Team of Practicing Attorneys Shares Expertise in Advanced Legal Writing Course
Washington University School of Law’s new Advanced Legal Writing course draws on the expertise of local attorneys while providing students with substantive, real-world writing assignments. Building upon the school’s required Legal Practice curriculum, the course is part of an expanding range of opportunities for students to gain critical skills for their professional success.
Developed last fall by Jo Ellen Lewis, director of the Legal Practice Program, the course is team taught by herself and four attorneys from Husch Blackwell who have significant backgrounds in different areas of the law. The intensive setting provides students with practical professional experiences they can build upon in their upcoming careers.
Structured in three-week rotations, the course gives students an “invaluable opportunity to develop and improve their writing techniques in different practice areas of the law,” says Omri Praiss, JD ’93, who teaches the section on Litigation.
The other three rotations are taught by Gary Feder, JD ’74, Real Estate Transactions; Melissa Nissenholtz, Estate Planning; and Maury Poscover, JD ’69, Corporate Transactions. Lewis starts off the course with a session on “Best Practices in Legal Writing” as a preview for the balance of the course.
While substantial legal writing is covered within the required curriculum, “much of legal writing in law school focuses on memorandums, briefs, motions, and similar documents,” says Emory D. Moore, Jr., JD ’14.
“However, a significant portion of this course focused on a greater variety of documents, such as demand letters, attorney-to-client communications, term sheets, billing statements, letters of intent, and sale and purchase agreements,” adds Moore, who plans to work for Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC.
This practical writing in the focus areas gives students a glimpse of different types of law before they enter the work force.
Feder says: “they get a feeling for the difference between being a business lawyer focusing on transactional writing, for example, versus the drafting required for pleadings.”
In addition to learning about various types of law, students also learn the styles of several attorneys, while focusing on real-world client and legal communications. “Learning to draft for different supervisors is critical as
junior attorneys often work with different senior attorneys, even within one legal organization,” Lewis says.
Janice Evans, JD ’14, who is planning to work for SmithAmundsen in Chicago, concurs: “My biggest takeaway from the course was the benefit of receiving feedback from different lawyers, which simulated what working for multiple partners/attorneys will be like.”
In addition to helping students develop advanced writing skills, Poscover also emphasizes professional skills, including having his students conduct a simulated client interview with him.
“As we work with the students to hone their legal writing skills, it is important to keep client relations in mind, as the writing they are doing is not in a vacuum,” says Poscover, a member of the law school’s National Council. “All
forms of effective communication are essential for building and maintaining professional relationships with clients.”
Another benefit of the course, the small class size of 16, allows students and professors to get to know one another, while building valuable networking relationships. Additionally, students leave the course with a portfolio of writing
samples, other than traditional memos and briefs, that they can use in seeking employment opportunities.
In the case of rising third-year law student Dan Kempland, the course was just the right mix—providing him with “good writing samples in a variety of practice areas, good connections with four practicing attorneys, and the confidence that I can complete high-quality ‘practical’ work on a tight schedule.”
The intensive nature of the course allowed Praiss to see “steady improvement in the writing techniques and styles.” However, given the students' impressions of the course, clearly they are gaining much more than writing skills. Jessica Courtway, JD ’14, who will be working for Greensfelder in St. Louis, summed it up best when describing what she took away from the course, “Be clear and whenever possible, be brief.”