How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

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Nestico87
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How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby Nestico87 » Wed Aug 22, 2012 2:45 pm

I am a 1L at a school that grades, on a curve, its legal research and writing class. On the forums I have come across a lot of helpful advice how to do well in a typical casebook case, but I haven't seen much advice how to do well in legal research and writing (probably because it is pass/fail and a lot of schools).

The class seems pretty straightforward; although there are a few graded assignments, the majority of the grade is determined by a final memo.

So what is it, in writing the final memo, that truly separates the A's from the rest?

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ph14
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby ph14 » Wed Aug 22, 2012 2:46 pm

Nestico87 wrote:I am a 1L at a school that grades, on a curve, its legal research and writing class. On the forums I have come across a lot of helpful advice how to do well in a typical casebook case, but I haven't seen much advice how to do well in legal research and writing (probably because it is pass/fail and a lot of schools).

The class seems pretty straightforward; although there are a few graded assignments, the majority of the grade is determined by a final memo.

So what is it, in writing the final memo, that truly separates the A's from the rest?


Effort put in. Follow the mechanical structure given exactly (usually this includes some form, ours was "CRuPAC"), using signals/roadmaps, section headings, and writing in crisp, clear, and short sentences. Perfect bluebooking, and no grammatical errors or typos. It's not as random as people might think (assuming an average instructor).
Last edited by ph14 on Wed Aug 22, 2012 2:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

nonprofit-prophet
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby nonprofit-prophet » Wed Aug 22, 2012 2:46 pm

Nestico87 wrote:I am a 1L at a school that grades, on a curve, its legal research and writing class. On the forums I have come across a lot of helpful advice how to do well in a typical casebook case, but I haven't seen much advice how to do well in legal research and writing (probably because it is pass/fail and a lot of schools).

The class seems pretty straightforward; although there are a few graded assignments, the majority of the grade is determined by a final memo.

So what is it, in writing the final memo, that truly separates the A's from the rest?


Know what the professor likes and make sure you nail that.

Viktor Vaughn
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby Viktor Vaughn » Wed Aug 22, 2012 3:01 pm

I agree with the above posters. I will add, make sure you start working on whatever assignment you're given EARLY. Spend the extra time reworking sentences and paragraphs until they shine. Or, if you are given a bunch of cases and have to narrow down which ones to use, spend a significant amount of time reading the cases and determining which ones are most analogous/persuasive. Make a spreadsheet with all of the cases, the holding, what the facts were, etc. so you can compare and contrast before you make your decisions on which to use.

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Richie Tenenbaum
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby Richie Tenenbaum » Wed Aug 22, 2012 3:07 pm

Viktor Vaughn wrote:I agree with the above posters. I will add, make sure you start working on whatever assignment you're given EARLY. Spend the extra time reworking sentences and paragraphs until they shine. Or, if you are given a bunch of cases and have to narrow down which ones to use, spend a significant amount of time reading the cases and determining which ones are most analogous/persuasive. Make a spreadsheet with all of the cases, the holding, what the facts were, etc. so you can compare and contrast before you make your decisions on which to use.


The bolded is vital. When you actually finish writing your first draft, you should be no where near finished. The editing process separates a ton of people when it comes to doing okay and doing well. Don't screw yourself over by only giving yourself a day to proof-read and tinker with a first draft--have it done way sooner, make substantial changes, set it aside for a day or two, make more changes, make sure it's perfect, and then make sure it's perfect again. (All that said, keep in mind that time can be limited 1L year. Don't screw over your other classes just to get the perfect memo. But if you can find time for other classes AND LRW, this is how you do well in the class.)

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DorothyV
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby DorothyV » Wed Aug 22, 2012 3:34 pm

I won the CALI in my LRW class and my advice would be as follows:

- As mentioned above, know what your professor likes and follow that extremely closely. If your prof gives you feedback on drafts / outlines / previous memos, make whatever changes he / she suggests. It may sound obvious, but a lot of students don't strictly follow the expected structure of assignments or bother to make the necessary changes when given feedback. If you have any questions about an assignment, take advantage of office hours to find out exactly what the prof expects of you (and your fellow classmates).

- Unlike the two previous posters, I didn't start writing my assignments early, but that is a personal preference because I work best under the pressure of a deadline. However, I finished the bulk of my research early. I also didn't write multiple drafts. Instead I outlined extensively, whereby I had every single paragraph outlined before I began to actually write. Thus, my first draft was essentially my final draft, except for grammatical corrections and edits to fit under the word / page limit. Again, this is a personal preference and the approach taken by the previous two posters may work better for you. Based upon writing assignments you were given in college, you probably already know which of the two approaches you are more comfortable with.

Gorki
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby Gorki » Wed Aug 22, 2012 3:58 pm

Avoid flowery language. I got an A in LRW. My "opposing counsel's" briefs in multiple assignments were packed with comma-filled prose and stretched out policy arguments. This made them easy to attack and generally made the other student look like they did not spend enough time Westlaw'ing the substantive stuff (even though many of them did). Stick to the structure your LRW book espouses, and you will be fine. Also, demand more criticism from your LRW prof. My LRW prof was notorious for giving neutral feedback whether you were an A or C student. If I emailed the prof about particular aspects of my writing, she gave clear examples of what I could improve (even on assignments where I got really high marks).

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notedgarfigaro
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby notedgarfigaro » Wed Aug 22, 2012 4:14 pm

brevity and conciseness are almost ALWAYS appreciated. Word/page limits should not be treated as targets to reach.

Also, don't miss deadlines, don't screw up formatting guidelines, and don't turn in an assignment with bluebook mistakes or typos- basically don't give away free points. LRW is maybe the only class where extra work is rewarded gradewise...the more polish, the better the grade (assuming you're either a halfway competent writer).

Selfridge
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby Selfridge » Wed Aug 22, 2012 10:28 pm

Reading and imitating good legal writing helps. Reading this helped me snag an A:

http://www.legalwritingpro.com/articles ... lement.php

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AVBucks4239
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby AVBucks4239 » Wed Aug 22, 2012 10:54 pm

I CALI'd Legal Writing and Research and wrote some tips in my Guide for 1L success. Some of this references back to other parts of the post, so it might be worth the read: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=189333

XVII. Acing Legal Writing
I think by far the biggest myth on TLS is that Legal Writing is a crapshoot. I think it's the exact opposite--it's the one class you have most control over your grade. Of course this is what everybody thinks, leading to a groupthink of a pretty gunnerish attitude.

That said, there are certain things you should be doing to ace legal writing:

1) Write the way your professor tells you. This is by far the most important thing. If your LWR professor hates what students use "phrase x," never use that phrase. If he/she doesn't want a bunch of legal jargon, don't use it. So many people go against their professor's words, it's hard to believe.

2) Don't procrastinate. I already covered this, but it's worth re-emphasizing. Start the assignment a day or two after you get it. Revise, revise, revise.

3) Use your professor's grade sheet. Most legal writing classes have two papers due fall semester. Usually, you will write a draft for the first paper and you will get a grade sheet/comments back from your professor. KEEP THIS AND USE IT. What is he/she looking for with your analysis? How many points does he/she give for citations? What writing attributes is he/she focusing on? My professor's grade sheet broke down into 5 main parts (Format, Writing, Organization, Analysis, Citations). I revised my paper just looking at one of those over and over (meaning that I looked just at my organization for an entire revision, just citations on an entire revision, etc.).

4) Your citations should be perfect. The Bluebook is the worst thing that will ever happen to you in law school. That said, learn it and make your citations as perfect as possible. Review them no less than 4-5 times. I actually reviewed them completely separate from my papers (meaning I would edit my draft not even looking at the citations, then go back through and only look at the citations).

5) Go to office hours. I've probably been to office hours a total of 10 times in my life outside of legal writing. That said, I was in my legal writing professor's office hours twice a week when assignments were almost due. She'll either help you out or eventually get sick of seeing you and help you out. It's a win-win.

6) Less is always more. The most brilliant writers, not just legal writers, say the most with the least amount of words. The example my TA used was the Gettysburg Address. That speech is so incredibly profound, addresses so many complex issues, yet it less than 300 words. That's obviously a hard thing to match, but you should always be trying to say as much as possible with as few words as possible. The less it takes you to say something, the more you can actually say.

But, legal writing takes time and effort. Never underestimate an assignment. Start your writing early, start your research even earlier, and never procrastinate.

roofles
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby roofles » Thu Aug 23, 2012 3:22 am

Nestico87 wrote:I am a 1L at a school that grades, on a curve, its legal research and writing class. On the forums I have come across a lot of helpful advice how to do well in a typical casebook case, but I haven't seen much advice how to do well in legal research and writing (probably because it is pass/fail and a lot of schools).

The class seems pretty straightforward; although there are a few graded assignments, the majority of the grade is determined by a final memo.

So what is it, in writing the final memo, that truly separates the A's from the rest?


Lots of good advice in this thread, I will follow-up that I wrote down everything the prof said verbatim and used much of it in writing my papers. Also, if your professor is willing, meet with them at least once every week or two to review at least sections of your papers (TAs are also useful but might give you advice contrary to what your prof is looking for). Often, my professor would say that I almost had it and tell me exactly what they were looking for. Good luck with LRW.

hiima3L
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby hiima3L » Thu Aug 23, 2012 4:07 am

The best legal writing is the most dry, clear writing possible. Every sentence should be brief and logically connect to the next. IRAC-ing is a formula and should be applied mechanically.

And from my TA experience in 2 classes, GO TO OFFICE HOURS. TA's will tell you exactly what to do because, often, there is no way to explain how to write something better than to just blatantly say what is good and why. All LWR assignments are substantively easy (at least they should be) because they are focusing on your writing. Your TA's are almost always working off of model answers or know what the prof likes, so ask them a ton of questions and they will basically spoon feed you an A answer. Anecdote: the 2 students both times I TA'd who came to every one of my office hours CALI'd the classes. The ones who didn't, or who didn't listen to my advice, got bad grades.

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Nestico87
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby Nestico87 » Thu Aug 23, 2012 7:03 pm

You people are awesome. This is great advice. As the semester goes on if I have any specific questions I'll return and ask them here.

Any additional advice?

hiima3L
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby hiima3L » Thu Aug 23, 2012 7:08 pm

Nestico87 wrote:You people are awesome. This is great advice. As the semester goes on if I have any specific questions I'll return and ask them here.

Any additional advice?


Drafts drafts drafts. After every sentence you write, ask yourself, do I REALLY need this? Is it in ANY WAY unclear or ambiguous? Someone who knows nothing about the assignment or the law should be able to read and understand it entirely.

ClubberLang
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby ClubberLang » Fri Aug 24, 2012 8:24 am

Going against the grain here, but I would not try to get an A in legal writing. It is worth less than your substantive classes, and the time it takes to do well is not worth it. This was my experience anyway, first semester I busted my ass and got an A-. Second semester I made a conscious effort to limit the time I spend in writing (no more than 1 hour on weekly homework assignments, no more than 16 hours on each major assignment) and spend more on 1 other class in particular. My grade in 1.5 hour legal writing went from A- to B+, but my grade in 3 hour substantive class went from B+ to A+. This is obviously a beneficial tradeoff.

FlanSolo
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby FlanSolo » Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:14 am

What's been said is generally correct: form over substance will win you points. That said, substance matters too, just not as much as people expect it to, so make sure to:

1) Leave absolutely no argument to inference
2) Provide extremely detailed/nuanced factual discussions

(The above go hand in hand)

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bostonlawchick
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby bostonlawchick » Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:19 am

ClubberLang wrote:Going against the grain here, but I would not try to get an A in legal writing. It is worth less than your substantive classes, and the time it takes to do well is not worth it. This was my experience anyway, first semester I busted my ass and got an A-. Second semester I made a conscious effort to limit the time I spend in writing (no more than 1 hour on weekly homework assignments, no more than 16 hours on each major assignment) and spend more on 1 other class in particular. My grade in 1.5 hour legal writing went from A- to B+, but my grade in 3 hour substantive class went from B+ to A+. This is obviously a beneficial tradeoff.


Depends on the school. At BC LRRW is 5 credits when most of your other classes are 3 or 4. I wish I had focused more on legal writing because it trashed my gpa.

I just want to echo the advice of doing EXACTLY what your prof says. Write down everything they mention in class and go over your assignment to make sure you're following. My whole life I've been told that I write well, in my 1L interviews employers said my writing sample was great. I never got negative feedback from my lrrw prof. I did well enough in the writing competition to get on a journal despite my median grades. I still did badly in lrrw.

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20130312
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby 20130312 » Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:21 am

My school also grades LRW on a A-F curve, so I'm in for the advice. Thanks to everyone that's posted so far!

wormhole
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby wormhole » Fri Aug 24, 2012 5:24 pm

In some ways, LRW grades are predetermined based on 1) how well you write naturally and 2) how well others in your class write naturally. When it comes down to it, if you are a naturally good writer and put serious effort into the assignment (e.g. start early, double check citations), you will get a good grade. The problem is that a lot of people come to law school not having a clue how to write. We did a peer-editing assignment, and I swear my partner must have failed 4th grade grammar. As someone else above mentioned, the best legal writing is dry and boring, but clear and concise. Use transitional words and phrases. Make sure your sentences flow logically from one to the next. I personally think that these are all techniques you should have learned in college and/or high school, but there clearly are a lot of people who never fully grasped the art of writing.

Moreover, a lot of people have no clue how to follow directions. Legal writing really comes down to IRAC. Plain and simple. Listen to your professor. Do everything s/he tells you to do, and make sure you write down the important issues when she tells them to the class. I swear my professor gave the "answers" to the entire class before we wrote the assignment, but there were still people who struggled. As long as you follow IRAC and your professor's instructions, and you can write clearly and concisely, the A/A- is yours.

btowncane
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby btowncane » Fri Aug 24, 2012 8:12 pm

Tagging. There's some good stuff in here.

L-girl
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby L-girl » Sat Aug 25, 2012 7:46 pm

I'm a TA for LRW and got an A. I concur with the advice about professor office hours. I also suggest using the TAs. I went to the same 2 or 3 TAs before papers were due and their advice really helped. It's not about writing in your style, it's about writing in the style your professor likes. And the TAs know her style. I also met with my professor once or twice a week for the 2-3 weeks leading up to the paper. I hate outlining (and she would always be annoyed with me for this). For me it worked to write out the paper based on some minimal outlined bullet points and then REVISE REVISE REVISE until it was perfect. My goal was to have the paper done the weekend before it was due and then spend the next week and weekend editing, cutting down, and citing.

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northwood
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby northwood » Sat Aug 25, 2012 8:11 pm

Meet with your professor and have him/ her look over your draft after you have written and edited it substantially ( to the point you are confident enough to turn it in and be content with it) the more effort and time rgy see you put in, the more effort and time they will put in editing your paper. Then when you do meet ask specific questions. I did this and got one of the best overall grades. If you plan and budget your time effectively you wil have plenty of time to do this( like an hour or two a night for the work week) and stay current in your other classes. Oh and start working on the assignment the day you get it.

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JCFindley
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby JCFindley » Sat Aug 25, 2012 8:19 pm

Tagging

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msblaw89
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby msblaw89 » Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:13 pm

tag

NotMyRealName09
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Re: How to get an A in Legal Research & Writing

Postby NotMyRealName09 » Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:54 pm

I recieved the book award in my graded 1L LRW class, and although this won't be helpful, you need to have talent and experience writing. That is another way of saying luck plays a larger part in your grade than you want to accept. Accept it - you have a better chance to get an A if you have a knack for legal interpretation and possess writing skill. Maybe I'm a cynic, but there are some things you cannot teach.

What may be helpful is EDIT. Write your paper, then go back and figure out how to shorten your sentences. You are using too many words to get your point across, I promise you, I don't care if your English degree taught you how to tell a good story. So write it all down. Step away for a day. Come back, and trim it down. I bet 70 percent of your peers won't spend more time editing than they did writing. You should.




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