Legal Writing and Scholarship
Georgetown considers legal scholarship and writing essential to professional excellence and offers many opportunities for students to develop their abilities in this area.
The first-year required course introduces students to federalism and its effect on writing. Students explore research tools and their complex interrelationships, which are spawned by federalism. Students analyze legal issues and develop research strategies tailored to those issues, using federal and state codes, digests, secondary sources, loose leafs, legislative histories, administrative sources, CD ROMs, and on-line sources. Students then synthesize those sources into a written analysis, following a process that calls for research reports, outlines where appropriate, drafts, and final versions. The course uses the opinion letter, the memorandum, and the brief as analytical genres, teaching expository writing in the first semester and persuasion in the second. The course thus introduces students generally to the legal discourse community, including its analytical paradigms and register.
Advanced Writing Courses
In addition to legal writing seminars in substantive areas, a number of advanced courses specifically advance the student's initiation into the legal discourse community. The Advanced Legal Writing Seminar, taught by Professor Fran DeLaurentis, carries students into practice. The course requires students to research and write contracts, an opinion letter, memos, briefs, and statutes. Students also collaborate on at least one project, analyzing how the legal writing process adjusts accordingly. Students see how the rhetorical questions of purpose, audience, scope, and stance affect all legal documents.
Students in the Law Fellow Program study the theory of teaching legal writing in the five-credit, two-semester Legal Writing Seminar: Theory and Practice for Law Fellows. They explore notions from composition theory, linguistics, and cognitive psychology by doing a series of readings. They transfer these theories to practice by preparing and teaching workshops, commenting on student papers, holding conferences with students, and working individually with selected students. They also write a bench memo in the spring semester. All work is done under the close supervision of the legal writing professor.
Senior Writing Fellows study the theory of teaching scholarly writing under Professor DeLaurentis. In the three-credit course Applied Legal Composition, they read extensively about writing theory and its application to scholarly legal writing. They explore more complicated matters of style, ESL (English as a Second Language) learning, scholarly research, and topic development. They work individually with students through conferences at the Writing Center.
Advanced Legal Research
Other advanced legal research seminars help students build on skills learned in the first year and focus on legal scholarship of particular fields.
Legal Research Skills for Practice reinforces the skills learned in the first-year Legal Research and Writing course.
Advanced Legal Research focuses on extensive research problems requiring the use of print materials, Lexis, Westlaw, and the internet. The course goes beyond topics covered in the first year course and emphasizes research tools and techniques used in practice.
Law Firm Research Seminar requires students to engage in a semester-long project based on an existing federal trial court case of their own choosing. The course focuses on research issues that lawyers encounter in practice and explores sources and strategies to support efficient and effective research management.
Seminar Research Methods focuses on research across a range of disciplines and sources and helps students find and improve their own research styles.
Legal Research in International and Comparative Law: Sources and Strategies, a two-credit course, addresses research methods and sources for international and foreign legal research. As a final project, students prepare a research guide on an international law topic or international organization.
Students who want to write in a field of interest not covered by a seminar might consider undertaking a research project under the supervision of a faculty member. Students may earn two credits by researching and writing a paper on an approved topic. To sign up for supervised research, students must fill out a form available at the Office of the Registrar by the end of the Add/Drop period in the semester for which the credits are requested. If there is no full-time faculty member available in the specific area, students may propose a project with an adjunct professor. Supervised research requests are reviewed by the Chair of the Faculty/Student Committee on Legal Research and Writing.
Faculty who teach in the various curriculum areas are listed at the end of each curriculum essay. The Faculty Research Register, available at the Edward Bennett Williams Law Library, lists the research interests of members of the full-time faculty. Information about J.D. adjunct professors can be obtained by contacting Assistant Dean Sarah Hulsey.
All of Georgetown's clinics offer legal writing opportunities, from appellate briefs in the Appellate Litigation Clinic to statutes in the Legislation Clinic. Students gain a sharper sense of audience by interacting with clients in some clinics, arguing before judges in others, and working with supervising attorneys in all.
The Writing Center provides J.D. and graduate students with assistance on writing projects. Senior Writing Fellows at the Center provide feedback on the following: making the transition from another field of expertise, such as engineering or history, to legal discourse; approaching scholarly writing as a specific genre with defined scope, purpose, audience, substance, and technical concerns; using legal substance to organize writing effectively and to make argumentative decisions; improving legal writing by understanding it as a specific process performed under time pressure in practical and academic legal settings, using computer technology and word processing to improve legal research and writing; paying proper attention to legal citation form and footnotes in text; connecting substance to syntax; mastering English grammar; and overcoming writer's block.
J.D. Course | 2 credit hours
In this advanced course, students will learn the concepts and skills needed to research complex legal problems. This course will cover a wide range of legal research topics, including statutes, legislative history, court and government documents, administrative materials, practitioner tools, secondary sources, and specialized legal research. Students will also gain hands-on experience developing, implementing, and documenting appropriate research strategies, conducting research in an efficient manner, and citing resources appropriately for a professional-level work product.
Grading will be based on class attendance and participation, a series of research assignments, and a take home exam.
Prerequisite: Legal Practice: Writing and Analysis.
Mutually Excluded Courses: Students may not receive credit for both this course and Legal Research Skills for Practice.
J.D. Seminar | 3 credit hours
This three-credit seminar offers an opportunity for J.D. students interested in transactional practice to hone their legal writing skills in a small workshop environment, while learning the basic elements and construct of a written agreement. Students will write or edit a variety of transactional documents – including deal memos, contractual provisions, and correspondence – and will develop individualized goals for improving their writing throughout the semester. Students will build on skills in legal discourse introduced in the first year Legal Practice course, including crafting effective written analysis, recognizing the importance of precise drafting to ensure that the various provisions of contracts fit together in a synchronized way, understanding and meeting the expectations of the audience, organizing documents to enhance clarity, applying those skills to new forms of legal writing, and developing effective time management strategies. It will also focus on improving students’ ability to critically assess their own and others’ legal writing and to provide helpful feedback to colleagues in a professional setting. This course is designed as a writing workshop, with in-class writing and peer critique during most classes and individualized feedback from the professors on most drafts of documents.
Prerequisite: Legal Practice: Writing and Analysis or the equivalent first year legal writing course.
Note: Professor permission is not required.Students enrolled in the course will be writing, commenting, or revising nearly every week, with approximately five out-of-class writing assignments, most of which will be revised after the professors provide feedback on them. Students should thus be prepared to make a substantial time investment in the class. Because of the collaborative nature of the class, students may not withdraw from this class after the add/drop period ends without the permission of the professor.
J.D. Course | 2 or 4 credit hours
Students study legal writing from both the writer's and reader's perspectives. Students review documents, analyze scholarship, write criticisms of legal writing, prepare their own texts, and read extensively about the theory of legal composition. Students hold conferences with clients who are currently working on writing projects.
Prerequisite: Legal Practice: Writing and Analysis at Georgetown Law.
Recommended: Legal Writing Seminar: Theory and Practice for Law Fellows.
Note: THIS COURSE REQUIRES PROFESSOR PERMISSION TO ENROLL and can only be taken by Senior Writing Fellows, who must take this course. Contact the Office of the Registrar if you would like to distribute the credits unevenly between the semesters.
J.D. Course | 1 credit hour
This course will reinforce the skills learned in the Legal Practice: Writing and Analysis course. Students will learn how to develop strategies for approaching legal research problems and how to select and use basic legal sources. Topics covered include the legal research process, statutory research, legislative history research, case law research, administrative law research, and secondary sources. At the end of the course, students will have gained valuable knowledge and experience in developing a legal research strategy and selecting and using basic legal sources. This basic course provides limited opportunities for completing extensive research problems and, instead, focuses on strategies for approaching these types of problems.
Grading will be based on a series of assignments due at the beginning of each class, attendance and class participation, and a take-home exam at the end of the semester.
Prerequisite: Legal Practice: Writing and Analysis.
Mutually Excluded Courses: Students may not receive credit for both this course and Advanced Legal Research.
Note: FIRST CLASS ATTENDANCE IS MANDATORY. All enrolled and waitlisted students must be in attendance at the start of the first class session in order to be eligible for a seat in the class.A student will be permitted to drop a course that meets for the first time after the add/drop period, without a transcript notation, if a student submits a written request to the Office of the Registrar prior to the start of the second class meeting. Withdrawals are permitted up until the last class for this specific course.
J.D. Seminar | 2 credit hours
With Supreme Court nominations certain to be contested for years to come, the judicial opinion has gone center stage. While understanding the enterprise of opinion-drafting is always critical for law students who take the clerkship route, it has never been more important for all advocates and soon-to-be advocates to think about how and why judicial opinions are created.
This seminar will consider judicial opinions through three overlapping and equally important lenses: the theoretical foundations of legal inquiry, close textual analysis, and discussion of social context.
Subtext. We will begin by examining the role of legal theory. Drawing on work by a variety of legal scholars, we will consider the most influential theories of law, including formalism and legal realism, and their broad effect on how cases are decided and opinions are written. We will hear from great American jurists themselves, from Brandeis, Holmes, and Cardozo, to Scalia, Posner, and lesser-known judges, as they espouse or critique different approaches and reflect on their own purposes.
Text. Then, using a selection of key decisions, we will examine these theories in practice. We will discuss the choices that were available in writing the opinions and how theory informed the use of precedent to justify and explain outcomes. We’ll also look at the institutional values at stake and scrutinize their congruity with the equities in individual cases and policies implicated. Finally, we will study rhetorical techniques, including the use of persuasive narrative and metaphor.
Context. In addition to a close reading of text, this seminar will direct its gaze outward, to the social landscape beyond the courtroom. Contemplating a range of external currents and practices will enrich our understanding of judicial reasoning, especially that which appears to circumvent the mandates of formal logic. Particular sites of inquiry will include developments in social science and visual evidence.
Steeped in the subjects outlined above, students will pen their own opinions based upon an assigned problem and engage in shorter writing assignments, for a total of approximately 5,000 words. I will provide feedback on the main opinion, on both substance and style, and the students will incorporate this feedback into their rewrite of that opinion. My goals for this class are aimed at helping students to: (1) refine their legal writing skills in a new context; (2) consider the role and purpose of judicial opinions in the legal system; and (3) examine the influences of legal theory, doctrine, rhetoric, personal experience, and society in opinion writing.
Sixty percent of the final grade will be based on the written opinion, and forty percent will be based on class participation and assignments. Active participation will include written responses to the weekly reading assignments as well as class discussion. A willingness to share and respectfully listen to different points of view is critical to the success of the class.
J.D. Seminar | 1 credit hour
The ability to write effective professional documents is one of a lawyer’s most important skills. This one-credit seminar is designed to help students develop this skill. The seminar will build upon the principles learned in the first-year Legal Research and Writing course by providing instruction in drafting legal documents typical to the particular area of law that is examined in the larger, substantive course associated with the seminar. This writing intensive seminar has been developed by an adjunct professor working in collaboration with the full-time faculty member teaching the larger course. Students should expect to write several documents common in the given practice area, such as client letters, legal research memoranda, motions, or responses. At least one document will require both an initial and final draft. The professor will provide individualized feedback on each writing assignment. In addition to the practical legal writing skills taught, students will also learn more generally about the demands and concerns of regulatory practice.
This seminar, taught by a former law fellow, will expose students to some of the central legal documents and processes that govern administrative rulemaking proceedings. Over the course of the semester, students will advise a high-tech “client” throughout the lifecycle of a rule’s development, including participating in notice-and-comment proceedings and considering whether to appeal the agency’s decision. Students will engage with their clients, advise on key strategic decisions, and produce examples of the documents that are drafted by regulatory lawyers every day. Occasional guest speakers will provide students with special insight into the practice of administrative law.
Written work will consist of several short writing assignments to be completed between class sessions, as well as one longer assignment that students will draft over the course of the semester. Students will be evaluated on the quality of their written work and on class participation. Because the class meets only seven times over the course of the semester, attendance at each session is mandatory.
Prerequisite: Legal Practice: Writing and Analysis; concurrent or prior enrollment in Administrative Law. Students may contact the professor to discuss how they may meet the prerequisite with other prior or concurrent course work or experience.
Note: THIS COURSE REQUIRES PROFESSOR PERMISSION TO ENROLL. Students should email a short statement of their interest in the seminar to Professor Bonner at email@example.com. Requests for permission to enroll will be reviewed on a rolling basis.
Limit: 10 students. This course is open to J.D. students only.
In the Spring 2016 semester, this course will meet on the following seven Wednesdays: 1/27, 2/10, 2/24, 3/16, 3/30, 4/13, and 4/27.
ATTENDANCE IS MANDATORY AT ALL CLASS SESSIONS. All enrolled and waitlisted students must be in attendance at the start of the first class session in order to be eligible for a seat in the class and must attend each class session in its entirety.
A student will be permitted to drop a course that meets for the first time after the add/drop period, without a transcript notation, if a student submits a written request to the Office of the Registrar prior to the start of the second class meeting. Withdrawals are permitted up until the last class for this specific course.