Thursday, October 02, 2008
Introducing a Series of Posts on the Role of Legal Research and Writing
I never planned on teaching Legal Research and Writing, but boy am I glad that I did. I taught in Stanford's fellowship program, which is similar to, but not the same as (or, as my seventh grade math teacher always said--when she wasn't saying "I'm from the show me state Missouri, so you'd better show me"--"it's the same but different") programs at Harvard, Chicago, NYU, and elsewhere, in that Fellows teach the first year legal research and writing curriculum while preparing to go on the tenure-track market. (At same later point I will share some thoughts about doing these Fellowship programs.)
In this series of posts, I will focus on the role of an LRW program (or whatever name it goes by at your school) in the law school curriculum. Here are some topics that I hope to cover (feel free to suggest more!), followed by one initial thought:
- What does an LRW program try to achieve?
- What should the LRW curriculum be?
- Who should teach LRW?
- How does an LRW program relate to the doctrinal curriculum, and what, why, and how should doctrinal faculty think about the LRW program?
- Is IRAC Evil?
- Should we rethink LRW programs?
In my view, an LRW program is crucial. In some ways, I think it is the most important law school class--in both the obvious sense (it comes closest to preparing students to actually do the work that they will do as summer associates, interns, and junior lawyers) and in a more controversial sense that will become clearer throughout this series.
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In most law schools, they really teach legal writing rather than legal research because most LRW faculty don't know or don't really care about legal research. I think legal research should be taught as a separate class.
Posted by: anon | Oct 2, 2008 12:08:34 PM
In many schools, legal research IS a separate class.
Unfortunately, there is no theory of “good” legal writing. Lawyers are awfully skittish about whether anything they do is a “skill” or more of an expression of their great philosophical brilliance. This means that law schools look down on legal writing. But this also means that nobody will ever study whether substantive law is changed because of writing. Seriously, do you think that the government has a steady string of losses in the GTMO cases because of BAD legal writing. Are the jails filled with people whose lawyers just couldn’t bluebook a record cite? And what judge is going to tell a kid that his father will spend the rest of his life in jail because his lawyer didn’t IRAC.
IRAC is probably a necessity for new law students. They just came out of undergraduate programs which are haphazard and tolerate all sorts of crap.
Posted by: S.cotus | Oct 2, 2008 1:06:28 PM
Well, research professors were very interested in the recent Kennedy v. Louisiana kerfluffle, in which the substantive law may have been changed by the failure to do good research.
Legal research programs are largely "throw them in and let them teach themselves how to swim." This was possible in a book-oriented world, when finding anything was difficult and required some skill. With the advent of computerized research, finding something is easy; finding the right thing is hard. Law schools have, for the most part, yet to make a necessary adjustment in training students how to think about research.
Posted by: michelle | Oct 2, 2008 1:37:43 PM
What I think that many schools don’t properly convey is that the law is highly specialized. The result is that any ethical lawyer doesn’t need to do much original research because they already know their field backwards and forwards. Obviously they keep up as they are ethnically required to do: they read all Supreme Court and Court of Appeals cases (or state supreme court cases) and any specialized materials as they become available. But, on the whole, most research is to find juicy quotes or some stuff that is outside their normal area of practice.
Posted by: S.cotus | Oct 2, 2008 2:15:02 PM
S.cotus: For first year law students, the vast majority of law schools have legal research and writing together. There are a minority of law schools that have a separate legal research class for first years. According to the ALWD/LWI 2004 Survey, 141 programs integrate research and writing instruction. 2004 was the latest available and I don't think too much has changed in the past four years.
For second and third years, most law schools offer a separate advanced legal research class.
Posted by: anon | Oct 2, 2008 3:24:23 PM
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