Monday, June 14, 2010

Scholarship alert: "Redirecting the scope of first-year writing courses: toward a new paradigm of teaching legal writing"

This one is by Soma R. Kedia, an attorney at Maryland Legal Aid.  The article can be found at 87 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 147 (2010).  From the introduction:

"Read over this file and start drafting a trial memo to the court on X. Here's some old research on the topic, but you'll have to update it as well as branch out and find some case law on Y and tie it in since Z statute was passed a few years ago. We'll want the memo to be as comprehensive as possible, because this is a new judge without much familiarity with the law in this area. Can you have a draft to me by tomorrow?"

Umm ... sure. Let me just chug a few Red Bulls and give me a few minutes to pound my head against the wall first.

Any first-year associate can tell you that their introduction to legal writing in practice is substantially different than the introduction they had to it in law school.

On the flip side of the coin, there is a common and persistent perception among senior lawyers, both today and those of times past, that law school graduates "can't write." This belief has endured throughout years of change in legal education, including the advent of legal writing courses in the legal curriculum. However, despite the perseverance of this issue over decades, few lawyers have ever been able to further articulate what they mean by this condemnation, leaving law students and young lawyers in the dark about how they might build the skills they need in the legal workplace.

Before we can discuss the hows and whys of legal writing pedagogy, we need to deconstruct the imprecise notion that law school graduates are functionally illiterate and articulate the exact problem perceived by practicing attorneys with regard to the writing skills of their subordinates. In other words, what's wrong with legal writing these days? Though some critics might say that there is a woeful lack of attention to grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation by young attorneys, there is little logic to this notion; in fact, most law students are painfully attentive to the minute details of their writing. What, then, is the problem? When senior attorneys hand back motions or briefs covered with red pen, to what are they really reacting?

Little has been chronicled or scientifically assessed regarding this dissatisfaction and censure, but it is certainly part of the lore of the legal profession:
Despite our lack of schooling in the rhetorical tradition, we are remarkably unforgiving when it comes to our colleagues' poor writing. We are quick to criticize, but we do not have a proper or common vocabulary for describing how or why legal writing is poor. Ask on-campus interviewers about the quality of young associates' writing, and they will tell you that young lawyers cannot write: "They don't understand the basics of good writing. Their analysis is not very good. And they know very little about grammar." Ask a law professor about the quality of written law school exams: "They can memorize the rules of law, but they don't know what to do with them." 
The same article highlights actual survey data regarding judicial perceptions of legal writing.

I am the scholarship dude.


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Much needed scholarship.

Posted by: JBS | Jun 23, 2010 6:57:11 AM

Thank you so much for posting this! One quick correction; I am not a professor, but rather a practicing lawyer at Maryland Legal Aid. I also do not have any affiliation with the John Marshall School of Law.

Posted by: Soma R. Kedia | Aug 7, 2010 1:49:02 PM

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