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Legal Writing at YLS: Part Deux
December 20, 2007
Among other things, one aspect of Yale Law that I have found to be different from almost any other law school in America is the lack of a separate 1L legal writing class. Instead of a scheduled class, all of our writing assignments are integrated into other courses throughout the first semester. When I was applying to schools, this had no bearing whatsoever on my decision, as I had no idea what legal writing even was.
But as I learned more about the law school process, I began to get a little concerned. I majored in Materials Engineering in college and my writing was limited to mostly equations and numbers. I felt a certain level of uneasiness in the fact that Yale uses a “sink-or-swim” approach to writing important papers like memos, briefs, and law articles. I felt that my super accomplished peers from liberal arts backgrounds would easily jump in the pool and do laps, while I would be like a rock on the bottom with a few air bubbles coming up.
After a few months and several writing assignments, I can safely say that is not the case. First of all, every 1L is on practically the same page because legal writing is completely different from the type of essays you encounter in undergrad. Although being a proficient writer certainly helps, the skills necessary for proper legal writing have to be learned from scratch.
Secondly, and more importantly for me, Yale teaches you these skills in a way that will make even the most jumbled writer a legal expert. As I said, the assignments are part of your courses, and in particular, your small group will play host to both a memo and brief assignment. This is a great approach because the same TA’s that get to know you intimately in class (and who also take you out to bowling and ice-cream every week) will be the ones advising and teaching you. This relationship completely eliminates the intimidation factor.
Furthermore, the inclusion of assignments in your classes means you get to write about issues that are important to what you are learning. For Contracts class our memo was based on the TV show Entourage, giving us an opportunity to learn about contracts while at the same time exposing us to important contemporary issues in entertainment law. Finally, I have found there are plenty of outside workshops that teach you how to research and write, and these workshops are timed so that they coincide with your first term assignments.
So I have to say, the Yale approach is easily the best way to structure legal writing. The administration was right: Yale students, when thrown into the pool, will all learn how to swim.