This page provides an overview of the Legal Research and Writing (LRW) course at the University of Oregon School of Law. It outlines the course goals for the fall and spring semesters, notes special events of the LRW program, and compares legal writing to other writing you have done in the past. For a more detailed introduction to LRW, you may want to read the attached article.
LRW at Oregon is taught by faculty with law practice experience, significant teaching experience, and a strong commitment to working with first-year students. LRW students also have access to upper-level students who lead research workshops, hold office hours to answer questions about class assignments, and provide peer mentoring to first-year students.
Legal Research and Writing (LRW) teaches students to research legal sources, analyze the law, apply the law to a client’s facts, organize a legal argument, and communicate that argument in writing.
Students frequently comment that the skills they learn in LRW help them succeed in other first-year courses and in their first legal jobs.
The fall semester focuses on objective writing, in which you advise your clients how to arrange their legal affairs or predict how a judge would decide a case if it were litigated.
The major writing assignments are two office memoranda that you write to a partner in your law firm. The first memorandum is based on a “closed” universe of legal authorities and requires no research. The second memorandum is “open” and requires you to research the issue before writing the memorandum. In both assignments, you will learn to gather facts from client interviews and from other attorneys.
Throughout the fall semester, you will learn the fundamentals of legal research through class instruction and hands-on workshops in the library and online. These workshops are often related to the topics of the closed and open memoranda, so they strengthen your analytical skills as you learn research techniques.
In the spring, the focus shifts to persuasive writing. The major assignment of the semester is a brief for a trial or appellate court. While the brief may seem daunting at first, you will receive instruction and feedback throughout the writing process. After submitting the brief, you will present an oral argument before a panel of volunteer judges and attorneys. The semester ends with practical research exercises similar to those students may encounter in their summer work.
Each spring the Oregon Supreme Court visits the law school and hears some of the best advocates in the state argue actual cases in front of Legal Research and Writing students. Following the arguments, the justices answer student questions. To prepare students to understand the arguments and ask meaningful questions, a former Oregon Court of Appeals judge “previews” the cases for first-year students a few days before the event. In his preview, Judge David Schuman explains the legal issues and explores the arguments students might hear. He is a graduate and former professor of the law school, and has returned to teach at Oregon Law since retiring from the court.
Regardless of your background, you will bring with you skills that will help you succeed in legal writing. For example, English and political science majors generally write often in college, so they are not intimidated by the writing process. Engineers and math majors tend to excel in the organization that is so critical to legal writing. One law student who had been a music major discovered that legal analysis was very similar to music theory.
You will find, too, that you have much to learn.
Despite similarities to other types of writing that you may have done, legal writing is different. One big difference is the subject matter. Legal analysis can be hard to grasp, so writing about it can be difficult. Legal writing should not focus the reader’s attention on your personal style, but on your legal analysis.
Instead of noting unique writing quirks, your reader should be impressed by your clear and critical ideas.
Next, because you will be writing primarily for busy lawyers, your writing must be concise. Instead of having a 25-page target for a major paper, you will be limited to writing memoranda of fewer than 10 pages.
Finally, legal writing must be precise and accurate. That means your grammar and punctuation must be flawless. Although LRW is not an English class, writing mechanics will be reviewed in class and in reading assignments. After two semesters of LRW, you should be able to hit the ground running in any legal job.