Friday, December 10, 2010

"Skills" Scholarship: "Practice writing: responding to the needs of the bench and bar in first-year writing programs"

This article is co-authored by Professors Amy Vorenberg and Margaret Sova McCabe, both of Franklin Pierce.  It's available at 2 Phoenix L. Rev. 1 (2009). From the introduction:

When people hear we teach legal writing, dinner parties are fun--or challenging. On the fun side, lawyers, judges, and sometimes clerks tell priceless stories of writing fiascos: the essential pleading that used the wrong party names, auto-corrected "misspellings" with bawdy meanings, and gaffes that make even the most seasoned writer wince. The downside to these stories is that that the conversation often turns to laments about how bad legal writing is today. Attorneys and judges complain of newer lawyers' seeming unfamiliarity with legal writing, grammar and concise style. Inevitably, we are asked, "so . . . what are you teaching them today anyway?"--at which time we usually like to change the subject. Yet, the question has gnawed at us: Do first-year legal-writing programs, which have grown substantially in recent years, adequately prepare students for practice?

The answer is no. Although students who graduate from law school should expect that their professors have adequately prepared them for practice, udents are not as prepared as they could be for the demands on their writing. Although legal-writing programs have made gains in terms of added staff and resources, the last twenty-five years have seen few substantive changes in legal-writing curricula. The upshot is a disconnect between what students learn in legal-writing classes and what professional legal-writing skills they need once they graduate.

This article will show that while legal-writing programs have improved, most programs should consider reviewing and changing the curricula to ensure that first-year students are ready for the rigors of writing in modern practice. Part I of this article examines how law schools are currently teaching legal writing. Part II reveals how members of the bar and bench perceive the quality of legal writing and addresses an emerging disconnect between what is taught and what is expected in practice. Part III explores the many ideas gleaned from our findings and how we are integrating those ideas into our first-year curriculum. It also makes suggestions that all law schools should consider for developing more effective, realistic skills programs.

Who will find this article interesting? People concerned about both the quality of students' preparation for practice and the legal-writing curriculum will. We hypothesize that legal-writing programs adequately teach writing and related skills, but they should be more responsive to changes in the legal profession.  Although legal-writing programs have increasingly gained recognition as an essential part of a first-year program, those gains have also led the field to turn inward, developing writing programs from an academic perspective instead of from a practice perspective. This article presses for change in that trend.


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