Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Lawyers at Work: A Study of the Reading, Writing, And Communication Practices of Legal Professionals

There are few empirical studies of the effectiveness of particular teaching methods in legal education.  Ann Sinsheimer and David J. Herring have undertaken a study of attorneys in the workplace to determine what tasks they typically perform.  Lawyers at Work: A Study of the Reading, Writing, And Communication Practices of Legal Professionals.  Their study provides a great deal of information about how law schools should be education their students.


"This paper reports the results of a three-year ethnographic study of attorneys in the workplace. The authors applied ethnographic methods to identify how junior associates in law firm settings engaged in reading and writing tasks in their daily practice. The authors were able to identify the types of texts junior associates encountered in the workplace and to isolate the strategies these attorneys used to read and compose texts.

The findings suggest that lawyering is fundamentally about reading. The attorneys observed for this study read constantly, encountering a large variety of texts and engaging in many styles of reading, including close reading and also reading broadly, skimming and scanning texts for information. Their writing processes typically began by reading and rereading the information they used to substantiate their written work. They functioned in stressful environments in which they felt pressed for time and had to juggle multiple tasks.

This paper explores the implications of these findings for a variety of audiences, including legal educators, law firms training junior associates, and those doing research on legal pedagogy. For legal educators, the results of this study can be used to develop classroom exercises and to train new teachers. Notably, legal educators should consider devoting more time to teaching reading skills.  Although legal educators often assume that law students possess the necessary reading skills, this study indicates that this assumption is faulty and that instruction in this area is likely a key component in the successful transition to practice. For law firms, this study sheds light on the tasks with which new attorneys struggle and reveals the areas in which new attorneys require the most facility. In terms of legal research, this ethnography provides a model that can be expanded to study these same practice areas and other practice areas at law firms of all sizes throughout the country."
Here are some other helpful resources on legal reading:
Laurel C. Oates, Beating the Odds: Reading Strategies of Law Students Admitted through Alternative Admissions Programs, 83 Iowa L. Rev. 139, 148 (1997).
Peter Dewitz, Legal Education: A Problem of Learning from Text, 23 N.Y.U. L. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 225, 228 (1997).
James F. Stratman, When Law Students Read Cases: Exploring Relations between Professional Legal Reasoning Roles and Problem Detection, 34 Discourse Processes 57 (2002).
Leah M. Christensen, The Psychology behind Case Briefing: A Powerful Cognitive Schema, 29 Campbell L. Rev. 5, 13 (2006).
Leah M. Christensen, The Paradox of Legal Expertise: A Study of Experts and Novices Reading the Law, 30 Seattle U. L. Rev. 603 (2007).
(Scott Fruehwald)


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