Legal Research and Writing Program puts theory into practice
by Amangul Hydyrova, an Indiana University Herman B Wells Scholar
Legal writing is a distinct form of writing: It sets out to solve a real problem for a real client. It calls for clarity, precision, and logical organization. And for law students, skillful legal writing can mean a competitive edge in the marketplace for jobs.
The Legal Research and Writing (LRW) Program at the Maurer School of Law puts into practice the doctrine and theory of the other courses in the first-year curriculum. Students play the role of a junior attorney at the front end of a client representation as they learn to identify and assess an issue, approach the writing depending on the audience, and persuade a court of a particular point of view. The result: a predictive legal memorandum similar to one that students are often asked to write during their first internship.
Students who have completed the program say that it taught them the virtues of clear and concise writing. “Clarity is the highest virtue above flowery language,” said Ryan Kelly, ’16, a trademark attorney at a global branding agency in Miami. “One summer, I worked for a local government and the summer after that, I worked for a small general practice firm. What I realized is that all the problems are the same, but when it comes down to a coherent argument, the writings need to be helpful.” Another alumnus of the program observed that the clear language he learned to write in LRW promotes the transparency that is so important to our democracy. Robert Silman, ’21, a first-year attorney at Greenberg Traurig in Chicago, said, “By working toward being transparent, you are doing things the right way; it is a huge benefit to our society.”
Competition for jobs in the legal profession can be fierce, and many employers emphasize the importance of a writing sample. A well-crafted writing sample from LRW can help students stand out. “I had quite a bit of confidence that my writing sample would keep me in the competition,” Silman recalled. “I was confident enough that the work that I put in and the conversations that I had with the faculty and my writing fellow helped me refine and polish my work.” Another LRW student said, “A lot of my success—not only getting that first summer internship with the federal courts, but beyond that—I owe to the program.”
Oral advocacy enters the picture during the second semester of the course, as students prepare motions and briefs in an effort to persuade the court to rule in behalf of their client. The program requires students to argue their motions in front of their peers as they would in front of a court. Prof. Sophia Goodman, director of the program, explained, “It is not a speech, it is not a lecture to the court, and you are there to answer the questions. You get interrupted. You may have a plan, but the court has its own vision.”
As they prepare for oral arguments, students learn to anticipate questions they will be asked by their peers during the hearing. This exercise helps them step out of their comfort zones and engage in public speaking. They learn not only how to argue motions, but also to speak confidently about their experiences and make a positive impression on others. “When I came through the hiring process for my current firm, I was that much more confident to go to those interviews with a room of high-level professionals,” Silman said.
The influence of the legal writing training is broader than just teaching to organize documents in a certain way; it influences the students’ thinking, perspectives, and development as individuals and as professionals. Mistakes in small things such as grammar and punctuation may lead to adverse inferences about the understanding of the law and the case. “LRW changed the way I write emails, text messages—how I approach everything,” Kelly said. “When you write with the reader in mind, you sort of have to step outside of yourself.”
The Legal Research and Writing program at the Maurer School of Law lets students take their first steps as practicing attorneys while giving them guidance to help them to enjoy the journey. “Every time I put my pen to a paper, I have a chance to improve upon what I have written in the past,” Silman said. “I will never just be done.”
Amangul Hydyrova is an undergraduate student in Indiana University's Wells Scholars Program. She wrote this article as a guest contributor to the IU Maurer School of Law.