Friday, August 24, 2012

Letter has been sent to Yale

Earlier on this blog, I discussed a Yale blog post that discounts recommendations for transfer students from legal writing professors. Amy Vorenberg, Kris Tiscione, and Lisa McElroy with her team at Drexel have now sent a letter to Dean Post and the Yale admissions committee to ask them to reconsider that blog post. The letter contains almost 450 signatures. Many are by legal writing professors, but doctrinal professors and law school administrators are also represented. The text of the letter appears below. Its drafters have done a great service to our field and to legal education by composing it and collecting the signatures.


Text of letter

Dear Dean Post and members of the Admissions Committee:

     As professors at law schools across the country, we write to address a blog post by Associate Dean Asha Rangappa (see P.S.B.C.: Back by Popular Demand (June 9, 2011), available at admissions/archive/2011/06/09/back‐by‐populardemand.aspx). The post observes that potential transfer students make the “common mistake” of submitting one of two required recommendations from a legal writing “instructor.” Although “a third letter from a legal writing instructor is fine,” the Committee prefers recommendations from “core subject area professors, who can speak to [a student’s] ability to keep up with the subject material, contribute to class discussion, and think through difficult concepts.”

     If the post represents the policies or preferences of the Yale Law Admissions Committee, many of us are concerned it sends a message that legal research and writing (“LRW”) courses are not rigorous, underestimates the ability of LRW faculty to comment on students’ cognitive skills, harms students by discounting the valuable and thoughtful insight we have to offer about students seeking to transfer to Yale, and devalues LRW professors as a whole. To the extent the advice you provide as a top tier school might be interpreted as applicable, or preferable, to a wider law school audience, we feel the statements lacking in appropriate evidentiary support need correction.

     Every year, the Legal Writing Institute and the Association of Legal Writing Directors– the two professional organizations for LRW professors and those interested in the discipline– survey a number of ABA‐accredited and provisionally accredited law schools that grant the Juris Doctor degree. One hundred eighty‐four of the 200 schools surveyed responded to the 2012 survey. At least 170 of those schools require LRW in the first year and award four or more credits for a year‐long course. One hundred sixty schools grade the LRW course and incorporate the grade into the students’ overall GPA. As the survey indicates, the post’s characterization of LRW as other than a “core subject area” class is inaccurate.

    The Committee may be unaware that the typical LRW course requires students to conduct research on complicated legal questions, engage in complex legal analysis, communicate well orally and in writing, conference regularly with their professors on their performance, and behave both ethically and professionally. Accurate, in‐depth legal analysis and reasoning are at the core of an LRW course.

    The notion that LRW is not a core subject area class is also inconsistent with current thinking about legal education. Consider, for example, the 2007 Carnegie Report, which emphasized the importance of legal writing classes, as well as Justice Kennedy’s statement this week to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference: “[L]aw schools are questioning whether or not they are teaching students the right way, and it seems to me that the bench and the bar can engage in serious discussions with the law schools to advise them whether or not, say for the next 20 years, that [sic] they have the proper approach for teaching those whowill soon be the trustees of the law as active practitioners. That is urgent.”

     Given the small size of LRW classes; our knowledge of individual students; and our familiarity with their class participation, writing, oral skills, and personality, we have a unique perspective on our students’ abilities at any given time. Here too, the assumption that we are not in the same position as a Property or a Contracts professor to comment on their ability to “keep up,” “contribute to class discussion,” or “think through difficult concepts” is inaccurate.

    We recognize the primary mission of the Committee is to admit students who can compete at an elite institution. Nevertheless, discounting recommendations from LRW faculty could deprive potential transfer students of critical faculty input. LRW faculty often know 1L students the best in terms of what matters most – their achievement, motivation, raw talent, analytical skills, ability to communicate effectively, and measured progress.

    Because the post reaches a far wider audience than those students who will eventually matriculate at Yale, we are concerned about the extent to which it suggests that the Yale Law faculty considers LRW professors to be lesser faculty in some sense, passing on to the next generation of law students a bias that LRW and its faculty are not worth their time, attention, or care.

    For these reasons, we urge you to reconsider your practice of discounting recommendations from LRW faculty and welcome them as informed and reliable accounts of the transfer students you might soon welcome at your door. We also respectfully request that you amend the post in question accordingly.

    As legal educators, we all share the goal of offering the best legal education possible to our students. Our purpose here is to clarify the contribution LRW professors make toward achieving that goal. We thank you in advance for your consideration of this letter.

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I join in the rising crescendo of voices against the message expressed by Associate Dean Asha Rangappa of Yale Law School. If she is correct, recommendations received at Yale Law School from “core subject area professors" are preferred by their admission committee members over those submitted by legal writing teachers.

Again, if true, this attitude and approach shows a failure to appreciate the importance of legal writing and the indispensible role that legal writing teachers play in educating law school students.

Indeed, legal writing affects every subject area of law, not just one. Its impact is, therefore, pervasive. As importantly, effective legal writers possess the essential attributes necessary for success in law school and later, in the practice of law. Writers are almost certainly dedicated to their task, well-organized, knowledgeable , methodical, and capable of analyzing the most complex concepts. These are essential qualities that can be assessed by both legal writing teachers and core subject area professors.

I, therefore, ask that the posting by the Associate Dean be corrected and that Yale Law School express its unwavering commitment to consider equally in its admission process of transfer students, letters of recommendation from both legal writing teachers and core subject area professors.

William C. Burton, Esq

Posted by: William C. Burton | Aug 25, 2012 10:13:58 AM

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