Writing Is The Right Way To Go

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Writing

Professor Fallone left a thoughtful comment on my last post, pointing out that Marquette goes farther in emphasizing practical lawyering skills than many of its peer institutions. I agree with him, and from my experience, one of the most important practical “lawyering skills” that is emphasized here at Marquette is legal writing and research. I consider myself fortunate to have been assigned to Professor Julien’s section of LAWR I my 1L year. Even though I still have nightmares about losing that Writing Bee shirt in the final round (thanks to the space I should have put between So. and 2d), in the end, I gained much more from her class than I lost.

We learned the basics — pronoun-antecedent agreement (her pet peeve), citation, punctuation, and CREAC. But we were taught something more that I will never be able to put a value on. Professor Julien helped us to become passionate about writing.  

She helped us to realize that it wasn’t just important in the classroom to write a proper sentence or cite a case correctly. She gave us the skills that we would need to be successful in practice and then she helped us to believe that if we really embraced what we were learning, we would actually be better lawyers. We would set ourselves apart from other lawyers in practice. Although I never doubted this, it became abundantly clear to me as I clerked over the summer. I was working with lawyers who could argue legal circles around me, but I had something that some of them didn’t. I had an arsenal of legal writing techniques that I wasn’t ever afraid to use. And I quickly realized how powerful the well-reasoned, clearly organized written word could be. I might not have had the most brilliant legal arguments to make, but every brief I wrote was precise and organized. My citations were accurate, my paragraphs had strong thesis sentences, and my analogies were powerful and relevant.

The first substantial project I was assigned was a brief in support of a motion for summary judgment. At first, I didn’t think that we’d win the motion. But I knew I had a job to do so I did my best to use the persuasion techniques I had learned to make the various rules I had researched sound more favorable to our position. I provided citations for almost every sentence I wrote, and I even pointed out to the court a few cases I had uncovered that hurt our side. A few months after submitting the brief, I got an email from my supervising attorney. He informed me that we had won the motion and the judge had granted summary judgment. Despite my inexperience, I knew that summary judgment motions weren’t granted every day and that this had been a major victory for us.  I am confident that we won not only because we had done our research and advanced a strong argument on behalf of our client, but also because we presented a stronger brief. I was somewhat shocked at the typos, the grammar mistakes, the lack of citations, and the complete absence of any semblance to CREAC that I found in the other side’s brief. I honestly think we won, in part, because our argument was that much was easier for the judge to read.

We’re required to take only two semesters of legal writing and research while we’re in law school. But I would highly recommend that you take more. In fact, take a legal writing class every semester if you can. Professor Julien and Professor Norton team-teach an ALR/ALW Seminar that is not only practical but fun. We learned how to write interrogatories, draft client letters, compose business emails, and conduct cost-effective research. We sharpened our citation and grammar skills by playing Legal Writing Jeopardy! And in terms of practical skills, I cannot imagine a class that will prepare you for practice more than this one will. But if the prospect of being a better and more articulate lawyer isn’t enough to convince you to embrace legal writing and take a course like this one, I would also suggest you show up for the cookies. Professor Norton has, on occasion, been known to provide the best oatmeal raisin cookies I’ve ever had.

Professor Julien, Professor Hayford, and Professor Norton all shared their passion (and oatmeal raisin cookies) with me; they went above and beyond what was asked of them to make sure I would be an excellent lawyer. And they gave me the tools that I could use to set myself apart in practice. Every time I refer to a court as an “it” and not a “they” or avoid starting a quotation with an ellipses, I will be grateful to these amazing professors for what they taught me. And I will be forever grateful to Marquette Law School for recognizing how important a strong legal writing education is in producing great lawyers and for giving us access to such inspired and passionate professors. Professor Fallone’s comment on my last post said it best: by valuing legal writing as we do here at Marquette, we absolutely got it right.

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