Writing in Lawyering

Associate Professor Nina Chernoff

In the first-year Lawyering course we work on developing legal writing skills at multiple levels. For example, we might spend one class working on the overarching theme of our legal argument by borrowing ideas from the Six Word Memoir Project and crafting six-word stories about our case that convey our argument's theme. In another class we might zero in on the details of the argument to see how well we are using each sentence to convey the theme. In one exercise we take a single sentence from the case record and then select a single word from that sentence. As a group we brainstorm alternative words that we can use to convey the same information but in a way that advances our overarching theme. Students learn to write persuasively by moving back and forth between the big picture and the details of a writing assignment throughout the semester.

In Lawyering we also use a collaborative process to work on improving our legal writing skills. For example, after writing the first draft of an assignment, students select the sentence in their own draft that feels the most confusing to them. In small groups, students compare their "most confusing" sentences, and then as a group select the sentence that needs the most work. Each small group then works together to identify the purpose of the sentence and the specific language choices that can make it more effective. The whole class then reviews the before-and-after sentences and votes on which sentence has been "most improved." Exercises like these give students the opportunity to identify problems in their own work, and be the experts who are providing useful solutions.