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February 15, 2006

LEGAL RESEARCH and WRITING: It’s not your father’s LRW program

LEGAL RESEARCH AND WRITING Joan Malmud meets with her LRW tutors
It’s not your father’s LRW program  

by Eliza Schmidkunz
It was the day after Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and Legal Research and Writing professor Kate Weatherly decided to go over King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” — using the rules of classical rhetoric — to analyze a real life example of powerful persuasive advocacy.

Weatherly, who wrote about her teaching techniques last August in Kate Weatherly meets one-on-one with a law studentThe Second Draft, the bulletin of the Legal Writing Institute, said, “King’s letter is powerful on several levels —it’s a wonderful example of the classical introduction to an argument. He establishes goodwill, summarizes his argument, lays the groundwork for an argument whose subject he asserts has been misrepresented, and presents his credentials. Students see later in the semester that they do something similar in an appellate brief.”

Weatherly spent three class sessions closely analyzing the letter — as well as a brief in a contemporary civil rights case — according to rules that Cicero used to defend the Roman Republic. Then she played a CD of King’s 18-minute “I have a Dream Speech.”

“The emotional climate of the classroom — usually restrained or even nervous — changed noticeably,” Weatherly said.

Not your father’s LRW program, is it?

Led by Associate Professor Suzanne Rowe, nationally known forLRW director Suzanne Rowe her series of books on state-specific legal research, the five Legal Research and Writing Program faculty members boast many years combined experience clerking for state and federal judges, practicing in Wall Street and Oregon firms, and working for public interest organizations.

The school has professionalized writing instruction, Rowe says. “Alumni who graduated before 2000 may be surprised to hear about how much personal contact today’s students have with their writing teachers, how committed the LRW faculty is to the field of legal research and writing, and how comparatively small the classes are.”

In 2000, Rowe said, students were saying “LRW is intense and difficult and we hate it. In 2005, they’re saying LRW is intense and difficult…and it’s invaluable! Give us more LRW credits! There’s been a shift.”

The shift is the visible sign of a 25-year program transformation begun by emeritus associate professor Mary Lawrence. In 1978, Caroline Forell, now the Clayton Hess Professor of Law, faced a class of 82 LRW students in her first year of teaching. “It was trial by fire,” she said.

In contrast Rowe, Weatherly, and their colleagues Rebekah Hanley, Joan Malmud, and Natalie Scott teach classes half that size. In addition, law librarians come to class and teach the online Law librarian Angus Nesbit with LRW students research portion. Tutors offer students even more personal help.

The LRW faculty is deeply involved in advancing the cause of skills training in law schools. And Rowe has been at the forefront. A colleague from Lewis and  Clark, Sandy Patrick, said “Several of my students who clerked this summer told me how much Suzanne’s book, Oregon Legal Research, helped them in practice. . . I teach research “boot camps” and we start with ’Rowe’s Seven Steps’!” 

So how is all of this working? One remarkable turnaround is 2L Karl Kaufman. “I came to law school with a degree in studio art and no writing experience,” he said. His first semester was frustrating, and his grades showed it.

He sat down with Joan Malmud to figure out what was wrong and fix it. “My learning process is global — I have to understand the purpose before I can comprehend the rule,” he said.

Malmud explained the purpose of the rule and then showed him how to apply it, and Kaufman improved by a full letter grade.

“He wrote a superb brief in the spring,” Malmud said.

But even better was Malmud’s annual summer intensive writing course — a high-octane exercise for a dozen or so students. “It was a godsend,” Kaufman said.

“I had a professor who took the time to understand my learning style, I learned the theory behind a writing technique rather than memorizing guidelines, I was in a small class of dedicated students, and I did a lot of hard work, “ Kaufman said.

It worked. He made law review.

Malmud says about Kaufman’s experience and other like him, “This is the most important class for many first-year students. It’s hard, they’re stressed, and they want feedback. As undergraduates, many of them had to stretch to fill space in papers. Now we ask them to write very concisely. And with legal writing, they are restricted by the law and the facts — it’s not about sharing their personal thoughts.”

To address students’ need for individual assistance and feedback, the faculty uses tutors — three advanced law students for each LRW section. Student can work one-on-one with the tutors, learning how to structure a legal argument, and it’s “like turning a switch. Tutors are critical,” Malmud said.

High quality legal research and writing instruction is not an inexpensive proposition. LRW professors spend hours marking Rebekah Hanley discusses legal writing student drafts and meeting with students individually to discuss their work.  Given the workload, faculty need time, funds, and job security to innovate and persist. Since Rowe came to Oregon five years ago, she has worked diligently to bring more resources to the area.

 “We have such terrific teachers,” Rowe said, “and we are trying to keep them longer. For example, two have been here five years and hope to make legal research and writing their careers. This will be big news to alumni who might have had a newbie teacher with a short-term attitude.”

Her five-year plan includes second- and third-year course offerings, in addition to the summer intensive writing course and a summer research class. And it includes closer relationships with practicing attorneys as well.

The LRW faculty believe in introducing their students to the workplace nearly as soon as fall orientation is over. For example, at the beginning of fall semester, Suzanne Rowe brings her students LRW students at Lane County Circuit Court to observe Lane County Court. “Attorneys are really impressed to see 1Ls just a week into law school sitting in court,” Rowe said. Students interact with appellate judges and learn the art of oral argument during the annual Oregon Supreme Court and Court of Appeals visits. The LRW program also sponsors events throughout the year that expose students to writing in legal practice, feedback from practicing lawyers.

The Legal Research and Writing Program is also spearheading a plan to develop law practice seminars for the next academic year. These practice seminars will team that team lawyers with a law faculty member. Faculty members Keith Aoki, Leslie Harris, Rob Illig, and Rowe are already working with attorneys from Bend, Portland and Eugene to develop seminars that show students a realistic problem and teach them to negotiate, argue, and present in that practice area.

“It’s practice interacting with theory— students and attorneys love the idea, “ Rowe said. Carol Pratt ’98 at Preston Gates is excited about the plan, saying “this is exactly what law schools should do.”

The proof of all of this training, analysis, and real world exposure, of course, is in how well students adapt to their first summer associate job after a year of legal research and writing. Here the news couldn’t be better.

Feedback on UO law students on the job is “uniformly positive,” said Malmud. “After the first year, students work during the summer drafting briefs, and motions and the lawyers and judges they work for think they are fantastic. The students come back to school with great confidence in their skills.”

They realize “Hey, I am an attorney!” 
Legal Research and Writing Program

Fall pracitioners' panel hosted by Kate WeatherlyThe LRW Program

Friday, March 10: The LRW program will host Oregon’s Supreme Court. They will hear oral arguments in the Duncan Campbell auditorium (Room 175).

Friday, May 12: The LRW Program will host the first Oregon Colloquium, a gathering of legal writing professors from throughout the state. The half-day conference will include presentations on scholarship and pedagogy as well as an open discussion of the goals and challenges facing the legal writing programs in the state.

Suzanne Rowe, LRW director
Rowe was promoted to associate professor in 2005. The second edition of her book, Oregon Legal Research will be published this year. The first edition is used at all three Oregon law schools.  It’s also the template for a national series of research books. Books have already been written for Florida, Oregon, Washington, and Illinois.  Titles are currently underway for Michigan, Massachusetts, Tennessee, California, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and other states.

Rowe speaks widely on research and writing skills in legal education, most recently on accreditation standards at the national conference of the Association of Legal Writing Directors in Chicago and at the University of Washington in Seattle. She has been invited to join the ABA Committee on Communication Skills.

Rebekah Hanley, faculty member
Hanley attended the Association of American Law School’s New Teacher’s Conference in Washington, DC last June.  This is a national conference, and it includes a day devoted to LRW teachers. She is a member of the Roland K. Rodman American Inn of Court.

Joan Malmud, faculty member
Malmud is active nationally with legal writing organizations.  She just completed a two-year term on the editorial board of Second Draft, the national bulletin of the Legal Writing Institute.

This summer, she will be making a presentation on the use of assessment rubrics at the Institute’s biennial conference.  She has also worked with the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research.  At UO, Malmud serves on the University Senate’s Non-Tenure Track Faculty Committee.  Malmud is currently developing a new legal writing book with colleagues from Lewis & Clark and Wake Forest.

Natalie ScottNatalie C. Scott, faculty member
Scott left her bankruptcy law practice last August to join the legal research and writing faculty. Scott says, “I’d always wanted to teach writing and the timing couldn’t have been better. I got out of practice before I could get befuddled by that new bankruptcy law.” 

During law school at Oregon, she worked for the LRW program and was notes and comments editor for Oregon Law Review. After graduation in 2002, she clerked for now Chief Judge Brewer of the Court of Appeals. Her husband, Loren Scott ’02, practices bankruptcy in Eugene and does have to deal with the new bankruptcy law. The two arrived here after stints in Georgia, Arizona, and California.  Scott says, “Oregon is home. I’ve never once looked back!”

Katherine R. Weatherly, faculty member
Kate Weatherly’s article for Second Draft is quoted in the article above. She hosted a practitioner’s panel for LRW students last fall that included UO General Counsel Melinda Grier; Pat Chapman, Hershner Hunter (Eugene); Katie Chamberlain ’04 (Walters Chanti (Eugene), Bob Rocklin, Oregon Department of Justice, Tracy Trunnell ’99, Trunnell and Associates (Eugene), Mindy Wittkop ’97, Doyle Gartland (Eugene), Jolie Russo, clerk to federal judge Ann Aiken ’79.

Mary Lawrence, associate professor emerita
Lawrence is an LRW pioneer who designed and directed the Oregon program for more than 20 years and turned eyes to Oregon’s innovation as the field was developing. Her work attracted national attention and she continues to be honored for her contributions to the field. She received distinguished service awards from the Association of American Law Schools and the Association of Legal Writing Directors.

Legal Research and Writing website 

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