Friday, August 28, 2015

SCOTUS Justice Kagan says law schools must do more to boost legal writing skills

In an interview last month with legal writing expert Bryan Garner (who is the editor of Black's Law Dictionary in addition to running his own legal writing consulting and training firm LawProse) Justice Elena Kagan told him that legal educators need "to think in a deep way" about how to improve law students' writing abilities. Justice Kagan also acknowledged that "writing is one of the hardest things to teach."  Mr. Garner has posted videos of his interview with Justice Kagan on his website LawProse, excerpts of which are also included in this story from the National Law Journal:

Kagan: Law Schools Must Do More to Boost Student Writing Skills

"Writing is one of the hardest things to teach," justice tells legal writing expert Bryan Garner.


U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan thinks American law schools—including those in the top tier—need to “think in a deep way” about how to help their students become better writers.

In an interview conducted last month by legal writing expert Bryan Garner, Kagan, who once taught at the University of Chicago Law School and was dean of Harvard Law School, said that for “too many students,” even at the schools she worked at, “nobody taught them” writing skills. She acknowledged that “writing is one of the hardest things to teach.”


When Garner said that some “lower tier” law schools take the teaching of legal writing more seriously than top schools, Kagan said that was based on the false assumption that students at elite law schools know how to write already. “There are lots of students whose writing can be improved,” at all levels, she said.


. . . .


The two discussed Kagan’s own writing as a justice, which has been praised as more accessible and interesting to read for lawyers and non-lawyers alike than many of her colleagues and predecessors on the court.

Asked who her target reader is when she writes opinions, Kagan said, “I write so that a non-lawyer can understand it, but not any non-lawyer.” She said she did not want to “dumb down” the writing too much, so she has a “reader of The New Yorker, or something like that,” in mind when she writes.

. . . . 

You can continue reading the NLJ story here or head to LawProse to watch the full video interview.


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Justice Kagan's remarks should be seriously considered by every legal educator in the country. Today's law students need to write with the clarity, analysis, and direct style that clients, courts, and agencies may understand. I especially like the Justice's point that she writes her opinions so that even non-lawyers may understand them. Thus, despite what one may think of her judicial philosophy or decisions, she has it right on this one.

Posted by: Emil A. Ricci | Sep 3, 2015 6:03:31 AM

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