This text is designed to assist those who work with novice legal writers, including legal writing professors, adjunct teachers, teaching fellows, upperclass students, tutors, and supervising attorneys. It covers techniques for teaching first-year law students in legal research and writing courses; upper-class students in practicum, experiential learning, and clinical courses; students in writing seminars and editing journals; and young associates in practice.

The authors have taught Legal Practice: Writing and Analysis at Georgetown University Law Center for a combined total of over fifty years, and the advice and approaches contained in this manual reflect the teaching philosophy developed by the faculty in Georgetown’s legal writing program over several decades.  Georgetown’s Legal Practice faculty teach first year students with the help of upperclass Law Fellows, who excelled in legal writing during their first year in law school and who participate in a year-long seminar that focuses on writing pedagogy and the components of effective written response to student work.

Much of what is contained herein has been a part of Georgetown’s training program for its Law Fellows for many years, and reflects the work of many faculty members and Law Fellows over the years in thinking about the best approaches to teaching beginning law students not only the basics of conventional legal documents such as memoranda and briefs, but the foundations of strong legal analysis and the rhetorical devices that are common to many forms of legal writing.  As is true of the general audience for legal documents in practice, different teachers of legal writing will have their own preferred styles and approaches, and thus this manual includes both general advice regarding the substance and process of legal writing pedagogy and a variety of specific techniques and approaches that we hope will be useful to a wide audience of legal writing teachers.

Chapter 1 discusses the substance and process of providing written feedback on draft documents.  Although it is designed primarily for legal writing teachers and fellows who work with new law students in introducing them to effective legal writing, it can also be an effective guide for supervising attorneys who seek to do more than simply edit the work of their junior attorneys to make it fit their client’s needs.  Most law practices are collaborative enterprises, with lawyers working together to draft and finalize documents, and employers in the legal field place high value not only on the ability to write well individually, but also to work collaboratively with others to produce a strong finished product and to mentor and guide more junior members of the working group.

Chapter 2 discusses the goals and methodology involved in effective conferencing about a written work-in-progress.  Most legal writing programs include one-on-one conferences as part of the writing and feedback process, and an effective writing conference can significantly enhance the student’s understanding of the written feedback that she has received and his or her ability to transfer the lessons learned from one writing assignment to the next.  As with Chapter 1, this chapter can also be a helpful guide for supervising attorneys in working with junior attorneys to improve their writing.  Taking time to not only provide written feedback to junior attorneys but to also meet with them to discuss that feedback and agree upon the next steps to be taken by the junior attorney is almost always a good investment in the future of the organization, as it will ultimately save the supervising attorney time editing future documents and will hasten the junior attorney’s ability to work independently.

Chapter 3 covers the classroom teaching component of a legal writing course, addressing techniques for engaging students of all learning styles in the classroom and accomplishing the goals of the course.  Its focus is on the academic world, rather than on legal practice, but the overview of learning styles and techniques for engaging one’s audience could be useful for anyone tasked with designing presentations or training classes in a law office, government agency, or non-profit organization.

Chapter 4 deals specifically with problem design, focusing on teachers of first year law students. It provides both general considerations for professors as they design writing assignments at different stages of the course and specific tips for effective design.

Chapter 5 focuses on syllabus design, with specific suggestions for using course objectives to guide the progression of the course and considerations for establishing course policies.

Chapter 6 provides background and specific suggestions for using peer review and self-evaluation exercises as formative assessment tools to enhance students’ learning in legal writing courses, both for first year and upper level students.

Chapter 7 is written for faculty teaching upper level seminar courses that require students to write a scholarly paper. It focuses on how the teacher can help students at all stages of the writing process and gives examples of comments aimed at areas in which students tend to struggle the most in academic legal writing: developing and supporting a thesis, engaging in in-depth research and analysis, and organizing complex ideas into a coherent document.


Legal Writing Pedagogy: Commenting, Conferencing, and Classroom Teaching Copyright © 2013 by Diana Donahoe and Julie Ross. All Rights Reserved.