Many legal practitioners received a liberal arts education and deeply studied good writing. Whether from our history theses, English literature studies, or sociology experiments, we learned how to write well.
And then we went to law school. The writing we learned there in many ways deviated from the best practices we learned in our undergrad years.
If you’re someone who cares about the craft of writing, how might you improve the state of legal writing scholarship? One option might be to become a legal writing teacher and change the system from the inside.
The “Traditional” Route
To learn more about how someone might become a legal writing teacher, I asked the Legal Writing Pro himself, Ross Guberman. Here’s what he had to say:
Process-wise, most law schools are pretty eager to find adjunct professors to teach the first year writing class. That class is much harder to teach than a lot of people think it’s going to be, but that would be the formal way to get started.
As Ross suggested, there are downsides to the traditional legal writing professor path. As Professor Mary Dunnewold wrote, the cons are many:
- Heavy workloads
- Significantly lower pay than colleagues who teach doctrinal classes
- Evidences of lower status, such as smaller offices, condescending titles, and exclusion from course design and law school strategy
Still, if you have the desire and energy to push through those barriers, there are opportunities available. Start by reading this seminal piece on the legal writing prof path by Jan Levine and contact your local law school about adjunct opportunities. That may be a sound strategy for getting your foot in the door.
Start with CLEs
If you want to go a less traditional route to improving the state of legal writing scholarship, Ross suggests that you look to your local CLE provider.
There are lots of bar associations and other organizations clamoring for good speakers to do CLEs.
CLE sponsors range from state bars to law schools to private companies. Reach out to those providers and pitch an idea for a CLE session. Rather than simply express interest in teaching legal writing, offer up a few possible titles of CLE sessions. You’ll make the decision easier for the provider if you offer specifics.
If you’re really ambitious you can start your own CLE conference. Although hosting a live event is incredibly difficult (I hosted one for five years in Austin before coming to Casetext), the work is very rewarding. You can improve the industry and gain exposure for your ideas by playing the impresario, or the organizer.
I recently spoke with Ruth Ann Robbins, professor of legal writing at Rutgers, about her involvement in the Applied Legal Storytelling Conference. Even with such a niche legal writing topic, the event draws a steady flow of audience and interest. You might host your own event by partnering with a law school and applying for CLE credit in your state.
But Plan to Teach Well
While encouraging lawyers who care about writing to teach, Ross Guberman strongly suggests that you do it well.
The biggest problem is that people get up and just run their mouths, spewing platitudes about legal writing that everyone’s already heard. They often just give their own personal preferences.
Instead, Ross says that you should hold yourself to a higher standard of writing scholarship.
Whether you’re talking about formal workshops or informal mentoring, the secret is to try to be very empirical. Ground your advice in specific examples from specific types of lawyers or judges who are really successful. Stay away from anything that’s just your own view or your own take.
It is true that you have to start from somewhere, and when you begin teaching you’ll probably spout off a platitude or two. But push yourself to really move the needle for legal writers.
Whether you obsess over Oxford commas and double spaces, or are a missionary for good storytelling, make sure you deliver the goods. The legal writing world needs you to take your teaching seriously.
Want to Learn More about Writing Well?
To see the entire interview with Ross, check out the video below…
And take a look at the other articles in this series on better writing for lawyers. We’re happy to support the development of good writing habits and would love a chance to explain how you can incorporate Casetext’s AI-enabled research tools to enhance your skills.