Friday, August 24, 2012
Late last week, legal writing professors and others sent a letter to the Yale Law School Administration concerning a post on the Yale Law School admissions blog. I have set out the letter below, with permission of Lisa McElroy, who spearheaded our efforts. We owe our deepest thanks to Lisa, Kris Tiscione, and Amy Vorenberg for drafting the letter. We also owe our thanks to the many deans, associate deans, and doctrinal profesors who signed the letter. About 450 legal educators signed the letter.
Dear Dean Post and members of the Admissions Committee:
As professors at law schools across the country, we write to address a blog post by Associate Dean Asha Rangappa (see P.S.B.C.: Back by Popular Demand (June 9, 2011), available at http://blogs.law.yale.edu/blogs/ admissions/archive/2011/06/09/back-by-popular-demand.aspx). The post observes that potential transfer students make the "common mistake" of submitting one of two required recommendations from a legal writing "instructor." Although "a third letter from a legal writing instructor is fine," the Committee prefers recommendations from "core subject area professors, who can speak to [a student’s] ability to keep up with the subject material, contribute to class discussion, and think through difficult concepts."
If the post represents the policies or preferences of the Yale Law Admissions Committee, many of us are concerned it sends a message that legal research and writing ("LRW") courses are not rigorous, underestimates the ability of LRW faculty to comment on students’ cognitive skills, harms students by discounting the valuable and thoughtful insight we have to offer about students seeking to transfer to Yale, and devalues LRW professors as a whole. To the extent the advice you provide as a top tier school might be interpreted as applicable, or preferable, to a wider law school audience, we feel the statements lacking in appropriate evidentiary support need correction.
Every year, the Legal Writing Institute and the Association of Legal Writing Directors– the two professional organizations for LRW professors and those interested in the discipline– survey a number of ABA-accredited and provisionally accredited law schools that grant the Juris Doctor degree. One hundred eighty-four of the 200 schools surveyed responded to the 2012 survey. At least 170 of those schools require LRW in the first year and award four or more credits for a year-long course. One hundred sixty schools grade the LRW course and incorporate the grade into the students’ overall GPA. As the survey indicates, the post’s characterization of LRW as other than a "core subject area" class is inaccurate.
The Committee may be unaware that the typical LRW course requires students to conduct research on complicated legal questions, engage in complex legal analysis, communicate well orally and in writing, conference regularly with their professors on their performance, and behave both ethically and professionally. Accurate, in-depth legal analysis and reasoning are at the core of an LRW course.
The notion that LRW is not a core subject area class is also inconsistent with current thinking about legal education. Consider, for example, the 2007 Carnegie Report, which emphasized the importance of legal writing classes, as well as Justice Kennedy’s statement this week to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference: "[L]aw schools are questioning whether or not they are teaching students the right way, and it seems to me that the bench and the bar can engage in serious discussions with the law schools to advise them whether or not, say for the next 20 years, that [sic] they have the proper approach for teaching those who will soon be the trustees of the law as active practitioners. That is urgent."
Given the small size of LRW classes; our knowledge of individual students; and our familiarity with their class participation, writing, oral skills, and personality, we have a unique perspective on our students’ abilities at any given time. Here too, the assumption that we are not in the same position as a Property or a Contracts professor to comment on their ability to "keep up," "contribute to class discussion," or "think through difficult concepts" is inaccurate.
We recognize the primary mission of the Committee is to admit students who can compete at an elite institution. Nevertheless, discounting recommendations from LRW faculty could deprive potential transfer students of critical faculty input. LRW faculty often know 1L students the best in terms of what matters most – their achievement, motivation, raw talent, analytical skills, ability to communicate effectively, and measured progress. Because the post reaches a far wider audience than those students who will eventually matriculate at Yale, we are concerned about the extent to which it suggests that the Yale Law faculty considers LRW professors to be lesser faculty in some sense, passing onto the next generation of law students a bias that LRW and its faculty are not worth their time, attention, or care.
For these reasons, we urge you to reconsider your practice of discounting recommendations from LRW faculty and welcome them as informed and reliable accounts of the transfer students you might soon welcome at your door. We also respectfully request that you amend the post in question accordingly.
As legal educators, we all share the goal of offering the best legal education possible to our students. Our purpose here is to clarify the contribution LRW professors make toward achieving that goal. We thank you in advance for your consideration of this letter.