Writing In the International Women's Human Rights Clinic

Director of the International Women's Human Rights Clinic Cindy Soohoo and Clinical Law Professor Lisa Davis

The International Women's Human Rights Clinic (IWHR) builds on the writing skills that students develop in the first and second year and teaches students to adapt their writing styles for different audiences and the specific context of a human rights practice. During the course of the clinic, students have the opportunity to apply and refine what they have learned in the classroom through multiple project based writing assignments that teach them how to engage in effective legal, policy and human rights advocacy.

IWHR's two-semester format allows students to develop the facts and master the law around their projects and then engage in human rights advocacy work in different forums. This encourages students to consider how to most persuasively present arguments and information to different audiences. In any given year, student writing assignments may include: legal and strategy memos to clients and partner organizations, interview memos following fact-finding and client interviews, client affidavits, pleadings and legal briefs for federal and state courts and international forums, amicus briefs, sections of human rights reports, submissions to U.N. and regional human rights bodies and experts, lobbying documents, fact sheets, testimony for hearings, op eds, blogs and press releases.

In order to prepare the students for their project work, we begin the fall seminar with three simulated writing assignments to reinforce basic types of legal writing and teach students how adapt these styles for specific human rights audiences: (1) a memo to a partner organization, (2) an interview memo summarizing information following a simulated interview, and (3) a section of a "shadow report" to a U.N. treaty body. Each simulation covers a type of legal writing that students are, or should be, familiar with while adding a new level of complexity based on real world human rights practice. The partner memo reinforces the basic memo structure for an in-house or partner memo that neutrally summarizes relevant legal research and recommends a course of action. It also requires that students master international law research and make strategic recommendations based on an understanding of the multiple forums for human rights advocacy. The interview memo requires that students identify and organize relevant facts following a simulated interview that involves issues of client trauma, factual indeterminacy and social, historical, and cultural context that are common to human rights practice. The legal submission requires students to engage in persuasive advocacy writing incorporating international law research and an understanding of the proper style for a U.N. forum.

Over the course of the two semesters, our feedback on the writing exercises and student project work focuses on effective legal writing, including proper formatting for each forum and careful proofreading. In particular, we teach students how to be accurate and concise, how to organize complex information, and how to make the most persuasive argument for a specific audience.