An interesting article from Legal Blog Watch:
A few months back, we posted about the deterioration of legal writing and theorized that the proliferation of e-mail, texting and Twitter — all of which encourage stream-of-consciousness ramblings and careless phrasing — might explain the erosion of writing skills. It turns out there’s a more serious cause: legal education, or lack thereof.
Inside Higher Education reports that results of the 2008 Annual Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) show that nearly half of all law students believe that law school does not “contribute substantially” to their ability to “apply legal writing skills” in the real world. Though most students feel that law school offers adequate opportunities to write papers and memos, more than a third wished for hands-on experience in practice-related writing, such as drafting motions or transactional documents.
I came from a graduate degree program before heading to law school and even though I felt like I could write really well, learning how to do it in a legal fashion took some time to learn. And I still think I don’t have it right yet.
However, I wouldn’t put that on my school or my legal analysis/research professor. I put that on myself. Like most law students I have access to WestLaw and Lexis; briefs and motions are always available to view at a moment’s notice. Legal writing takes practice and let’s face it, some people adapt more quickly than others and for the rest of us we just need time and patience. If we have allowed our writing skills in general to deteriorate through Facebook, Twitter, etc. it’s not the school’s fault, it’s our own.
The LSSSE study found that few students used computers to download sample copies of briefs that could be used as a writing or study aid. Instead, many students who use computers in the classroom do so to e-mail each other, surf the Web or play video games.
See what I’m talking about?
[Martha Sperry] recommends integrating legal research and writing into specific substantive courses so that, for example, students could learn to draft articles of incorporation while studying the basics of corporations law.
Now that sounds interesting. Or how about drafting a contract in your contracts class? A disclaimer for torts when hitting the products liability section, motion to demurrer in civil procedure, and so on? Doesn’t sound like a bad idea.
At a time when we communicate in sound bites and blog-blurbs and lack the attention span to focus on sentences of more than 140 characters, can legal writing in its present form survive? Or is that the point: Should law schools be focusing on ways to ensure that legal writing keeps its relevance in the age of the Internet?
Let’s not pass the buck. It’s the law student’s concern that they can’t write well, not the schools.