New First-Year Course Aims to Right Legal Writing Wrongs

Nick Papageorge (1L)

Last month, our Editor-in-chief put out a call to first-years: “Just take it easy, man.” First-years undoubtedly replied: “We’re perfectly calm, Dude. Calmer than you are.” Then a group of first-years—myself included—set out to show just how calm we are by giving up the first of what will soon be four Friday mornings to participate in a new, optional legal writing class.

The class was first advertised to us last December. Given the opportunity for more legal writing in the wake of Legal Research and Writing (LRW), 1Ls stayed true to form. “Way more” signed up for the class than the 25 it was designed for. At least, this is what I was told by Assistant Dean Sara Faherty, though I can attest to the fact there have not been 25 students in any of the first three classes.

You might be wondering what the purpose of this class is, especially since the tedium of LRW is already mandatory for first-years. According to Professor Katherine Vitale Lopez, who designed and volunteered to teach the course, it aims to give student “an opportunity to delve into the mechanics of good writing, to identify some common impediments to clarity, and to brush up on grammar and sentence structure.” This style-centric approach distinguishes the course from LRW and its focus on format.

For me, it was this distinction alone that made the class appealing and has made it worthwhile. LRW seemed to equip me and many other students with a set of writing skills so particular that they have no practical value. I came out of LRW feeling semi-confident that I could write an unrealistically constrained memo for one specific person; anything beyond that would be uncharted waters.

By contrast, this new writing course has already lived up to Professor Lopez’s goal of helping us “develop a systematic approach to editing and writing that [we] can take with [us] through law school and into practice.” It has certainly helped me identify areas of my own writing that are most likely to become bogged down by a lack of clarity, and has importantly offered some common-sense fixes for this problem.

Where LRW insisted upon writing skills that many will find difficult to make use of beyond that class itself, this new course has given its participants tips and strategies that will be useful in most any law class or legal writing scenario. This is true because its emphasis is on good writing itself rather than the potential context or format that that writing will fit into.

Other members of the class seemed to echo this sentiment. One member noted that the class seems just like LRW, “but better.” Another felt this type of class was necessary because writing skills are something that require continual work and brushing up on. I tend to agree, and hope the administration sees fit to offer this course again next year as well as open it up to a greater number of 1Ls—at a more agreeable time of the day.