Thursday, July 17, 2008

LWI session: Life-long Legal Writing

Kris Butler and Mike Cavanaugh (Holland & Knight LLP) and Kathleen Dillon Narko (Northwestern) discussed law firm recruiting needs and the gap between law school education and practice needs in skills training.

Mr. Cavanaugh spoke about recent grads' lack of preparation to be effective contract drafters.  At his big commercial law firm, he sees new associates who lack the skills to write in a clear, unambiguous, complete, and organized manner.  Some also lack strong skills in basic English.  He hopes for, but often can't find, recent grads who "have a powerful command of the language" and "diverse writing skills."

Professor Narko spoke about teaching students that there is a client with real needs behind the memo or client letter; that good writing is ethical writing, without personal attacks or overstatement; and that there is no "easy button" for thorough research.  (In the Q/A afterwards, Ms. Butler shared the story of a summer associate who racked up a $15K Westlaw bill in two days!!)

Ms. Butler spoke about clients' expectations of lawyers:  to get to the conclusion right away, and to edit a document for conciseness.

In the Q/A, an audience member asked Mr. Cavanaugh whether he had seen a progression or regression in new associates' writing skills.  He replied that he had seen an improvement in legal writing, but a decline in basic English skills.


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