Incorporating Skills-Based Learning Throughout Law School

Author: Jacqui McMorran Guest Blogger

When we leave law school to become articling students and then junior associates, we will likely spend the majority of our time researching and writing memos. Knowing this, how is it possible that law students can leave school without a strong foundation in these skills?

All law students at UVic have at least some exposure to legal research and writing through taking Legal Research and Writing (LRW) in first year. However, this is our first introduction into legal research and writing. At this early stage in our education, it is difficult to fully appreciate and absorb all the material covered in the course. For instance, I don’t remember anything about developing a research plan, although reviewing course materials, I can see this was taught.

Taking one course in legal research and writing does not give us enough opportunity to develop these skills in preparation for a legal career. Research and writing skills are not mastered in one class. They will be honed throughout our entire education and careers. These skills need to be practiced.

Skills-based learning is a necessary part of our legal education. I think there should be more opportunities to practice legal skills in all classes, not just skills-based courses. In all of my substantive classes, I have only been required to write one memo, which did not include research outside of the course material.

Small research assignments in substantive courses would allow us to become more efficient researchers, without being overly time consuming. For example, versions of the group research assignment we were given in Advanced LRW (ALRW) could be incorporated into substantive law courses without being overly onerous for students or professors.

Legal writing skills may be more challenging to incorporate into substantive classes. Researching and writing a memo is labor-intensive and may be too overwhelming in many courses where there is a lot of substantive material to get through. One solution is to provide the opportunity to write a memo using only course materials.

In addition, in some ways I think ALRW should be a mandatory course for upper year students. It offers one of the few opportunities in law school to discuss, analyze, and practice using research resources and writing techniques.

Further, as upper year students, we have established a basic understanding of how areas of the law interact. Therefore, we are better equipped to analyze a problem and to research and write a memo at this stage in our education than we were in our first year. I think it is important to practice these skills in our upper years of law school, as opposed to requiring it only in first year.

Many students develop legal research and writing skills through summering with firms or co-op placements. Therefore, making ALRW mandatory would probably not excite many law students who already find it challenging to take all the courses they want before graduating.

However, ensuring we have strong research skills will allow us to start our legal careers with confidence, knowing that we can learn an area of law that we did not get the opportunity to study in law school. Adding some legal research and memo assignments to substantive classes would provide an opportunity for every law student to start a legal career with a solid foundation in legal research and writing skills.

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