Some Psychology of First-Year Legal Writing

I’m loving this blog post on legal writing courses.. It’s written from a student’s perspective and deals with the psychology of a difficult first-year legal research and writing course experience.

I see many of my students in the voice of this writer. I also see myself when I was a 1L so many years ago.

Here’s an excerpt from the original post:

A second attempt at drafting a legal memorandum during my fifth week of law school. And again, it was an inconceivable slap in the face when I received yet more criticism about my writing. What was so ‘wrong’ about my writing? After all, I did so well in college and no one ever said my writing needed work. I started to think that maybe this professor simply had it out for me. I internalized my problem, and despite numerous meetings to review my work, I still could not figure out what I was doing wrong. Like others in my class who were having similar problems, I began disregarding what I heard in her class and going to other professors for advice on how to improve. Needless to say, this did not make matters any better. My next grade was just as bad. Finally, I wised up and met with her again. This time I came prepared to stay as long as she would let me, and I set my mind to a new goal – understanding what I was doing wrong, not what I thought she was doing wrong.

And this is utter genius:

Over those two years, I gained valuable insight into effective writing, but really, I learned how easily we defeat ourselves through our own pride, stubbornness, or even arrogance.

Learning legal discourse AND learning how to write are two different things; both are EXTREMELY hard. And yet, first-year legal writing courses expect students to do both at the same time. It can be a very frustrating experience for students (oh, and for teachers too).

If I could send a message to my students it would be this:

I want all of you to excel. I spend hours and hours thinking of new ways to help you excel. My goal is to receive 20 perfect papers every time. I will spend all the time it takes with you to help you improve. Please, please have faith in me. And I’ll have faith in you.

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