Monday, July 25, 2011

Bryan Garner in the NYT about why law schools should include significant writing in all three years

My co-blogger Professor Fruehwald reported here on a series of editorials in last Friday's paper opining on the need for a third year of law school. One of the people asked to weigh-in is Bryan Garner. Here's what he had to say about the importance of writing to a good legal education:

The biggest failure at most law schools is the dearth of seriously good skills courses, especially training in legal writing. Law schools generally reward scholarship, not teaching excellence, and there is a built-in bias against one-on-one teacher-student time. Too often the only feedback a student gets from a professor is a single letter grade after the final exam. Now add this: of all law-school courses, legal writing is both the single most time-intensive subject and the least respected.

Most legal scholarship is poorly written and is mired in nonpractical abstraction that few can understand and fewer still can benefit from. Most law professors don’t know how to write well, so they could hardly teach the subject if they wanted to. On top of that, lawyers of all kinds -- both academic lawyers and practicing ones -- rationalize their linguistic ineptitude by claiming that legal jargon is necessary (most of it isn’t); that writing instruction is elementary, remedial stuff (it should progress to advanced techniques); and that writing style doesn’t matter anyway. But it does matter: clear writing equates with clear thinking, and judges and employers cry out for both. Put all these things together, and you have serious educational pathologies.

So what’s the cure? For starters, the second and third years of law school ought to include much more research, writing and editing, with three to six short papers required in each course (not, as is the standard, one “major” research paper during the whole three years). Each paper should be subjected to rigorous editing, then rewritten and resubmitted. (This is perfectly doable. I've done it for classes of 30 at the University of Texas and at Southern Methodist University.) Law schools should get their priorities straight and better meet the needs of their students’ future employers.

Read the remained of Mr. Garner's comments here.


| Permalink


Post a comment