Writing at CUNY Law School: A Pervasive Approach
Writing Persuasively to a Judge
Professor Jenny Rivera
In Lawyering Seminar we develop and emphasize one of the most important skills a lawyer needs to be a successful advocate for the client: writing to the judge. In the Seminar students draft legal memoranda and briefs advocating on behalf of their client in a simulated case. The students initially are all on the same side of the litigation and draft a 20 page memorandum of law in opposition to a motion to dismiss. After they submit the memorandum they receive the judge's opinion and then prepare to appeal the decision. At this appeal stage the class is divided in half. One half of the class represents the same client on appeal and the other half switch sides and represents the other party. They spend the remainder of the semester working on their appellate brief which is typically 25-30 pages in length. I provide extensive feedback on the memorandum and the briefs, and the students have the opportunity to do a rewrite of their memorandum of law.
In preparation for submission of the memorandum and brief the students work in a simulated law office during class time. We discuss as a group the facts and legal issues raised by the case they are working on and challenge one another to think critically about the strengths and weaknesses of their legal arguments. During these sessions students also present drafts of sections of their writing for review and feedback from the entire class.
At the beginning of the semester the students participate in a mock conference with the judge where they argue for or against a motion to dismiss. At the end of the course they participate in an oral argument before a panel of judges where they argue their position on the appeal from the lower court's decision on the motion. Although both of these exercises require the development of oral advocacy skills, students also learn how to use their writing skills to develop persuasive arguments orally and how the writing and the oral presentation work dynamically. This work results in students crafting the strongest possible case for the client. Students also develop a professional identity focused on writing persuasively for the judicial decisionmaker.