Let’s Fix Legal Process and LRW

I think we can all agree on the worst class in 1L. It’s Legal Process, right? Or wait, is it LRW?

I’ve spoken to people who liked their LRW section, so maybe it depends on who’s teaching it. My LRW instructor read out the same PowerPoint slides in multiple classes and literally fell asleep in class once while Susan Barker was actually teaching us something. So, needless to say, Legal Process (formerly LPPE) was still my least favourite 1L class—but only by a little. The only reason I disliked Legal Process more than LRW was probably that it was held twice a week instead of once, and there were actually readings assigned, which I definitely sometimes completed.

What we’re supposed to learn in these two classes is important. Every one of us will need to know how to write in our legal careers, and it would benefit all of us to know the basics of civil procedure, even if it’s just so we can answer the million questions family members ask us about the law at holiday gatherings. The problem is, most of us don’t come out of first year with a solid grasp on either of these things. On the other hand, at least we learn something about them: most 1Ls, except for a small group of students, get no exposure whatsoever to oral advocacy.

Shouldn’t we be learning at least a few of the skills we need to actually practice as lawyers? I think so. So let’s fix Legal Process and LRW.

Here’s my pitch: merge them together, add in an oral advocacy component, and call the whole thing something like “Introduction to Lawyering.” It would be a full-year course and, since these are new skills that everyone’s learning, let’s make it credit/no credit. Maybe that would create an effort problem, but are you really going to tell me there’s not already an effort problem with the two courses as they stand?

The coursework would be modeled after working on a case at an actual firm (but without the obsession over billable hours). In the beginning, students would still learn basic legal writing by being assigned memos on legal issues. Throughout the year, they would keep working on the same case. In other words, you’ve given a legal opinion on some issues and then started strategizing about moving the case forward: Are there limitations issues? Should you file a motion to dismiss? Can we please just leave jurisdiction out of it because, oh my god, how boring is jurisdiction?

The idea is that students would learn legal writing and civil procedure at the same time and then apply both skills to their case. Maybe the first semester would focus on writing and the second semester would focus on procedure and oral advocacy, starting with a small motion, or something like a mini-trial, and then culminate in a moot based on the result of that mini-trial.

If you are anything like me, you’re thinking, “That sounds like adding a lot of extra work to 1L.” That’s not what I want! Given the fact that there’s already time in the schedule for everyone to have two Legal Process classes a week, there’s no reason one of those classes couldn’t be spent working on assignments while the other class would still have a lecture. Or maybe the issues and assignments could be kept simple enough that they wouldn’t take hours and hours of students’ time. Or maybe, since you can apparently learn all of Legal Process in a couple of days and pass the exam, the school could make an exception in this one instance and just tell us the law instead of making us read a bunch of civil procedure cases, which would leave more time to spend on actually applying that law in practical assignments.

By the end of the class, students would have learned the fundamentals of legal writing, civil procedure, and oral advocacy. I think this could actually be an interesting class—and possibly even a fun one—that would help do something law school generally doesn’t seem designed to do: teach students how to be a lawyer.

There are surely a billion logistical problems in doing this that I haven’t thought of and am not equipped to solve, so maybe this would never work. And maybe I am the only person who thinks this sounds remotely interesting. But I really do think that there must be a more useful way than LRW and Legal Process to teach us legal writing and legal procedure, and I really do think that every 1L should get to have some exposure to oral advocacy before deciding whether to try out for a competitive moot or not. The best part is, if every student got mooting experience in their first year, maybe nobody would have to do the Upper Year Moot ever again.