Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Monday, March 10, 2003

A bunch of law school weblogs, including Waddling Thunder have been posting about their legal writing classes. One of them, Jewish Buddha mentions my weblog and wonders if the First Year Lawyering (FYL) class I talk about is our legal writing class (it is), and whether our mandatory moot court competition is part of it (it is). Just to hopefully steal some of their traffic, I figure I'll add my thoughts to the discussion, more generally about the class than about the moot court competition I wrote about two weeks ago -- February 22, if you want to scroll down and read it.

The biggest flaw of the FYL program is that it's graded pass-fail (with a "high pass" grade that is apparently given to a few people per 80 person section, and a "low pass" grade hardly given at all). Nobody fails, nobody really gets a "low pass," and the bar for getting a Pass is set pretty low. Not that I'm saying that the only thing that drives people to do their work is the grade, but it doesn't hurt as motivation. There simply doesn't seem to be a reason -- beyond the desire to become a better legal memo-writer (but, arguably, the memo-writing method we're taught isn't necessarily a wonderful method -- more important than figuring out whether or not it's a good method is that in many students' minds it isn't, so there's no motivation to try and perfect our understanding of it -- to put in tremendous effort, especially for students who don't necessarily expect to have to write legal briefs and memos in their chosen future careers. Because the class is pass-fail, it feels like an inferior, less important class. Because it's taught in part by an upperclass student (competent as she may be... and in my case, she really is terrific... she's still just a student), and in part by a "lecturer on law" as opposed to professor, it doesn't feel as vital as Contracts or Civil Procedure. Also, the hand-holding nature of the class -- we write first drafts of all of the assignments, receive feedback, meet with the instructor to talk about it, and then write our final, graded drafts -- makes it seem, perhaps unfairly, like we're in baby school.

None of this is to say that I try less hard to do a good job here than for my other classes -- and I honestly don't believe that there are too many people who do put in less effort than they otherwise would -- but the problem is that it makes me feel stupid when I do put work into it. I feel like I'm wasting time fixing marginally important "mistakes" in my first draft, that I'm wasting time trying to manipulate my writing into the rigid memo structure we need to follow, that I'm wasting time double-checking my footnote styles, that I'm wasting time doing some extra research to find one more relevant case -- skills that I know I have, and have demonstrated in what I've written, but just need to do the busy-work to make sure it's all nice and polished -- just to lift my grade from a Pass... to a Pass.

So, disregarding whether or not the curriculum is solid or not (I don't know enough about legal writing to have any clue, so I can't even speculate as to whether the memo format we learn is useful or garbage), I think the best thing they could do to make people less resentful of the time they put into the assignments, and respect the class more, is to give people real grades and have professors teach it. Or call the lecturers "adjunct professors," "class B professors," or anything with the word professor in it, just so it seems like just another class and doesn't get called out as being a waste of time.