Monday, August 27, 2012

Ralph Brill on Responses to the Letter to Yale

Our comments section allows you (and other readers) to submit comments on our posts.  From time to time, we'll also publish those comments here so that you can read them more easily.  Here's a post from Professor Ralph Brill of Chicago-Kent College of Law:

PrawfsBlawg has picked up an ongoing conversation on the Legal Writing listserv based on the Yale Law Dean of Admission's advice to students who seek to transfer to Yale. She advises: “The other part of your application that is going to carry a significant amount of weight is your law school recommendations (we require two). We use these references to place your grades in context and also to determine what kind of student you are. A common mistake on this front is to make one of your two required recommendations from a legal writing instructor -- most students do this because they've usually had much more one-on-one interaction with their legal writing instructor than with their other professors, and so the instructor usually knows them well. There's nothing wrong with this per se, but the Admissions Committee generally likes to have at least two letters from one of your first year core subject area professors, who can speak to your ability to keep up with the subject material, contribute to class discussion, and think through difficult concepts (a third letter from your legal writing instructor is fine). Letters from professors who went to YLS -- who as you probably know are ubiquitous in the legal academy -- are often especially helpful, since they usually discuss why the applicant would fit into the academic and cultural experience here. But don't go stalking a Yale alum just for this purpose -- just pick professors from classes in which you have performed very well and you'll be on the right track.”

The Admission Dean is to be commended for trying to give transfer applicants accurate information on their chances of being accepted.. But her candor has hit the nerves of an entire class of law school teachers – Legal Writing professors.

Two lines of responses have occurred on both the LW listserv and Prawfsblawg. One group believes that the Yale blog is pretty derogatory of legal writing professors since, inter alia, it strongly intimates that their recommendations are worthless since they do not teach “core subject matter,’ their classes do not involve full-blown discussions, the “subject” does not require deep legal analysis, and the teachers are apt to not be true “professors” but rather “instructors”, “student teaching assistants,” or “adjuncts.” Another group defends the blog for at least giving some transparency to the transfer process at a school which admittedly does not value teaching legal writing as a class; Yale has no such class, and legal writing is “taught” in a two-week, non-credit format, by 3L students supervised by a non-tenure track lecturer. Some (including Yale staff and alums) also have justified the apparent slight of legal writing professionals by pointing to Yale’s admitted bias for training students for possible careers as law professors.

All of this discussion would be well and good as exuberant free speech. However, a large bit of ugliness has entered the picture. An otherwise distinguished Yale professor has actually made direct contact with some of the critics and, in the vernacular, “chewed them out” for their criticism of the Admission Dean and of the school’s policy. One would think that Yalies would have thicker skins and welcome free speech discussions of its programs and policies. Unfortunately, that seems not to be the case. I find the conduct abhorrent.


| Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Ralph Brill on Responses to the Letter to Yale:


Yale doesn't teach legal writing?! Wow. And somehow that's okay because they have a bias toward training students to become law professors? Do law professors not need to write well? I suddenly feel much better about getting my law degree from somewhere other than Yale....

Posted by: Brom | Aug 27, 2012 12:49:57 PM

Post a comment