One thing that I have had to get used to in law school is the lack of papers, tests, quizzes, and other graded assignments throughout the semester. For the most part, grades in law school are limited to the finals, and maybe participation or attendance depending on the class. The few exceptions to this are legal writing and research classes. Most law schools require first-year students to take some sort of legal writing and research classes. Mine are two separate classes, but some schools combine them. These classes tend to have a few more assignments throughout the semester than the doctrinal classes, such as torts, criminal law, civil procedure, property, contracts, etc.
Having more assignments through the semester is both a blessing and a curse. Although it creates a nice contrast to what I do in my other classes (a.k.a. reading all of the time), it adds a little bit of pressure. Your torts professor likely won't care that you have a quiz on the Bluebook the same day they assign 60 pages - so the graded assignments are just one more thing you have to balance in your academic life. However, it is nice to know that my grade in at least one class won't be entirely based on a single test.
About a week ago I had to turn in my first graded assignment for my legal writing class. The assignment was to write a formal office memo regarding a hypothetical client situation using provided legal authority that the professor gave to us. We had done a short, ungraded e-mail memo prior to this as practice, but this assignment was the real deal. Essentially, a legal memo is paper in which you analyze a client situation using legal authority such as cases and statutes to explain why you think the court will decide the outcome of a case in a certain way. Our memo was limited to 8 pages, and we were provided four cases to use as legal authority. You might think that 8 pages is long - but it was actually rather difficult for most of my classmates to not go over the page limit.
Learning how to write legal memoranda is important, because many of law students are required to write these memoranda as part of their law school internships. Along with that, the memorandum that you turn in for you legal writing classes will likely be the writing sample that you will submit to potential employers when applying for jobs. That fact, combined with the fact that the assignment is graded, means that writing my first memo came with a lot of pressure. I had two weeks to complete the assignment. However, because of one of my friend's passing away and needing to travel for a funeral, I really only worked on the assignment for a little over one week. For me, this was adequate time to feel like I did well on the assignment - but I know some of my classmates needed longer and some only took a few days to write their memos.
I am still anxiously awaiting my grade for my memo, but I feel as though I did fairly well. Pending feedback and completion of the next memo I have to write, I will eventually write a post on writing legal memos. However, until then - here are some general legal writing assignment tips:
- Consult the Bluebook - you have it for a reason. Make sure your citations are correct and that you follow Bluebook style to avoid making stupid mistakes.
- Edit, edit, edit! Edit your writing as you go, take breaks from writing to go back to edit, edit when you are finished, then wait a day and edit again. Your professor will be able to tell if your writing is polished or not.
- Read your paper out loud to yourself. It will help you catch little mistakes you might not notice if you read silently.
- Know your school's collaboration policy - my school doesn't allow us to discuss any aspects of the assignment with each other. You don't want to lose points or fail the assignment for discussing your writing with your friends.
- Take breaks from writing. You need to be able to walk away from your assignment and come back to it to create your best work. It's pretty unlikely that if you sit down and do the assignment all at once that you will create quality work.
- Remember basic grammar. Seriously, this is not the time to misplace commas or forget basic sentence structure.
- Don't overthink it. You'll do better if you just relax and have some confidence that you are producing your best work.
So good luck to everyone as you write your assignments this semester, and let me know what writing tips you have!