Tag Archives: legal writing

Transferable Skills: Leveraging Your Undergraduate Education for Success in Law School (Guest Post)

One of the interesting things about law school is that anyone with a four-year degree can attend. There’s no specialized undergraduate training required for admission, and law schools end up with an eclectic grouping of all sorts of majors: English, History, Political Science, Engineering, Math, Business—the list could go on and on. Keep in mind, though, once you cross the threshold into law school you are expected to be responsible for your own education. In other words, don’t expect to receive explicit instructions on how to transfer your individual background in the context of your nascent legal education because that’s part of what you are supposed to figure out. In the midst of so much new stuff, it’s normal to end up feeling like you are lost at sea and disconnected from everything you thought you knew. But connections between your earlier education experiences and your new legal studies do exist, and you can use the knowledge and skills you already possess to achieve success in law school.

It might seem that some undergraduate disciplines offer significant advantages over others, at least as they relate to law school. I’ve often heard complaints that the political science majors have an edge because they understand the federal and state governmental systems really well. Or perhaps English majors have it made because they are used to reading and writing. The reality, though, is that each discipline has strengths, and each has weaknesses. I once taught an engineer who was worried about his writing course because he had not been required to write papers in undergrad. He ended up being one of the top students in the class, though, because his analytical mind knew just how to distill a complicated legal theory down to its essential core.

As a law student, you can ease your transition into legal studies by building on the inherent strengths of your undergraduate education and improving upon the intrinsic weaknesses. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of some undergraduate majors commonly found amongst law students:

Business Majors:

  • Strengths: Experience with some legal concepts like contracts; knowledge of business practices; creation of practical solutions.
  • Weaknesses: Less experience with expository writing; preference for clear answers

Engineering Majors:

  • Strengths: Experience in problem-solving; linear/methodological thinking; logical/systematic thought processes
  • Weaknesses: Less experience with expository writing; preference for clear answers

English Majors:

  • Strengths: Experience with varied writing assignments; research experience; knowledge of citation systems.
  • Weaknesses: Tendency toward wordiness; tendency to overinclude information

History Majors:

  • Strengths: Knowledge of ancient legal systems; understanding of cultures and societies; research and writing experience
  • Weaknesses: Little experience in analytical problem-solving; tendency to memorize facts and regurgitate information

Math Majors:

  • Strengths: Experience in problem-solving; linear/methodological thinking; logical/systematic thought processes
  • Weaknesses: Less experience with expository writing; preference for measurable outcomes

Political Science Majors:

  • Strengths: Knowledge of the court system; familiarity with foundational documents (like the Constitution); experience with long reading and writing assignments
  • Weaknesses: Little experience in analytical problem-solving; tendency to memorize facts and regurgitate information

Because our brains process and comprehend new and abstract information by relating it to existing knowledge and life experiences, finding connections between undergraduate and law school experiences is essential for success, especially in the first year. The above descriptions represent just the tip of the iceberg with regard to potential connections between law school and your past educational experiences. For more on this topic, check out Teri McMurtry-Chubb’s book, Legal Writing in the Disciplines. This book is especially helpful to students enrolled in legal writing, but its concepts easily relate to all law classes, making it an easy-to-follow guide for students who are interested in pushing their legal education to the next level.

*This guest blog post was authored by Elizabeth Megale, Associate Professor and Director of the Legal Skills & Professionalism Program, Savannah Law School.

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Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments, Pre-Law

Why Law Review?: Five Ways that Serving on a Law Review Contributes to Academic Success

It’s that time of year in law school when 1Ls (now rising 2Ls) are completing law review writing competitions, hoping for the invitation to join the journal of their choice. Sure, working on a law review staff is a lot of work, but there are also many benefits. For those of you who are on the fence about whether to join a law review, I thought I would put together a list of five ways that serving on a law review can contribute to your overall academic success in law school. Here it is:

1. You will gain an in-depth understanding of the BlueBook. No longer will you hesitate when trying to remember how to abbreviate case names, when there is a space after a period in a citation versus when there is not, or when it is proper to use “see” as a signal. Your newfound confidence in your Bluebooking expertise will serve you throughout the remainder of your law school days, as well as in law practice afterwards.

2. Working with good (and bad) writing helps to make you a better writer. The more writing that you read and critique, the better your own writing skills get. As you read and edit other people’s writing, you will become more conscious of your own writing. Of course, you will learn more about grammar through this process, but you will also learn about what it takes to write effectively—in other words, to communicate precisely, clearly, and concisely.

3. You will learn how to manage your time more efficiently. It is no secret that working on the staff of a law review requires significant time. And time is already in short supply in law school, as you discovered during your first year as a student. Juggling your journal work with your studies will inspire you to develop even better time management skills.

4. You will find new mentors. One of the greatest benefits to working on a law review is that you will develop new relationships with upper-level law students. During your 1L year, you take all of your classes with the same people, who are all 1Ls as well. Once you are a 2L, your classmates will be more diverse. Working with upper-level students on law review is a great way to make connections with some of those new classmates. They can be great resources for you, as they have more experience.

5. You will learn how to collaborate better with others. The law school environment tends to be pretty competitive, but law review is one place where you quickly learn the benefits of collaboration. The people skills you learn by working on a journal will help you not only in getting issues to press but also in classes where teamwork and cooperation is often essential, such as Negotiations, Mediation, and Trial Practice.

Only you know if working on a law review is the right thing for you—but, as you can see, there are a lot of hidden benefits to journal service!

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Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments, Study Tips

Taking the Terror Out of Oral Arguments

It’s that time in the semester where law students are preparing for oral arguments in legal writing and appellate advocacy courses or moot court competitions. Students often tell me that they are terrified of oral arguments. Although oral arguments can be intimidating at first if you don’t have much experience–especially if you don’t enjoy public speaking–there are things that you can do to reduce the stress associated with oral arguments and maximize your academic success.

First–and I’m sure you’ve heard it from your professors already–the key is preparation and practice. There is no substitute for preparation, no magic pill that helps you to skip to the front of the line. You must be the “expert” on your oral argument viewpoint. After you have prepared, practice your oral argument until it feels natural. It can also help to practice with friends, asking each other hard questions to simulate the oral argument experience.

Second, imagine your worst case scenarios and develop an action plan for how you will address each challenge if it happens. For example, students often ask me, “What should I do if the judges ask me about a case I have never heard of or haven’t read?” To address this challenge, you might develop an answer like this: “Your Honor, I haven’t had the opportunity to consider X case in light of the issues presented here. I would be happy to submit a supplemental brief in response to this question if Your Honor desires it.” Anticipating possible challenges and determining in advance how you will respond in those situations can reduce stress, take away the fear, and help you respond appropriately if that situation does arise.

Finally, for students who feel intimidated by the judges, it can help to reframe how you think of oral arguments. Think of oral arguments as a type of conversation. Questions are an opportunity for you, not something scary. The person asking you the question is giving you guidance about what information he or she needs to make a decision. If you think about questions using this approach, they become less intimidating–instead, they will be a helpful tool for accomplishing your goals in your argument.

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Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments

The End of the World

About this time in the semester, law students get back a legal writing assignment, seminar paper draft, or other assignment from a professor. Sometimes, you may get a lower grade than you expected or hoped for, and it may be covered in red ink or its equivalent. At this point, you may be asking yourself if the decision to go to law school was really a good idea after all. There’s a temptation to start beating yourself up, to view this one grade as the summation of your current and future abilities as a law student, and to feel defeatist about how you will end up doing in the class at issue. Although it may feel like the end of the world at the time, a graded assignment–even if the grade is not what you hoped for–is actually an opportunity. I’m not saying that you are not entitled to feel disappointed or frustrated when you get it back, but don’t let those feelings prevent you from gaining the benefit of feedback.

Here’s how to get the most out of a graded assignment:

  1.  Carefully read over the assignment, focusing specifically on any feedback provided by the Professor. Go carefully through: (a) any notes and editing suggestions written in the assignment’s margins or text; (b) any additional comments/suggestions written at the end of the assignment; (c) any grading rubrics or grading-related handouts provided by the professor; and (d) any notes that you took when the professor discussed the assignment in class.
  2. Go back through the assignment a second time. This time, take notes about the feedback. Divide the notes into different categories, such as: (a) criticisms related to legal argument; (b) criticisms related to organization; (c) criticisms related to formatting; (d) criticisms related to grammar and punctuation; (e) criticisms related to strength of research; and (f) criticisms related to citations and Bluebooking. Make a list of questions that you have about the feedback.
  3. Make an appointment to see the professor about the assignment. Don’t argue about your grade. Instead, focus the appointment on understanding what you need to do better in the future. Come to the meeting with specific questions for the professor about things that you don’t understand or need further clarification about. If you are prepared for the appointment, you will get more out of it.
  4. You may also want to set up an appointment with the academic success office at your law school to work further on developing specific skills.
  5. Finally, create an action list from what you’ve learned from this entire process. When you do the next assignment, use that action list as a guide for writing and editing your work. Focus on not making the same mistakes twice.

Just remember: a graded assignment is an opportunity to learn important information and make progress towards your future academic and professional goals. If you approach it with that mindset, even when the grade is not what you hoped for, you will seize the opportunity for further growth!

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Filed under General, Grades, Law School Exams