National Jurist - March 2009 - (Page 10)
Wanted: More legal writing skills The latest Law School Survey of Student Engagement finds law students graduate with limited writing skills and want more opportunities for practice-based assignments riting real, practice-based documents such as briefs and motions is one of the best ways to learn to be a lawyer, according to students who participated in a survey on ways to improve legal education. That finding — along with insights into the effectiveness of laptop usage, ethics training and extra-curricular activities — are among the highlights of By Karen Dybis the 2008 Law School Survey of Student Engagement. Considered a benchmark of law-school performance, the survey allows students to critique everything from how they spend their time to what they feel they have gained from their classes to their impression of faculty interactions. The survey has been conducted annually since 2003, and the most recent edition had the best turnout to date with nearly 30,000 law students from 85 law schools responding. Project Manager Lindsay Watkins said the survey helps the legal community identify national legal trends, in addition to revealing their impact on individual law schools. Legal writing was the big surprise in this year’s survey. Nearly half of responding survey participants said they did not have enough practice developing their legal writing skills in situations similar to those in real life. And more than a third of students or 37 percent said they needed additional opportunities for these practice-based writing assignments. “Students report they’re gaining a lot (from their writing experiences) but they want more,” Watkins said. The survey defines “real-life” or practicebased writing as things such as memoranda, appellate briefs, motions and transactional documents. More traditional academic writing assignments were research papers, notes for publication and co-authored research articles with faculty members, Watkins said. Students said memos, briefs and the like vastly improved their legal research and communication skills. Yet most law schools relegated these tasks to a student’s first year and they became less frequent the further the student progressed. The way law schools treat their legalwriting faculty also shows room for improvement, the survey found. “The low value placed on writing is symbolized by the facts that relatively few …continued on page 12 PHOTO BY MICHELANGELO GRATTON Percent of students completing at least one writing assignment by class Appellate briefs Motions 1L Transactional documents (e.g., contracts, agreements) 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% 2L 3L Source: 2008 LSSSE study 10 THE NATIONAL JURIST March 2009
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