Tuesday, September 23, 2008
In celebration of the 100,000th visitor to the Legal Writing Prof Blog not long ago, we promised to feature the visitor's legal writing program in this space. Ruth Vance of Valparaiso University School of Law was the lucky winner, and we are pleased to share the following highlights of her school's program, as well as introduce you to her faculty colleagues.
For over ten years, Valparaiso has required its students to take a writing course in each of their three years, for a total ten credit hours of legal writing and research. The first semester of the first-year curriculum concentrates on objective legal analysis through comprehensive case briefs, office memoranda, and an opinion letter. The second semester focuses on persuasive and scholarly writing. In persuasive writing, students produce a trial brief and an appellate brief; they also orally argue their appellate briefs to three-judge panels drawn from a pool of local judges, practicing attorneys, law professors, moot court society members, and student teaching assistants. Scholarly writing is introduced with a case comment assignment.
In addition to learning how to find cases, statutes, and secondary material, students learn to use administrative law materials and looseleaf services and to find and use legislative history. Students are taught how to do print and computer research for each source simultaneously. Students demonstrate their research proficiency through a practical exam and a written final exam in addition to exercises using each source.
During the second year students choose from an array of courses, including advanced legal research, advanced appellate advocacy (civil or criminal), and drafting courses in specific substantive areas of law.
Third-year students participate in a seminar where they do in-depth research on a particular topic, produce a scholarly paper, and present it to the seminar.
Six full-time professors composed of tenured, long-term contract, and visiting faculty teach in the first year program. Permanent faculty in addition to Ruth Vance are Mark Adams, Marcia Gienapp, Clare Neuchterlein, and Susan Stuart.
Valpo Law was on the forefront of granting tenure to professors who teach legal writing; the first such grant was made in 1990. Librarians team teach research. The second-year writing courses are staffed by a mixture of full-time and adjunct faculty. The third-year seminars are led by full-time faculty.
In the first-year program, student teaching assistants conduct weekly supplemental meetings with groups of about six students. Besides providing needed mentoring, the teaching assistants reinforce what is discussed in class, answer student questions, conduct individual conferences, critique student papers, and teach citation. This is in addition to the teaching, conferencing, and critiquing done by the professors. Thus, students benefit from two pairs of eyes looking at their work. All grading is done by the professors.
Repeatedly, students and alumni report that the preparation in legal research, writing, and problem-solving that they received at Valpo Law was the key to successfully launching and sustaining their legal careers.