Sunday, August 28, 2011

Report # 3 from The Western Regional Legal Writing Conference

The Western Regional Legal Writing Conference wrapped up yesterday, and it is fair to say that it was an overwhelming success.  USF Professors Grace Hum, Amy Flynn, Eugene Kim, Brian Mikulak, Gary Alexander and Monalisa Vu (along with any of their wonderful colleagues that I may be unintentionally omitting) deserve credit for putting on a relevant, timely, and smoothly run event.  The conference, “How to Hit the Ground Writing:  Meeting the Expectations of a Changing Legal Market,” featured a wide variety of presentations by legal writing professors.  But as Professor Soonpaa noted in an earlier post, the conference also featured panel discussions with practitioners from different legal fields and practice settings.

The timing of the conference could not have been better considering rapidly evolving employer expectations in both the private and public legal employment markets.  While many of us keep in contact with former colleagues in the real world, having a formal setting to exchange ideas about law students and recent graduates with practicing lawyers is unbeatable.  In my view, getting professors and practicing lawyers together to exchange ideas serves several important interests. 

First, practicing lawyers can tell the legal academy what they are looking for when hiring young lawyers.  Not surprisingly, the panelists at the conference report that they like to hire self-starters with strong practical skill sets.  Both law firms and public sector employers want graduates who have the ability to self-diagnose writing problems and fix them without much handholding.

Second, lawyers who hire recent graduates can provide critical feedback on the quality of skills training that law students receive in law school.  Good news:  At least some of the panelists reported that they have seen an increase in the quality of recent law school graduates’ writing skills during the past few years.  Bad news:  Recent graduates still struggle with legal writing.  This report seems consistent with the expansion of some legal writing programs.  But it is also consistent with the need for further expansion.

Third, practicing lawyers have great ideas about teaching law students skills.  Because many new law grads still need to improve their writing, senior lawyers often find themselves in a teaching role.  Some lawyers use examples and form files, others employ one on one mentoring, and some use good ol’ fashioned comment and revision to bring their younger colleagues’ writing around.

I am sure there are many other reasons to bring the practicing bar and legal writing professors together to discuss legal education.  To be sure, the information the panelists provided is anecdotal, but it is a starting point for discussion and further inquiry.  The broader point, I think, is that conferences incorporating the viewpoint of the broader profession should be the norm, not the exception.  Kudos to Professor Hum and her USF colleagues for a great idea and well-executed conference.


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