DEFINING "LEGAL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP"?
This issue explores the possibility of defining “legal writing scholarship” and examines what might be gained or lost in such a definition. The essays memorialize and expand on a discussion group at the 2021 conference of the Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS), “Discipline Building: Scholarship and Status in the Legal Academy.”
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Karen J. Sneddon
Scholarship is often asserted to be “the coin of the realm.” This assertion focuses on how scholarship may result in the professional advancement of individuals and members of the academy as they seek promotion and tenure. But scholarship is more than that.
Scholarship is part of an academic's responsibility as a teacher, scholar, and leader. Academics have a responsibility to research, write, and speak on various subjects on which they have or are gaining expertise. And academics have a responsibility to read scholarship written by others.
In August 2021, members of the legal writing community gathered at the 2021 Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) Annual Conference to explore scholarship's role in discipline building. Read full essay...
Kirsten K. Davis
Definition is always a tricky task. Nowhere is this more true than with the phrase “legal writing scholarship.” The phrase, which is meant to describe a particular variety of academic research products, has been a point of contention among those who write this kind of scholarship (and among those who reject its legitimacy within the legal academy).
This essay, drawn from my comments at and participation in the 2021 SEALS discussion group on legal writing scholarship, explores how the phrase “legal writing scholarship” might be defined for the purpose of (1) identifying a body of literature that meets the definition and (2) identifying a community of scholars who write in the field. Although I do not intend to settle on a definition here, at the end of the essay, I propose a provisional, working definition for your consideration. Read full essay...
Michelle L. Richards
In thinking about how to define “scholarship” in the context of legal writing, I admit that I cheated. I turned to the policy under which my scholarship was recently evaluated for tenure at my institution, Detroit Mercy Law, to evaluate whether it contained a good definition. Under this policy, “scholarship” is generally defined as an “informed, reflective, deeply analytical, and, in some substantial part, a personal statement.” In providing a description of “quality of scholarship,” the policy states,
"Scholarship should reflect the author's attempt to impose his/her own views or sense of order on the existing material and to explain and justify those personal positions. The scholarly piece should include a carefully conceived doctrinal or theoretical construction that is offered as a perspective on the existing material. Whether it be a new way of perceiving established dogma or a proposal for new directions, the scope of scholarly work should be sufficiently ambitious to justify the substantial commitment of time that the applicant should have invested in the work." Read full essay...
Claiming Our Place at the Table of Legal Academia: Examining Types and Topics of Legal Writing Scholarship
Elizabeth E. Berenguer
The legal writing community is on a discipline-building mission, and one effort in discipline building occurred this summer through discussion groups at the SEALS Conference. During one of the discussion groups, the following questions (among others) were posed: (1) How might a definition of legal writing scholarship advance the discipline? (2) Might a definition limit growth of the discipline or exclude the work of some? This essay adds to that conversation.
Full disclosure: I am generally opposed to creating labels and categorizing things and people because labels limit potential and create opportunities for exclusion rather than community building. That said, I can appreciate the desire for definitions that can help people identify where they belong and what they should be doing. But the idea that we need to define legal writing scholarship seems a bit like an adolescent obsession with defining what is “in” and what is “out.” To me, it seems the question we should be asking is, “What are the contours of our discipline?” Read full essay...
As we seek to define legal writing scholarship, I argue that all scholarship is better measured by impact than by length. The impact of what we write may extend beyond the legal academy to reach the bench and bar, academia in general, and the public. Our definition should recognize, and even embrace, that a scholar might produce a wide variety of works for a wide variety of audiences, rather than restricting every scholar to the traditional law review article aimed at other academics.
The legal academy has traditionally used “scholarship” to mean long-form, heavily footnoted articles published in law journals. Legal scholars sought to publish these articles in highly ranked journals, believing that a prestigious placement indicated that an article was high quality. This definition emerged over fifty years ago and has changed little despite significant developments in how information is disseminated today. As legal writing has sought to gain credibility as a discipline, it has adopted the legal academy's perception of scholarship. Read full essay...
Melissa H. Weresh
In August 2021, a Writing Connections discussion group met at the Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) Conference to consider scholarship and status in the legal academy. Professors considered how we might define legal writing scholarship and how such a definition might advance or limit the growth of the discipline and/or exclude the work of some of our members. It was a lively discussion that prompted additional, subsequent reflection.
For my remarks at SEALS, and for the content in this short essay, I want to emphasize that I am addressing the type of scholarship that is typically recognized for purposes of promotion and tenure. After all, our discussion group, titled Discipline Building: Scholarship and Status in the Legal Academy, was framed as a conversation about serious scholarly writing and promoting scholarly achievements in the legal writing community. In these remarks, I strive to be precise about the topic of status and scholarship, and what “counts” in the academy for that purpose. Read full essay...