Law Students Agree – They Can’t Write

Here’s a link to a survey from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement, as reported in (hat-tip to) Inside Higher Education, Writing Lags in Law Schools.

The discussion on Legal Writing is interesting, and I don’t know of any reason why a Canadian survey would be terribly different:

“It’s one thing to write clearly and effectively, and it’s another to feel that you’re learning skills to practice law,” said Lindsay Watkins, LSSSE project manager. “These students are getting good training but feel they are not learning practical writing skills. They would like more opportunities to apply their skills.”

Legal writing is a cornerstone of legal education. Our results indicate that most students have ample opportunity to practice their legal writing skills. For example:
• Nearly 85% of students write at least one medium length paper during the academic year, and 70% write at least one paper of 20 or more pages.
• Two-thirds of students (62%) frequently prepare multiple drafts of papers or assignments.
• Nearly three-quarters of students (72%) report that their writing assignments frequently require them to integrate ideas and information from various sources.
• Even so, results indicate there is room for improvement. More than a third of all students (37%) report that they wished there were more opportunities to do practice-based legal writing during their studies. Only one in three students (36%) agree that their legal writing assignments help them to learn substantive law by providing an opportunity to work through concepts and ideas. Finally, nearly half of students (45%) report that their legal education does not contribute substantially to their ability to apply legal writing skills in real-world situations.
• Generally speaking, students who write more (reflected by the number of writing assignments completed and the number of pages written during the current academic year) are more likely to report higher gains in legal research skills and the ability to write clearly and effectively. In addition, students who write more are also more likely to report that law school contributes to their ability to acquire skills that will be useful in the practice of law, and to apply their legal writing skills to real-world situations (Table 3).
• In 2008, LSSSE asked a subset of law students how many and what type of writing assignments they completed during their legal education (Figure 5). These writing assignments fall into two categories: academic papers and practice-oriented assignments. The former category includes research papers, notes for publication, and co-authored research articles with faculty members. The latter includes memoranda, appellate briefs, motions, and transactional documents.
• Results indicate that law schools emphasize different types of writing during each year of law school. For example, most 1Ls have an opportunity to write a memo, while most 3Ls write at least one research paper (Figure 5). First-year students report completing more practice-oriented assignments than academic papers, while 3Ls complete more of both types of writing assignments than their 1L and 2L counterparts. Although both types of writing assignments are related to gains in important skills, practice-oriented writing assignments are more highly related to gains in nearly all areas, including legal research, clear and effective writing, application of skills to real-world situations, and the acquisition of job- or work-related skills

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