Friday, October 17, 2008

teaching professionalism through legal writing assignments

BenbratmanpittsburghTake a look at the new article by Prof. Ben Bratman (Pittsburgh), Toward a Deeper Understanding of Professionalism: Learning to Write and Writing to Learn during the First Two Weeks of Law School, 32 J. Legal Prof. 115 (2008).

From the abstract:

Law schools are under pressure to instill in their students a sense of professionalism, but what exactly does “professionalism” mean? And what can professors of legal writing do to lay an educational foundation of professionalism? They are, after all, the teachers who at most schools have the greatest interaction with the impressionable first-year students.

Professionalism is frequently used to mean a variety of behaviors that are important for lawyers to exhibit, but that are also important for those in business—outside the traditional professions—to exhibit. In the context of legal education, professionalism is better understood to mean those characteristics of a profession that distinguish it from a business. The most important distinguishing characteristic of a profession is that its essence and primary imperative are public service.  The notion that lawyers, as professionals, must prioritize public service over profits is a romantic one, but an essential one for law students to understand.

As a professor of legal writing, my first of what I hope will become many steps in conveying this sense of professionalism to my first-year students is a writing assignment to be completed during the first two weeks of law school. The assignment asks students to analyze whether a fictional personal injury attorney is running a permitted “professional office” or a prohibited “business office” under a zoning ordinance. The students write a short inter-office memo applying a real precedent case in which a court ruled an insurance agent ran a “business office.” In crafting and using this memo assignment, I have dual goals—ensuring my students learn to write and also write to learn (about professionalism).

hat tip: University of Pittsburgh School of Law Faculty Blog


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