U.S. Magistrate Jean Rosenbluth and the Art of Legal Writing

Oct 31, 2019

LRW Faculty (Left to Right): Liz Frost, Joan Rocklin, Rebekah Hanley, The Honorable Jean Rosenbluth, Megan McAlpin, Latisha Nixon-Jones, Suzanne Rowe


“I believe in the transformative power of writing skills.”  

The Honorable Jean P. Rosenbluth

 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jean P. Rosenbluth made her case for the importance of legal writing as Oregon Law’s  2019-20 Galen Distinguished Guest Lecture in Legal Writing.  

“I believe in the transformative power of writing skills,” Rosenbluth said in her lecture before a room filled with law students. “There are two types of writers – bad writers and writers who are getting better. Everyone wants to fall into the second [category], but it’s endless. You have to start now.”

Appointed in 2011 as U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Central District of California, Rosenbluth has had a prolific career.  Prior to serving on the bench, she was Director of the Legal Writing and Advocacy program and a Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. During this time, she was also an academic contributor to the 8th  edition of  Black’s Law Dictionary and an active member of the Association of Legal Writing Directors and Legal Writing Institute.  

Rosenbluth openly spoke to students about her journey to the bench and highlighted the importance of practical, effective writing strategies for success in law school and beyond. She talked about writing as a print journalist covering the music industry for publications like  Rolling Stone, the  LA Times, and  Billboard. When asked about her transition to legal writing by an Oregon Law student, Judge Rosenbluth shared that a major difference between legal writing and creative writing is the privileging of audience over personal voice.

“Legal writing is more about the reader than the writer,” said Rosenbluth. “It’s not about me liking my own argument style – it’s about what’s going to convince those judges.”

Rosenbluth also spoke to the students about her time as a clerk for the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and as Senior Litigation Counsel in the Criminal Division and Acting Co-Chief of the Criminal Appeals Unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles. Reflecting on her own experiences, she gave advice to students about what characteristics she and other judges look for in their law clerks.

“The best law clerks see the opportunity to learn,” said Rosenbluth. "They give themselves to the job. They are engaged. They are good writers. They soak up as much as they can. They love the job and want to get better.”

After the lecture, first-year law student Ariana Garousi shared that she was ready to implement the writing strategies that Judge Rosenbluth discussed. 

“I am now even more inspired to expand my grammar knowledge,” said Garousi. “I immediately Googled the grammar guide she recommended because of how much she stressed knowing how to properly write translates into success in the legal world. She was truly amazing, and I do not think I will ever be able to turn in a writing assignment without thinking about her [advice].” 

During her visit, Judge Rosenbluth also engaged with faculty and administrators in her faculty presentation, “From Ivory Tower to Black Robe: What Judging has Taught Me About Real-World Writing and How to Teach It.” She explored the ways in which she might approach teaching writing now, given her experiences since taking the bench. 

For example, Judge Rosenbluth talked about creating space for some informality in legal writing, particularly when it does not disrupt meaning and saves the reader time. She also emphasized the importance integrating basic grammar and punctuation instruction across the law school curriculum. 

 “Judge Rosenbluth brought our community a wealth of insights informed by her broad range of experiences as a judge, federal prosecutor, journalist, and legal writing expert,” said Oregon Law legal writing professor Rebekah Hanley. “We are incredibly grateful and thoroughly enjoyed hosting Judge Rosenbluth, who joins our distinguished list of past Galen Distinguished Guests: Mary Beth Beazley, Mel Weresh, Anne Egeler, and Leslie Culver.”  

The University of Oregon’s Galen Distinguished  Guest in Legal Writing series is due to generous support from our donors, particularly alumnus Morris Galen ‘50. Past distinguished guests have included Professor Leslie Culver, Professor Melissa Weresh, Professor Mary Beth Beazley, and Anne Egeler, Deputy Solicitor General in the Washington Attorney General’s Office. 


By Barbi McLain, Legal Writing and Research Program