Professor Suzanne Rowe Talks LRW
A Q&A with the 2011 Hollis Teaching Award recipient
Legal Research and Writing Program Director, Professor Suzanne Rowe, received Oregon Law’s highest teaching honor, the Orlando J. Hollis Faculty Teaching Award, at the May 2011 graduation ceremony. A graduate of Columbia University School of Law, where she was a Stone Scholar, she clerked for the Honorable Rudi M. Brewster in the Southern District of California and practiced law as a tax associate in Washington D.C. Before joining the faculty at Oregon Law, Professor Rowe taught at the University of San Diego and Florida State University. Now a Dean’s Distinguished Faculty Fellow, she was a Luvaas Faculty Fellow from 2008 to 2010. Professor Rowe is the editor of a series of state research books, the Legal Research Series, published by Carolina Academic Press. She also writes a monthly column, “The Legal Writer,” in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin.
How has Oregon Law’s LRW program changed since you first arrived in 2000?
The course is much more interactive now, due in part to the smaller LRW class size: students discuss their analysis in small groups and peer edit early drafts, they meet with tutors to make refinements, and the professors meet with students individually to discuss progress. We’ve also incorporated more real-world experiences. Students now write cover letters and resumes, and we introduce them to client interviewing.
Who teaches in the program has also changed dramatically. While Oregon Law was always fortunate to attract wonderful people to teach LRW, the past 11 years have seen us shift expectations of how long they’ll stay. Previously, teaching LRW was like a judicial clerkship — something you did for a few years at the beginning of your career. Now it is the career; I consider the judicial clerkship and the years of practice as the prelude to a career teaching LRW. As LRW professors stay in the field longer, they gain insights and expertise that greatly benefit their students.
What do you think Oregon Law does differently with its LRW program that is contributing to the program’s success and makes it stand out from the others?
One of the biggest differences has been the strong support of our administration. Dean Margie Paris has been instrumental in our smaller class size and our increase in credits for LRW. She has also helped integrate LRW professors into the life of the law school, which has made it possible for us to attract a huge number of outstanding candidates to each search.
Also, all of our LRW professors — from newest to most seasoned — are active nationally, which means our national colleagues get to know Oregon Law on a lot of levels.
How would you describe the experience of taking the reins of the LRW Program following Mary Lawrence’s 22 years as LRW director?
It was almost overwhelming. Mary is a legend in legal writing circles nationally, and she left some very big shoes to fill.
During your time as director of LRW at Oregon Law, the program has steadily risen in the U.S. News & World Report ranking, and achieved its highest this year at #5. How does it feel to know the program is considered among the top nationally?
I’m both proud and humbled. I’m proud of my Oregon Law colleagues who give so much to their students and still find time to be active in the national legal writing community — planning national conferences, leading important organizations, and writing books and articles that are used in classrooms across the country. I’m humbled because there are so many outstanding LRW teachers nationally, and many of them have supported our work. We wouldn’t be here without their support.
But no matter what we’re ranked, we’re going to offer our students the same excellent program.
What accomplishment are you most proud of as a director of Oregon Law’s LRW program?
Students perceive the LRW course as among the most valuable in the law school curriculum. They appreciate how practical the course is and how well it prepares them for their first legal jobs.
How did you first find your passion for legal writing?
I came to legal writing as a complete fluke. I needed a one-year job to occupy me between graduation and the beginning of a clerkship with a federal judge. The local law school needed a one-year teacher, and the director took a chance on me despite my lack of experience. I loved every moment of teaching! A few years later, after I’d clerked for the judge and worked for a major law firm, I realized that nothing had been as rewarding as teaching first-year law students.
What are your hopes for the LRW program in the future?
We’ve really achieved all of the major goals that I had when I began as director: lower student-teacher ratios, more credits for LRW, more upper-level classes, promotions and sabbaticals for LRW professors.
I want us to stay on the cutting edge of both legal practice and LRW pedagogy so that our students are ready to practice law at a high level from day one.
I hope we’ll continue to be leaders in LRW work nationwide. We have a lot to offer, and we gain so much from our national involvement.