Sunday, March 8, 2015

Do Issue Spotting Exams Encourage Bad Legal Writing?

Over at PrawfsBlawg, Rick Hills says “yes.”

Do law school exams teach lousy legal writing? I am thinking of the “issue-spotting” exam in which the student is expected (or thinks that he or she is expected) to touch on as many issues as possible to demonstrate that he or she did her time in the course, taking notes, briefing cases, and soaking up information. Typically, such exam answers consist of lots of points hurriedly raised and rarely resolved or argued effectively. Such answers often adopt an indecisive “one-hand-other-hand” style of a bad bench memo, noting that there are opposing arguments on a point but not making any effort to evaluate whether and how one argument is better than another.

These symptoms of a certain type of exam answer writing also seem to be characteristics of bad legal writing by young attorneys starting out as associates, at least according to senior partners that I canvassed a couple of summers ago, in an effort to learn how to improve NYU’s legal writing program. The most common complaint was that new hires’ emails, memos, and draft briefs did not make an argument for a particular position. Instead, the novices summarized too much at too great length without arriving at any plain bottom line. “Don’t they know they we’re paid to be advocates?” one lawyer complained. “Clients pay for answers, not encyclopedias,” said another.

You can read more here.

I agree. Successful law students spot as many issues as they can and discuss them all—even the weakest ones. Good lawyers look for the issue that gives their client the best chance of winning and run with it. I gave up on issue spotting exams years ago.

Thnx to Jennifer Romig.


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