Getting Them at Hello: Creative Teaching Techniques and Exercises to Engage New Law Students

By: Professor Lynn Su and Professor Anne Goldstein

The first few weeks of law school can be both thrilling and terrifying—an avalanche of reading, Latin lawyer lingo, and exacting methodology for thinking and writing about the law. This world of intellectual challenges takes place in an unfamiliar setting. Not only are students meeting new people and getting accustomed to a rigorous academic schedule, but many have also left behind the comforts of home, relocating to a new city, state, or even country to embark on the study of law. Forging into the unknown is fraught with great possibility and a bit of trepidation.

Because they are on the frontline of teaching first-year law students fundamental lawyering skills, Legal Writing professors can work to capture students’ imaginations and demystify the law school experience.  Legal Writing is likely to be the course with the lowest professor to student ratio in the first year of law school and typically continues for two semesters. Teaching small groups of first-year students for a full year, Legal Writing professors are uniquely well positioned to ease students’ transition. Continue reading “Getting Them at Hello: Creative Teaching Techniques and Exercises to Engage New Law Students”

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Why Legal Writing is ‘Doctrinal’ and, More Importantly, Profound

By: Professor Hal Lloyd 

So as long as we must use the questionable term “doctrinal” when referring to law school courses, I challenge everyone (including law professors who teach legal writing) to stop directly and indirectly referring to legal writing as a “non-doctrinal” course. Use of “non-doctrinal” can be code for “lesser” thereby suggesting that legal writing has lesser import than other law school courses. Erroneously so marking legal writing as “lesser” damages legal education across the board. It damages students and law professors not teaching legal writing by suggesting that legal writing and the theory, skills and insights taught by legal writing merit less of their time, which in turn increases the odds that both students and other faculty will remain ignorant of the critical knowledge and skills that legal writing teaches. It also damages law professors teaching legal writing because it invites disparate treatment such as lack of tenure, lower pay, and lack of equal respect. As a result, law professors teaching legal writing encounter greater difficulties in publishing scholarship, difficulties which deprive us all of the scholarship so silenced or deterred. Such erroneous code also ignores the profound subject matters addressed in legal writing courses today.

Such erroneous code further ignores fundamental principles of semantics and fundamental insights of modern cognitive psychology embraced by legal writing courses today. For all of these reasons, the term “doctrinal” should be replaced with “meaningful” when referring to courses and “proper subject matter” when referring to course content.

To learn more about this issue, read the full article. Continue reading “Why Legal Writing is ‘Doctrinal’ and, More Importantly, Profound”

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Bridging the Gap Between Substance and Skill

By: Abigail L. Perdue

So often I hear first-year law students admit to allocating less time to Legal Writing because it “matters less” than other “substantive” courses. Nothing could be further from the truth.

After all, Legal Writing is a substantive course. “Substantive” is defined as “possessing substance, having practical importance, value, or effect.” Doesn’t Legal Writing clearly meet this definition? For example, in my first-year Legal Writing course, students emerge with a deep understanding of key concepts in employment discrimination law from disparate impact to hostile environment sexual harassment. But as in the practice, they don’t just acquire substantive knowledge; they apply it in a practical way.

So too must a competent attorney bridge the intellectual gap between substance and skill.  An attorney must not only intimately understand the nuances of the relevant legal doctrine but also be able to effectively apply that knowledge in practical ways and communicate it effectively, both orally and in writing, to legal and non-legal audiences. Thus, Legal Writing matters because it empowers students to do just that. Continue reading “Bridging the Gap Between Substance and Skill”

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Speed Editing

By: Abigail Perdue

“I feel the need . . . the need for speed.” – Top Gun

Apparently fictional fighter pilots and forward-thinking Jewish rabbis have that in common. The widespread modern phenomenon of speed dating purportedly began in the late nineties when an innovative Jewish rabbi organized the first speed dating event as an efficacious way for busy Jewish young professionals to meet and mingle (Kennedy 2013).

Speed dating soon became so popular that its model was exported to the business world. Speed mentoring events sprang up across the country, and after attending a particularly impactful one, I brainstormed how to implement “speed editing” in my writing classes. Speed editing simultaneously achieves multiple learning goals from encouraging collaboration to demonstrating how to work effectively under tight time constraints. It teaches students how to thoughtfully give and receive constructive feedback and further hones their editing and oral communication skills. Here’s how it works.

As our time on an assignment module draws to a close, I provide a brief overview of the effective editing techniques we have already discussed and then dedicate the remainder of our 1.5 hour session to speed editing. This generally occurs in one of two ways, each of which I will discuss below.
Continue reading “Speed Editing”

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How Thaler’s Misbehaving Grades Helped Me Teach Law Better

By: Steve Garland, Wake Forest University School of Law

The professor that had the most important effect on my teaching just won a Nobel Prize. Out of full disclosure, I’ve never met him or taken a class from him. Still, Richard Thaler taught me that sometimes you may have to use psychological tricks to insure that your students focus on what matters most.

As we all know, in teaching legal writing and reasoning, leading the students to focus on the learning rather than the grade can be a challenge, particularly since our grades are most often the first grades the students receive. From my own experience in law school, I recalled that the grades we received in Legal Writing (at the time the only grades prior to the end of first semester exams) often had a disproportionate effect on our confidence going forward. This anecdotal intuition was reinforced by a study that my colleagues at Wake Forest University School of Law – Professors Laura Graham and Miki Felsenburg – undertook. They found that high-achieving college graduates lose confidence when they find that their hard-won skills in college may not immediately translate to their new law school community.
Continue reading “How Thaler’s Misbehaving Grades Helped Me Teach Law Better”

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