Some law schools have legal writing, legal skills, and other similar courses set up as pass-fail. Even if yours is graded, this might still be worth reading if your school gives it one or two credit hours per semester, compared with four or five for something like Civil Procedure or Constitutional Law. Many of our tutoring students have taken this as evidence that, when they are low on time, they should focus on the high-credit class and push legal writing to the back burner. Is that an unreasonable conclusion? Not really, no. Is it a good idea? Also no.
Law School is a Professional Program
At its core, law school is about preparing people to be lawyers. Your substantive law classes are, obviously, very important! You need to know the law in order to apply the law. But if you can’t write like a lawyer, you probably won’t get very far in the profession. While it might not be as important to your overall GPA, the lessons you learn in a legal writing class, especially if it’s a legal writing/legal skills class, will be crucial to being able to actually do the job! Legal writing can be memos, briefs, and similarly lengthy documents, but these classes often include things like contracts, negotiations, and client letters that attorneys will need to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Also, don’t forget about getting a job! Most employers, especially for summer jobs, require writing samples, and a solid legal writing assignment is probably your best bet for a professional writing sample. Think about it. As a 1L, you should be applying for summer jobs in the winter right after you’re finishing up exams. Most 1Ls do not have prior professional legal experience, or if they do, it’s not the type that would produce an appropriate writing sample. Your Torts final, no matter how beautifully written, is not going to impress the hiring manager at the law firm (or non-profit) of your dreams. You also won’t have time, in the midst of finals, to quickly write up something impressive for your applications. If, however, you keep up with your incremental legal writing assignments, produce a solid memo or brief, and work with your legal writing instructor to polish the final product for a writing sample? Well, I won’t promise it’ll get you a job, but it will certainly be a great piece in the puzzle.
Legal writing is also typically a more personal class. The big substantive classes tend to be taught in a massive lecture hall with a professor who might know your name if there’s a seating chart. Legal writing necessarily gives the professor a better sense of you and your skills in an individual sense. So, if you take the class seriously and develop that relationship, you have a great option for a job reference!
Legal Writing is Everywhere in Law School
What if you don’t especially care about being a lawyer? You’re in it to become a professor or as a stepping stone to some tangentially-related career. Or maybe you just haven’t thought ahead that far. Well, I’m still going to make the wild assumption that you want to do your best in law school (if not, is it really for you?). If you want to do well in law school, you have to know how to write like a lawyer. Think about it:
You learn everything you need to know on exams from your substantive law class sessions, right? Well, if you’re one of the rare law students who has a multiple choice only exam, maybe. Otherwise, your professor is likely going to talk to you about the cases, the rules, how to apply them, etc., but most law professors don’t actually teach you how to write on the final exam. The IRAC, CRAC, and/or CREAC lessons that you learn in your legal writing class are perfect for giving your final exam essays the type of analysis your substantive law professors are looking for. (Also, the bar exam!)
I know, not everyone decides to do one of these, and that’s fine. But they’re great resume-builders, and, guess what? They rely heavily on the skills you learn in legal writing and legal skills courses. Journal is the one that everyone thinks of for legal writing skills. The write-on competition is classic for being picky about the Bluebook. And, while you may not love the Bluebook the way I do, if you want to be on a journal, you need to know how to use it. Your legal writing class is usually the best place to start!
But even if journal sounds awful to you. You want to be presenting, not diving into the minutiae of the Bluebook. That’s fine! But your trial team and moot court experience is still going to be based on your arguments. Arguments that are built up through a solid understanding of the facts, the law, and how to analyze them. Sound familiar? Yep, yet another area that builds on the skills developed in your legal writing course.
Legal writing is usually intensive, and it takes a LOT of time that feels like it would be better spent elsewhere. But it really will impact every part of your experience both as a law student and as a lawyer. So when it’s hard to motivate yourself to make the time for it, try to focus on what you want out of law school, then see if you can determine how legal writing will help you achieve that.
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.