Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In Defense of Legal Writing Teachers

I have received permission from Lisa McElroy to republish her post from LRWPROF-L:

A friend recently turned me on to the Yale Law Admissions blog, which is hilarious and fabulous and great reading for almost anyone, but particularly for those who (like I do) have an interest in admissions. 

So, after my FIRST DAY OF CLASS today (yes, all of you who teach at law schools that don’t start until next week, or the week after, or even the WEEK AFTER THAT, you read that correctly), I decided to relax and kick back by reading some of the very funny and insightful posts on said blog. 

 And here’s what I think:  Wow.  Just . . . wow.

 Here’s what the Yale Associate Dean of Admissions, Asha Rangappa, has to say about recommendation letters for transfer students.  (Some of you may know that I transferred law schools after my first year, so I dug in happily to read this post.  Let’s just say I’m not quite as happy as I thought I’d be.)

 “The other part of your 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).  Letters from professors who went to YLS -- who as you probably know are ubiquitous in the legal academy -- are often especially helpful, since they usually discuss why the applicant would fit into the academic and cultural experience here.  But don't go stalking a Yale alum just for this purpose -- just pick professors from classes in which you have performed very well and you'll be on the right track.”

 So, let’s see if I have this right:

 1)      LRW is not a “core subject area”?

2)       We don’t teach “subject material,” or at least none that’s hard to keep up with?

3)      We don’t have class discussion?  Or none that requires contribution?

4)      We don’t teach difficult concepts?  Or ask students to  think through them?

5)      We are “instructors”?

6)      We didn’t go to Yale? Or we aren’t in the legal academy?

 You can read the whole post here:  http://blogs.law.yale.edu/blogs/admissions/archive/2011/06/09/back-by-popular-demand.aspx

 Oh, and by the way, the first day of class was wonderful.  Sure, I’ll admit it, it was hard for the summer to end, but my students really dug into the subject material.  We had a great class discussion, and most of them contributed, even though I was asking them to think through the difficult concept of the intersection of law and justice.  I am proud to teach at a school that considers LRW to be THE core subject area.

 And I am proud to be a law professor.  We truly have the best job in the entire world.


My comments:  These comments from a Yale Dean demonstrate a shocking amount of ignorance.  Legal writing professors are the hardest working people in the law school.  Instead of teaching their classes then shutting their doors so they can work on scholarship, they leave their doors open so they can meet with students.  They give individual attention to their students through face-to-face meetings and e-mail.  They spend hours carefully correcting their students memos and briefs.  They deal with complicated constitutional and statutory issues in their assignments.  And, yes, they still manage to publish scholarship and make other contributions to their law schools.

To Ms. Rangappa: Legal writing teachers know their students better than any other first-year professor.  This is because they work carefully with their students, and they provide their students with individual guidance on their writing.  Doctrinal professors teach large classes, and they rarely meet individually with their students.  Generally, the only indication they have of how their students are doing is the final exam--a method of evaluation that has been criticized strongly over the last few years.  I know you mean well, but legal writing professors are the most knowledgeable sources for how first-year students are doing. 

P.S. Most legal writing teachers today are not called instructor; they are called professor just like everyone else on the fulltime faculty.

(Scott Fruehwald


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I've been a "professional" law librarian for over 8 years now. Over the years, I've interveiwed at a number of academic law libraries. The thing that is common among 99.99% of those schools is the distinct disrespect law librarians are afforded by university administration. In many cases law librarians are not even permitted to teach legal research and have to drum up legal writing clinics to get their message across to students. Fact is, it's the law librarian who is the most qualified to teach legal research (I mean, it's what we do all the time). The fact that administrators view librarians as inadequate or necessary evils indicates a disconnect between theory and reality. I suspect because of this disconnect that many recent law school graduates are unable to complete even basic legal research (I know because I have to teach it to them after they graduate). While there are some law schools that view librarians as important, those are few and far between (and in many cases they are viewed as important if only for the fact that the ABA requires schools to have a library to be accredited).

Posted by: Noel | Aug 28, 2012 11:35:10 AM

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