Hamline News

July 13, 2012

Professors transform legal writing

Members of Hamline Law’s legal research and writing department have worked to expand the legal writing curriculum over the last two years, extending the program from two semesters to three and expanding the curriculum to include more types of legal writing.

A primary motivation for the expansion is to give Hamline Law students more writing opportunities and to introduce them to specific drafting concepts. Classes and materials were developed to introduce students to drafting in a variety of contexts in their first and second semesters of law school.

Legal Research and Writing Instructor Mary Dunnewold explained that the idea to adapt Hamline’s legal research and writing curriculum originated because of the demands of the changing legal market. Employers today expect new lawyers to be increasingly proficient at various kinds of legal writing, including legal drafting.

“Our graduates really need to be able to hit the ground running,” Dunnewold said. “They need to know how to actually file a motion or do research and produce a document [in the same] afternoon. Because the nature of legal practice and the economics of legal practice are changing, we needed to adapt our curriculum and the students’ educational experience so they are able to do what is expected of them.”

The students’ response to the new curriculum has been positive.

“Students really recognize that they need these skills,” Dunnewold said. “They’re getting much more experience. They’re at least getting exposure to what practice looks like so that they then can make more informed decisions about [the type of career they pursue].”

“I think they like having to do different kinds of writing,” Instructor Beth Honetschlager agreed. “The interesting thing to us is that some students who might not do as well with writing briefs and memos might do really well on a contract or rewriting a statute. That’s good for everybody. It shows them that they can succeed and it gives us a chance to see where they can shine.”

Hamline Law is at the forefront of the expansion of legal research and writing curriculum, and instructors Dunnewold and Honetschlager recently presented on the topic at the national Legal Writing Institute conference in Palm Springs, Calif.

“We had a really good turnout at our session,” Dunnewold said. “Clearly, this is a topic that other skills professors are interested in and are trying to implement. We had a great response to the presentation with lots of interest in our materials."

Their presentation, “Incorporating Drafting into the Standard First-Year LRW Curriculum,” provided strategies and tools for legal writing professors interested in incorporating drafting into their first-year legal writing courses. They explained how Hamline Law uses six to eight class hours during the first and second semesters of legal writing to introduce drafting and provide students with the opportunity to practice drafting skills. The materials Dunnewold and Honetschlager shared in their presentation have been made available to other legal writing professors through the 2012 LWI Idea Bank.

“It was a great conference,” Honetschlager said. “We only have these big conferences every two years. It is so much sharing of knowledge and support. We have a really supportive group of legal writing instructors.”

Following the conference, Dunnewold and Honetschlager returned to Hamline ready to explore more opportunities to expand Hamline’s legal research and writing curriculum. The changes have already helped tie the legal research and writing department to Hamline Law’s commitment to experiential learning.

“It ties in perfectly,” Honetschlager said. “Students aren’t out [working] with real clients, but they are doing things they could very well be doing.

“They’re learning to think and write like lawyers when they write their first memos; working with drafting is more immediately useable information and skills. There’s certainly cross-fertilization as well. Anything they learn about writing precisely for drafting, they can use in writing memos and briefs as well. We do feel like it’s great experience for them.”

Learn more:
Instructor Mary Dunnewold
Instructor Beth Honetschlager
Legal Writing Prof Blog
Legal Writing Institute