Wednesday, January 7, 2009

But Are They Willing to Pay for It?

Students are unhappy with the amount of practice-based legal writing they're able to do in law school according to the latest LSSSE results:

Despite near universal agreement on the value of these skills and competencies, legal writing, for example, is typically featured primarily in the first year, and viewed by students as a sidebar in their doctrinal classes,” writes George D. Kuh, LSSSE director and professor at the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, in his introduction to the 2008 results. “The low value placed on writing is symbolized by the facts that relatively few legal writing faculty are tenured or in a tenure-eligible role and are often paid less than other faculty members. Nevertheless, good lawyers must be good legal writers; it is a skill that will serve students well as they transition to the practice of law.”

Although law students report that they have plenty of opportunities to hone their legal writing skills in school, more than a third of them “wished there were more opportunities to do practice-based legal writing during their studies.” Furthermore, only 36 percent of students agree that their legal writing coursework helped them “learn substantive law by providing an opportunity to work through concepts and ideas.”

Have you said to your students or to your faculty who teach legal writing that it's "the most important class in the curriculum?" I know some of you have said it, because I've heard it plenty. And yet . . . there are only a handful of schools that have put their money where their proverbial mouths are. This you can take to the bank: If your law school doesn't offer salary parity, recognition of legal writing scholarship, and tenure to the faculty who teach legal writing, you can't head-fake the students or the legal writing professors into thinking you value legal skills training by just calling legal writing "the most important class in the curriculum." Oh sure, we nod and smile and say, "oh, thank you Mighty Tenured One." But seriously?

Some of us were born at night, but it wasn't last night.

And here's my message to students:
If you really value legal skills training, then when you donate money to your school, earmark the money for legal skills training. Or better yet, don't donate until the law school begins making a significant resource allocation for legal skills training. If every alum who got called in the annual donation drives said, "I'm sorry; I can't support a law school that doesn't invest in legal skills," then you can bet that your law school would transform in a heartbeat into a legal research, writing, and drafting mecca.