Writing: The Most Important Part of Law School

To be a good writer is the gold standard in law school. In hiring decisions and even admissions decisions you hear some version of the question: “Yes, but can he/she write?” That is the question, I think.

Indeed, I recall reading a law school blog that advised others to focus on numbers and really the LSAT sample was a throw-away–like it didn’t matter so much if your numbers were good. I can confidently say that the blogger did not make it into Lewis & Clark, and likely neither did anyone who took that advice.

Lewis & Clark is a top writing school and you will write, write, write until the crescendo that is your capstone paper, which is basically the law school thesis you must complete to earn a what is a type of doctoral degree. You must have spent time developing your ability to write before you come to law school, not only because it’s most of what you will do here, but also because you will refine and practice it ad nauseum. You will learn to do the type of research which is highly focused and driven toward persuasive argument. You must understand that legal research and writing is what an attorney does. Allow me to elaborate.

Whatever the fact pattern presented, ultimately it must be backed up, considering both sides and argued why one side (yours) is the more persuasive one. You will be crushed if you dare do anything as (frankly, unethical) as not discuss relevant precedents just because they detract from your agenda of winning. No, what law school does is to train you–even if it’s by trial and error–to face down any adverse information head-on and then say why your argument prevails anyway.

And you must discuss both sides. You must acknowledge and wrestle with your adversary. That’s our system, and that’s what you must do, even if you’re thinking you’re going to be a transactional attorney or never litigate. Law school isn’t about being some sort of intellectual; this is vocational school. Mind you, this is coming from someone who has spent a lot of time learning for pleasure. Law school is learning for a purpose, and that purpose is not to impress your friends. It’s to give you a powerful tool of how to persuade effectively when it matters.

As I’m writing a research paper now and I’m finding some of my ideas are indeed novel, I’ve had to research outside the legal literature. All I can say is that it’s a different world out there I see now with these 3L eyes. Some writers with doctorate degrees who are writing on subjects that are important to me–and I’m totally interested in what they have to say–seem unfocused, meandering, abstruse, etc. It drives me nuts.

This is not to say that all legal writing is wonderful–believe me, it isn’t. But I know good writing when I see it, and legal writers get there more often. It’s clear, concise, logical and despite my critical mind (at this point naturally looking for holes in arguments) is satisfied that necessary considerations have been taken, and the only basis I have for disagreement is that reasonable minds can differ, not that something totally destroys the writer’s credibility because they left something out that should have been considered.

Now, back to life in law school: some courses in your upper division coursework will have papers due, not final exams. These papers are typically in the range of thirty or so pages, and your capstone may well exceed that. But the thing is that they are well-researched and original. Having your own ideas is all very well, and I’m sure you do if you’re interested in law school, but the ability to communicate them is essential. Backing them up and deeply analyzing them deeply considering everything you can find that both supports and detracts from your thesis is no task for meek. But look, I’m a chemist and I found my way, and I’m always getting better; the journey is the destination, as they say.

So, if you are applying to law school especially in these days when the economy is down and the legal market is experiencing paradigm shifts, there’s more pressure on you to prepare yourself well so you have the best opportunity to be darn good at what you’re going to do. Learn to write, practice relentlessly, and demonstrate your skill on every piece of paper you put your name on–from your undergraduate research paper(s), to your LSAT writing sample and personal statement–make sure it has no errors, is carefully reviewed, makes sense, considers both sides and puts your best foot forward. Then you’re ready to join the profession.

23 February 2013

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    Writing: The Most Important Part of Law School – Law Snapshots – Lewis & Clark