Writing at CUNY Law School: A Pervasive Approach
Writing to Advance Civil Rights and Equality
Professor Rick Rossein
The Equality Concentration examines the meaning of equality, the ways the law promotes or limits equality, and whether the professional role of the lawyer enhances equality for the client and for society. Students engage in this examination through a classroom seminar, which includes simulated lawyering exercises, working two days a week in a field placement under the supervision of a staff attorney and consultation with Concentration faculty, and "rounds," where the students discuss legal and ethical issues from their placements. This Concentration affords the students many opportunities to enhance their writing skills in different contexts. First, under the supervision of a practicing attorney and, with the guidance of the Concentration faculty, each student prepares at least a ten-page memorandum of law at the field placement. (They also prepare and receive feedback on shorter writing assignments.) The field placement supervisors give written and oral feedback to the student.
Through the seminar component of the Concentration, the students are exposed to different types of legal writing. First, in an employment discrimination simulation to prepare for an interview of either a prospective client (plaintiff's firms representing employees) or the employer's manager (management firms), the students draft an objective memorandum of law for the "senior partner" setting out the elements of a prima facie case and the order and allocation of proof in a disparate treatment (intentional) race and sex discrimination case. The students receive written feedback from Concentration faculty and at times from the CUNY Law Writing Center Fellows, and some students additionally receive oral feedback on this memo. Based on the interview of the prospective "plaintiff," the students draft a federal court complaint alleging disparate treatment discrimination because of race and sex. We discuss the writing of a complaint as an advocacy document prior to the draft and then critique it in the seminar. Students then redraft the intra-office memorandum to include a discussion of the law of disparate treatment, integrate the facts that were learned at the interview and subsequently, and add a conclusion evaluating the strength and weaknesses of the potential claims or defenses for the prospective client. In another simulation, the students write an opinion and order in role as an arbitrator in a motion for summary judgment in arbitration on a retaliation claim. The opinions are critiqued in class.
In the major piece of writing of the seminar, the students first prepare a draft of a motion and supporting memorandum of law seeking to compel production of documents, sanctions, and for a protective order. The brief contains a table of contents, a table of authorities, and headings and subheadings. The students are given approximately one month to research the law and write the draft. They receive written feedback and must submit a final draft three weeks later. The students in co-counsel teams then argue the motion before a judge. In short, developing writing skills in service of advocacy is a crucial part of the Concentration.