Sunday, January 18, 2015

Teaching About Statutory Arguments in Briefs

Recently, I finished my grading for the past semester. That’s always a relief. In my Advanced Legal Writing course, I gave the students two sections of a poorly written brief. I asked them to revise the sections based on what they had learned and to write me a commentary explaining their revisions. The arguments in both sections turned on interpreting and applying statutes—statutes that were quite short and understandable.

To my surprise, most students did not quote the statutes in full. Either they paraphrased the statutes or included a phrase in each statute as part of a textual sentence. I would have expected them to quote the statute up front or after a brief introduction. Why?

I’m not sure. They may have taken too much to heart the bias against including quotations in their work. They may not have understood that the arguments centered on the statutes and that this fact required quoting the statutes. (If the statutes were very long, they could have quoted pertinent parts, but in full sentences.) Because of their first year grounding in case law, they may not have understood the importance of statutes in this “Age of Statutes.”

In any case, I know one topic that I will cover the next time I teach the course. Let me be clear that we have an excellent introductory Legal Writing curriculum. But the students have to hear and apply the lessons during all three years of law school.


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