Legal Writing Resources for Students

Student Resources

Examples, guides, and support for every stage of your legal writing work, on your own or with a one-on-one appointment with a Writing Fellow

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Drafting Briefs to a Court

CUNY Law support staff sitting at table reviewing papers

Drafting Law Office Memorandums

Three people work together at a table

Drafting Client Letters

Students sitting around library table

Drafting Case Status Memos


Multilingual Legal Writers can get access to exercises and resources designed for students and lawyers who speak English in addition to other language(s).

The Language of Motion Practice requires you to be accurate and precise in using legal terminology. Use this resource to take a quiz and test your legal literacy.

The Language of Judicial Rulings allows you to identify accurately the variety of statements a court makes in the course of a judicial opinion. Here’s what you need to know.


Pre-Reading Tips:

  • Explore the author’s previous works to understand their perspective within the broader field.
  • Always take notes while reading.
  • Approach the material with a critical, yet receptive mindset.

Reading the Book – Key Questions:

  • What approach does the author adopt for the topic?
  • Who is the intended audience? (e.g., Lawyers, Students, Academics)
  • Examine the book’s structure: Is it logical and well-organized?
  • Assess the readability and distinctiveness of the author’s writing style.
  • Does the title aptly represent the content of the book?
  • Identify any factual errors, omissions, or misguided assumptions.
  • Determine the author’s purpose for writing the book and assess if it was achieved.
  • Reflect on your personal feelings about the book: Is it compelling, enjoyable, and convincing?

Crafting the Review:

  • Description:
    • Offer a succinct overview of the book’s intent and layout.
    • Include details like the title, author, copyright date, and subject area.
    • Convey the purpose, scope, structure, and primary argument or thesis of the book.
  • Critical Analysis:
    • Focus on the content, highlighting only the most vital points.
    • Identify the primary sources the author references and their alignment with these sources.
    • Highlight the book’s most compelling and weak points.
  • Evaluation:
    • Present the central argument of your review.
    • Determine if the book offers a valuable contribution to its domain.
    • Summarize your conclusions and provide any additional insights or suggestions.

Remember, a book review is not just a summary but a critical examination. Your personal insights and opinions play a crucial role in the evaluation.

Guide to Creating an Effective Writing Sample for Law Students

At some point during the application and interview process, most employers will ask for a writing sample. This guide, along with appointments with Writing Fellows, can be used to help you with your submission.


  • A writing sample showcases your analytical, research, and writing abilities.
  • It provides a real-world example of your skills and professionalism.

Choosing the Right Sample:

  • Relevance:
    • Use memos or briefs from your lawyering seminars. Employers prefer clear and effective legal writing and analysis.
    • An objective interoffice memo or persuasive brief are both ideal choices.
  • Recency:
    • Your sample should reflect your most recent and best skills.
    • Avoid using older pieces, like a 1L lawyering brief if you’re a 3L, as it raises questions about your more recent capabilities.

Making Your Sample Reader-Friendly:

  • Cover Memo:
    • Attach a cover memo that provides context:
      • The course it was written for.
      • Overview of the simulation and your role.
      • Assignment details: objective memo or persuasive brief.
      • Summary of the fact scenario, legal issue(s), and doctrine.
      • Details on feedback from the drafting process.
  • Length:
    • Keep it between 8-12 pages; most employers prefer a concise sample.
    • Consider omitting sections to maintain this length, but ensure your omissions don’t dilute the sample’s quality.
  • Formatting:
    • Use a readable font like Times New Roman, 12-point size.
    • Double-space with one-inch margins.
    • Create a header with your name, “Writing Sample,” and the date.
    • Number the pages and, if providing a hard copy, staple in the upper left corner.
    • Use tools like Adobe’s accessibility scanner to ensure your sample is readable and accessible to everyone.

Polishing Your Sample:

  • Feedback Incorporation:
    • Incorporate feedback from your professor or superiors.
    • Continually revise to reflect your growth as a writer.
  • Use of Legal Terminology:
    • Use legal phrases and terms accurately; remember, a practicing lawyer will be reading your sample.
  • Error-Free:
    • Ensure your writing sample is free from any grammar, punctuation, or citation errors. Proofread multiple times.

Special Considerations:

  • Confidentiality: If using documents from a clinic or law office, remember to account for confidentiality and attorney-client privilege.
  • Co-Written Documents: Avoid samples co-written with peers to ensure the work represents only your skills.

Submission Tip:

  • Send your writing sample as a PDF to avoid formatting issues. Utilize tools like Symplicity to convert documents to PDF.

Additional Resources:

The Writing Fellows at the Legal Writing Center can assist with revising, editing, and enhancing your writing samples. Schedule individual appointments through the CUNY Legal Writing Center TWEN site.

Understanding the Essence of Citing Authority

  • Definitions:
    • Citing: Quoting, naming, adducing as proof, or summoning for attention
    • Authority: The legal power, weight of testimony, rooted from the term author, the original writer or creator
  • When to Cite:
    • To back a legal assertion
    • To pinpoint a specifically described authority, like a judicial opinion
    • To trace the source of a direct quote
    • To attribute the origin of an idea

Sources of Legal Authority & Their Hierarchies

Primary Authority:

  • Constitution
  • Statutes
  • Treaties
  • Judicial decisions
  • Administrative regulations
  • Administrative agency decisions

Secondary Authority:

  • Restatements
  • Treatises
  • Law reviews
  • American Law Reports annotations
  • Encyclopedias
  • Dictionaries

Hierarchies Among Authorities

  • Federal and State Hierarchy I: Constitutions, Legislation, Administrative agency regulations
  • Federal vs. State Hierarchy:
    • Federal statutes take precedence over state statutes in case of conflict
    • U.S. Supreme Court decisions supersede state court decisions for federal law questions
  • Within a Single Jurisdiction (Federal and State Hierarchy IV): Order of importance: Court of last resort, Intermediate appellate court, Trial court
  • Authority Weightage (Federal and State Hierarchy V):
    • Mandatory (binding) Authority: Controls within its jurisdiction and is limited to primary authority
    • Persuasive (non-binding) Authority: Not mandatory within a jurisdiction but serves as a guiding principle

Factors Affecting Authority Weight

  • Case Law Considerations:
    • Recency
    • Strength of reasoning
    • Court or judge reputation
    • Citation approval by subsequent courts
    • Degree of judicial agreement: Unanimous vs. Divided court decisions
    • Attributes of judicial authorship: En banc vs. Panel, Per curiam, Memorandum, Unpublished opinion
    • Type of court statement: holding vs. dicta, explicit vs. implicit holding
  • Secondary Authority Weight:
    • Restatements’ reflection of majority jurisdiction enhances persuasiveness
    • Analytic commentaries (like those in treatises) carry more weight than plain descriptions, e.g., in encyclopedias

The Bluebook: A Guide to Citation

  • Usage:
    • Citation rules for law review footnotes — no citations in main text of law review
    • Specific rules for court documents and legal memos
  • Key Features:
    • Quick Reference inside back cover
    • Extensive index at back
    • Blue-colored Practitioners’ Notes (for court documents and legal memoranda) and Tables for easy referencing

Citation in Court Documents and Legal Memoranda

  • Authorities that support or contradict entire sentences in text are given in separate citation sentences that begin with a capital letter and end with a period
  • Authorities supporting or contradicting only part of a sentence are cited in clauses, set off by commas, immediately following the proposition they refer to (P.2)

The Structure of a Full Form Citation

ex: Szekeres v. Schaeffer, 304 F. Supp. 2d 296 (D. Conn. 2004)

  • Case name (Rule 10.2)
  • Reporter name, volume, and page (Rule 10.3, 3.2, 3.3)
  • Parenthetical with name of court rendering opinion and jurisdiction, if not clear from reporter (Rule 10.4), and date (Rule 10.5)

Szekeres v. Schaeffer, 304 F. Supp. 2d 296 (D. Conn. 2004)

  • Omit given names or initials of individual litigants (Rule 10.2.1 (g))
  • If the case is a consolidation of two or more actions, cite only the first one listed (Rule 10.2.1 (a))
  • Omit all parties other than first listed on each side, and omit words indicating multiple parties, such as “et al.” (Rule 10.2.1 (a))

Szekeres v. Schaeffer, 304 F. Supp. 2d 296(D. Conn. 2004)

  • Citation to a reporter designates the volume number (Rules 10.3.2, 3.2))
  • Citation includes abbreviated name of the reporter (Table 1)
  • Insert a space between “Supp.” and ordinal “2d” but no space if reporter abbreviation is a single capital, e.g., F.3d (Rule 6.1(a))
  • Citation includes page on which the report begins (Rules 10.3.2, 3.3(a))

Szekeres v. Schaeffer, 304 F. Supp. 2d 296 (D. Conn. 2004)

  • Parenthetical indicates year of a reported decision (Rule 10.5 (a))
  • If not clear from reporter, include deciding court and geographic jurisdiction according to abbreviations listed in tables T.1 and T.2 (Rule 10.4)

The Structure of a Short Form Citation 

  • Omit the name of one or both parties
  • Omit the first page of the case
  • Omit parenthetical with court and date
  • Include “at” to indicate the page on which specific text appears (P.4 (a))

Short Form Citation I

Giron v. Corrections Corp. of America, 14 F. Supp. 2d 1245 (D.N.M. 1998) would be shortened to: Giron, 14 F. Supp. 2d at 1247. (P.4 (a))

Short Form Citation II

  • Use Id. when you cite again to an immediately preceding authority (i.e., no intervening citations)
  • Capitalize Id. when it begins a citation sentence (but not if it appears within a sentence)
  • Run the italics or underline under the period
  • If the specific page you cite is the same as the preceding citation, just cite as Id., but otherwise use: Id. at (page number). (Rule 4.1, P.4 (a))

If no intervening citations, you can shorten the citation to page 1247 of Giron v. Corrections Corp. of America, 14 F. Supp. 2d 1245 (D.N.M. 1998) after a full citation to the case to: Id. at 1247. (Rule 4.1, P.4 (a))


Some Review Of The Rules

Giron v. Corrections Corp. of America, 14 F. Supp. 2d 1245 (D.N.M. 1998)

  • Omit given name of individual litigant (Rule 10.2.1 (g))
  • Abbreviate business designations (Rule 10.2.1(c))
  • Include designations of national or larger geographical areas except in union names (Rule 10.2.1(f))
  • No space between single adjacent capitals–note court abbreviation in parenthetical (Rule 6.1 (a))

More on Abbreviations

Giron v. Corrections Corp. of America, 14 F. Supp. 2d 1245 (D.N.M. 1998):

  • If citing case in a separate citation sentence (P.2), abbreviate words in case names further according to Table 6 and abbreviate geographical unit, unless the unit itself is a named party, according to Table 11 (Rule 10.2.2)

Giron v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 14 F. Supp. 2d 1245 (D.N.M. 1998)

A Note on Star Paging

  • The corresponding page of a reported edition of the same text appears in bold preceded by an asterisk at the point in the text where that page number in the other edition would begin
  • When using a computer printout of a case, don’t cite to computer page but to the corresponding page of reported edition (refer to Table 1 for your jurisdiction for reporter priorities where there is more than one reported version of a case)

Assignment: Interactive Citation Workbook for The Bluebook

Ignore references in the text to online exercises unless your instructor directs otherwise.

  • Exercise 1 (pp. 6-7): #s 1-10
  • Exercise 2 (pp. 15-16): #s 1, 3, 5
  • Exercise 3 (pp. 22-23): #s 2, 5, 6, 8
  • Exercise 5 (pp. 39-41): #s 8, 9, 10 (Look up unfamiliar terms, e.g. “string cite,” in the index to The Bluebook.)

More Information


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Grammar & Style

Once you’ve revised your work, the final step is proofreading. This section provides you with methods to produce your best work.

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