Paul L. Caron

Friday, September 21, 2007

Advice for Erwin Chemerinsky

The hiring, firing, and re-hiring of Erwin Chemerinsky as founding dean of the new UC-Irvine law school has attracted enormous national attention. (For a roundup of coverage, see here.)  Bill Henderson and I want to use this moment in time to generate and publicize the best ideas about reforming legal education from some of the leading thinkers in the law school world. Next week, TaxProf Blog will begin posting the answers of university presidents and provosts, and law school deans, faculty, students, and career planning professionals, to this question:

What is the single best idea for reforming legal education you would offer to Erwin Chemerinsky as he builds the law school at UC-Irvine?

Each contribution will be limited to no more than 250 words.

Advice for Erwin Chemerinsky, Law School | Permalink

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Lawyers are professional writers. Yet, most lawyers have horrible writing skills and produce disjointed and ineffective work product. You can fix this.

Though you must accept that most students who matriculate into your school have never been taught to write, if those students graduate as bad writers you and your faculty will have failed them. Communication and critical thinking are to the practice of law what fire control and maneuver are to the military officer. They are the basic tools that one must master in order to succeed.

Since written communication is such an important aspect of any lawyer’s work, I suggest that you make legal-writing skills an important part of your curriculum. And if you follow my advice, I believe that you will discover that good writing skills correlate directly to improved critical-thinking development and organization.

In his letter to you, Professor Gordon Smith refers to legal writing as a co-curriculum course, and he suggests that you focus on things that “law schools do better than legal employers – classroom instruction.” He misunderstands the problem. Law firms teach basic writing skills because they need lawyers who can write, but they can’t find adequately educated law school graduates.

I suggest that you require four semesters of writing instruction and that you get expert advice – e.g., Bryan Garner and Wayne Scheiss – which can be used to form an adequate legal-writing program. Do not to focus only on litigation, but also on drafting, grammar, and editing. Finally, enroll advanced writing courses as electives.

Posted by: Bradley | Sep 26, 2007 9:51:31 AM