Friday, August 17, 2012
There has been a great deal of controversy the last few days concerning a post on the Yale Law School admissions blog, which states that legal writing professors are not good resources for writing letters of recommendation for students to transfer to Yale. (Here, here, here) Ralph Brill has suggested that the problem is that many doctrinal professors do not know what legal writing professors do. He proposes that we educate the law school community on what we do. Below is my contribution. I urge other legal writing professors to post their views on other blogs and to make comments on this one.
Legal writing professors teach law students legal analysis and how to communicate legal analysis to readers. Unlike most doctrinal professors, we teach legal analysis explicitly. We teach the details of careful case analysis, case synthesis, statutory analysis, deductive reasoning (syllogisms), inductive reasoning, analogies, distinguishing cases, etc. (here) After our students learn to analyze and synthesize cases and statutes, we teach our students how to apply the synthesized law to facts. We then teach them how to effectively communicate their analysis in client letters, objective memos, trial court pleadings, appellate briefs, and oral argument.
Legal writing is not like the types of writing that most students learned in college. Legal writing is a kind of problem solving. In persuasive writing, students learn how to solve a problem in a way that will favor their client, then they must convince the court that their solution is the best one. This requires that the students learn the best way to organize their arguments on both the large-scale and small-scale levels, to communicate effectively, and to write persuasively.
Legal writing professors meet frequently with their students, both in conferences and in office hours. (At busy times in the semester, I have met with my students for thirty hours a week.) We also answer e-mails from students, often late at night. Such individual attention is necessary to help students understand the details of analysis and writing.
We give similar attention to correcting papers. At most law schools, legal writing professors provide more formative assessment than the first-year doctrinal faculty combined. I spend at least two hours with every major paper, and some papers require more time. This is important because students need to know in detail what they are doing right and wrong. We also hold oral arguments, and we carefully critique the students, both on substance and presentation.
In sum, legal writing professors teach more than grammar. Legal writing is as intellectually challenging as any doctrinal course. In fact, it is more challenging because, not only do the students have to analyze statutes and other materials, they have to apply that knowledge to facts and communicate that analysis to readers.
While I intended this post to concentrate on teaching, legal writing professors do much more for their law schools. We participate in faculty meeting and serve on committees. We attend conferences, where we publicize our law schools. We write many letters of recommendation for our students. (This is because we know the students better than their doctrinal professors. Also, employers like to get letters from legal writing professors because we know how our students analyze and write). We also advise student law review notes and independent projects. We teach other classes, including first-year classes. (At Hofstra, several of the first-year doctrinal courses have been taught by legal writing professors.) Legal writing professors fight for social justice in their communities.
Finally, legal writing professors produce scholarship, both in the skills area and theoretical area. (Here, here, here, here, here) This scholarship has appeared in top law reviews, and much of it is very innovative. In particular, legal writing professors are at the forefront of legal education reform.
In conclusion, what legal writing professors teach is as intellectually challenging as what doctrinal professors teach. We know our students better than doctrinal professors, and we work as hard or harder than doctrinal professors. Legal writing professors have made great contributions to their law schools and legal education.
P.S. In writing this post, I am demonstrating what legal writing professors do and their contributions to their law schools and legal education. I do not intend it as a criticism of first-year doctrinal professors. I am merely pointing out the differences.