One] part of your [transfer] application that is going to carry a significant amount of weight is your law school recommendations (we require two). We use these references to place your grades in context and also to determine what kind of student you are. A common mistake on this front is to make one of your two required recommendations from a legal writing instructor -- most students do this because they've usually had much more one-on-one interaction with their legal writing instructor than with their other professors, and so the instructor usually knows them well. There's nothing wrong with this per se, but the Admissions Committee generally likes to have at least two letters from one of your first year core subject area professors, who can speak to your ability to keep up with the subject material, contribute to class discussion, and think through difficult concepts (a third letter from your legal writing instructor is fine).
Compared to the still prevalent Socratic method of teaching 1L doctrinal courses, one would think that this holy trinity of Yale's criteria -- (1) ability to keep up with the subject material; (2) contribute to class discussion; and (3) think through difficult concepts -- is better assessed by LRW profs. It is pretty damn difficult to teach legal writing and research without also teaching some doctrinal law in some specificity which is typically performed by LRW profs who have graduated from law school (except at Yale where apparently 3Ls teach LRW to 1Ls).
I've always found teaching LRW in the first year to be less than the optimal time for the subject because students come unprepared with little or no understanding of legal terminology, legal reasoning and legal doctrine. LRW profs have to cover this ground in order to teach legal drafting. So, why Isn't, for example, the evidence of "think[ing] through difficult concepts" best demostrated by being able write a well-reasoned analysis of an issue as evaluated by a LRW prof? I would think that is better evidence than spoon-feeding Black Letter law by way Socratic Method class "discussions" and the not atypical use of multi-choice questions found in 1L doctrinal law final exams to test what a 1L has learned.
Perhaps Yale's advice about recommended sources for letters of recommendations says something about the quality of the LRW program at YLS. Can it also be expressive of an institutional myopia about how 1L doctrinal courses are taught at law schools that admit more 1Ls than Yale does?
Luckily, Dean Rangappa's advice was published at the beginning of this academic year. So 1Ls, if you are thinking about trying to transfer to Yale, better gunner-up now. Oh, BTW, it doesn't hurt your prospects if one (or both) of your letters of recommendations is authored by a YLS grad "who as you probably know are ubiquitous in the legal academy" unless the YLS grad teaches legal writing and research. [JH]
For more about the YLS kerfuffle, see the following samples from the law prof blogosphere:
- YLS Admissions Blog: Unapologetically Elitist
- In Defense of Legal Writing Teachers
- Legal Writing Professors' Letter to Yale Law School Administration