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September 29, 2006

Teach sentencing opinion writing

A favorite reader pointed me to this interesting article from the National Law Journal extolling the value of a law school course on writing judicial opinions.  Here is a snippet:

[F]ew lawyers have had occasion to reason through a legal problem, or grapple with a record, from a judge's perspective.  Well-designed opinion-drafting exercises can help to fill this experiential gap and ground the development of an empathetic grasp of the choices and dilemmas that judges face. And this can lead to better advocacy.  For this reason, law schools might well consider making opinion-writing exercises part of the standard curriculum.  But, as more law schools are recognizing, the topic is large and important enough also to merit its own course.... [S]tudents particularly benefit from working on hard cases with messy records and uneven briefing.  In such cases, institutional and policy concerns ... loom especially large.

Regular readers will not be surprised by my endorsement of more law school coursework focused on judicial decision-making, and also my interest in encouraging schools to recognize the special benefits of sentencing being the substantive focal point of such work.

September 29, 2006 at 09:15 AM | Permalink


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I dispute that "few lawyers have had occasion to reason through a legal problem, or grapple with a record, from a judge's perspective." Every lawyer who has clerked for a judge or even had a judicial externship while in law school has had at least a taste of writing judicial opinions. As a current law clerk to a federal district court judge, I am perhaps more particularly attuned to this. I do believe such experience is incredibly helpful, but I don't know that teaching it in law school will be all that more beneficial.

Posted by: Steve | Sep 29, 2006 9:25:30 AM

Steve, I think that "every lawyer who has clerked for a judge or even had a judicial externship" is a relatively small number in comparison to the number of litigation attorneys. Some schools and law firms have more people with such experience than others. Franklin Pierce (where the course is being taught) is a great IP school, but I doubt if the number of its graduates who have worked for a judge is a majority. Thus, "few lawyers."

Also, an externship is, as you state, just a "taste." This seems like a good idea to me. I think the tone of the article reflects a bit too much of the "clerks write all of the opinions anyway" cynicism, which has not been my experience in my clerkships, but generally speaking the class is a good idea, for the reasons stated in the article.

Posted by: B. Burgess | Sep 29, 2006 10:35:50 AM

Teach. Lawyers. Writing. Period.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Sep 29, 2006 12:49:50 PM

I ama student at Howard University taking a masters couse in Judicial Process at the University. The instructor has stated that the main course of teh class 100% of the class activity will focus on reviewing court cases and weritign opinions on those cases. I have searched teh web inorder tofind a examples on how how to do this and I stumbled across your artice, hping it would direct me to a book thta will give me ajump start onteh sumject matter, it did not, thats why I a writing , is there such a book that would help me?

Thank you,
Larry Denson

Posted by: Larry Denson | Jan 14, 2007 7:27:48 AM

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