This handbook is for upper-level students enrolled in a clinic who are expected to draft legal memorandums, briefs, and pleadings with minimal supervision. It should also help law students enrolled in an externship since they, too, are expected to draft legal documents with little supervision. Each chapter focuses on a single writing skill. The exercises and examples consistently and cogently employ the techniques and devices advocated in the book.
Through my teaching experience, I developed a firm understanding of the most common legal writing challenges for first-year and upper-level students. I taught first-year legal writing for ten years, followed by five years teaching advanced legal writing. Every semester I taught 1Ls, I noted the skills that most students struggle with. I did the same at the end of every semester I taught advanced legal writing. After comparing the two sets of notes, I could see the common weaknesses in students’ legal analysis and writing. And I identified the skills most ILs learn, but do not retain as upper-level students.
I retired in 2017 but returned to the classroom as a volunteer writing instructor and supervising attorney in my school’s Civil Rights and Transparency Clinic in 2021. I also taught the clinic students writing and analysis review classes. I developed teaching materials in that role based on what I learned as a legal writing professor. My idea for this handbook grew from this experience.
A fundamental principle in clinical pedagogy is learning by doing. Clinics often structure case assignments, work responsibility, and supervision to allow student attorneys to serve as the “first chair” or primary attorney on the case. Translating this into teaching legal writing is challenging. On the one hand, students need specific, directive feedback on their legal writing—from where to start to how to organize a brief to whether they have adequately addressed the issue. On the other hand, clinicians seek learning materials, like legal writing textbooks, which empower students to do as much as possible on their own. In a form of inductive learning, clinicians seek to help students learn not simply to follow templates but to extrapolate principles from examples and then apply them to their legal writing. This handbook incorporates these pedagogical principles to maximize student learning in the clinical context.
I hope this simple and concise handbook fills an existing gap in the literature. It builds on existing legal writing textbooks by focusing on practical legal writing techniques for clinic students.
Chapters 1-3 are about how to organize written legal analysis and argument. They are relevant to students writing objective inter-office memos, client letters, and persuasive briefs. Chapters 4-6 are about how to turn objective analysis into a persuasive argument. Chapter 7 is about headings, and Chapter 8 is about issue statements (for objective writing) and questions presented (for persuasive writing). By identifying and effectively writing headings, and issue statements or questions presented, writers learn to succinctly state the law that governs an issue, the legally significant facts the law is applied to, the conclusions the writer wants the reader to adopt, and the reasons why the reader should adopt those conclusions.
Chapters 9 and 10 are about effectively identifying and writing a client’s story. Chapter 9 will help you find a theme for that story, while Chapter 10 will help you write the story credibly and persuasively. Chapter 11 is about reducing your word count and making your text more interesting for your busy reader. The final chapter is a primer on writing complaints and answers.
Most of the examples and exercises are based on my work as an attorney representing plaintiffs in toxic exposure and civil rights claims. I hope you enjoy and learn from them.
- Citations to New York case law are in New York Law Reports Style Manual form.
- Citations to federal case law are in Bluebook form.
- Footnotes are highlighted in blue or yellow. Citations to authority are blue. Footnotes explaining the purpose of sentences in examples are highlighted in yellow.