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Law School: A Bitter Writing Pill

Legal research and writing is critically important for your legal career, but more importantly for now, your first year exams. Why?

There are a couple reasons. First, and most importantly, whether you know it now or not: you are not a great writer.  I know, I know, you were an English major and your teachers always told you that writing was the best they had ever seen. I know, I know you won some undergrad award for poetry or journalism or whatever and the town Kiwanis Club gave you a dictionary with your name engraved on it.

I’ve heard it all before.  It never fails: guess the E.T.A. of the first time anyone tells a typical One L “as a matter of fact, you aren’t exactly Ernest Hemingway”? It happens about mid-October of every One L year, when I return their fi rst legal writing memo assignments with grades. I grade in red ink, and it’s a bloodbath.

How do One Ls take the news? Let me just say that I make a habit of wearing a bulletproof vest the next time I show up to class. Sometimes I think this is why they hire adjunct professors like me to teach this class: it’s a risky business to deliver the bad news.

But it is true: One Ls come to law school with terrible writing skills. They write everything in passive voice. They don’t know how to write a topic sentence. Comma splices abound. Fragments? But, of course! Transition? What is that?  Accordingly, it falls on us to put them through a year long writing crash course to get them straightened out, and that course is usually called Legal Research and Writing.

Look: it’s OK. No one expects you to be a great writer at this point. But it is very important that you get your writing in shape quickly, because clear, well organized writing is a key component of an excellent exam answer. Your legal writing class is your best chance at getting the frank personal feedback you need to improve your writing. My first piece of advice as a legal writing instructor for 13 years? Check your One L ego at the door, and completely submit to your writing instructor. It does absolutely no good to hold on to misconceptions about your ability now.

It is not possible to show a person how to transform his writing into what it needs to be without working with the person directly. This is why your legal writing professor is the most important person in your life in the One L year. Every One L who does not know better wishes that they had that popular adjunct that gives out high grades like they are candy, and never “discourages” students with “negative” feedback.

Trust me, this is exactly the legal writing instructor you don’t want. You need an instructor that will be savagely honest with you. Your ego will take a few uppercuts and you might end up bruised and a little bloody.  So what? You get a legal writing professor that kills you with kindness and you might end up dead.

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