Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing
Do you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar? Our first-year legal writing students had to confront this question as part of a new assignment we introduced in the spring of 2014 that required them to write an email settlement offer to opposing counsel. This assignment fit easily into our trial and appellate brief assignments, allowed students to learn about persuasive writing in a new format, and helped students experience a bit of the creativity of law practice.
At Miami Law, we follow a fairly traditional model for a two-semester legal writing curriculum. In the fall, students learn objective writing, including office memoranda and client letters. In the spring, they turn to persuasive writing, including trial court motions and appellate briefs. We also include a correspondence component to both semesters, but we have struggled with exactly how to structure that component in the spring. Because students learned to write a client letter in the fall, a repeat of that assignment was not sufficiently challenging for many students. We experimented with assigning a discovery meet-and-confer letter but found it was conceptually beyond our first-year students’ level of understanding.
But last year, we landed on the Goldilocks “just right” level of difficulty for our spring semester correspondence assignment. We asked students to write an email proposing a settlement to opposing counsel in a civil litigation matter. The results were far better than we had hoped: students were highly engaged and interested in the assignment, they practiced a related but different type of persuasive writing, and they thought creatively in ways we never expected.