Thursday, May 28, 2009

The skills new lawyers need to have according to employers

I'll give you a hint - writing is one of them.  Business development and exposure to international law are others.  We had previously reported on this survey conducted by legal recruiters exactly one month ago today, the fact it's appearing in the online ABA Journal today is reason enough to repeat the wonderful excerpt below.  Remember - for the latest-breaking legal writing news, keep your dial tuned to The Legal Writing Prof Blog.

Another common refrain from our respondents is the need for law students to be taught how to write.

"Very few associates can write well," says one; "Young lawyers need better writing skills," notes another. A bankruptcy chair of an AmLaw 100 firm adds:

"Over the years, I've heard a pretty consistent refrain of ‘writing needs to improve' or ‘I had to rewrite the entire document.' Constructing grammatically correct sentences is not the problem. Rather, the ability to organize facts and principles in a crisp, logical way is what's lacking in many newcomers to the firm."

The frustration is understandable given that "the pen is the tongue of the mind," as novelist Miguel de Cervantes noted. William Zinsser, author of "On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction" (HarperCollins, 2006) and adjunct faculty member at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, puts it this way:

"Writing is thinking on paper." If a lawyer's writing is muddled, clients may assume his/her thinking is, too.

Duke Law School is to be applauded for going beyond the typical first-year legal writing class by offering a variety of courses, including "Writing for Federal Litigation," "Writing/Drafting Legislation" and "Writing for Publication" as well as several workshops, e.g., "Writing from the Reader's Perspective" and "Legal Writing: Craft & Style."

One of our survey participants suggests that law schools implement a much broader revision: Instead of requiring one big memo project in legal research class, they should require lots of little memos. "This would provide more practical experience for students, since that is what they'll be expected to produce in the real world."

This idea was given considerable attention in a 2005 article, "English as a Second Language -- or Why Lawyers Can't Write," by Harold P. Southerland, Professor Emeritus at Florida State University College of Law (St. Thomas Law Review, Vol. 18, p. 53, 2005-2006). His primary recommendation was for law schools to require that briefs be written on a daily basis.

"There is no better way to learn than forcing oneself to distill, in one's own words, what a court did in a particular situation. Writing about these things steadily improves facility in using and manipulating language.

"Instructors could pick one case from each day's assignment, and ask students to produce written briefs. The instructor could critique a handful, for both accuracy and writing technique, and return them to the students. Then choose another handful the next day. I envision this practice taking place in all courses throughout law school. In their later years, students might be asked to write précis of material in their casebooks or synthesize a line of cases, or support or attack a particular approach. This would make it easy to spot students with writing problems and refer them for remedial work."

Southerland believes law schools need to do more:

"Law is a house of words, utterly dependent on language. Other than integrity, it is hard to think ?of any quality more vital to a lawyer than literacy."

I am the scholarship dude.


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