Thursday, November 19, 2009

Law students, grammar, and the practice of law

I'm hearing through the grapevine that some of my law students were unhappy with the grades that they received on their group papers this semester. I told them to find a movie with legal ethics issues and write about those issues. (Sneaky way to reinforce what they're learning, eh?)

The good news: for the most part, they did good work analyzing the ethics issues in the movies. The bad news: most of them made proofreading and grammatical mistakes.
The statistics: because virtually every group did a good job on the analysis, I curved the grades based on their mistakes in proofreading and grammar.

I'd warned them that no one could get an A on this assignment without good grammar and few proofreading mistakes. Why am I so strict? Because no matter how good their analysis is, if they can't showcase their work with decent writing skills, their employers and their clients won't be impressed.

I don't know where students get the idea that employers and clients (and law professors) don't care about writing skills. It's one of the key skills that lawyers must have. And our writing program at Boyd is not just good--it's superb.

So here's a request for my lawyer (and client) friends out there: please weigh in on this post. Do you care about how your lawyers write? Does it matter to you if they say good things, but say them poorly?

Many thanks.


Anonymous said...

Speaking as a student and professional, I wholeheartedly agree. I am nowhere near perfect but agree that grammar and proofreading are important skills that are often forgotten about. While externing this past summer I was exposed to the most unreadable work submitted to the court. I was astonished. This experience alone was enough for me to realize just how important grammar and proofreading is. It is something constantly in the forefront of my mind -- as it should be. As professionals, we should work to constantly improve ourselves in every way -- not just continuing education -- but professionalism, writing, and ethics, to name a few.

If this was an exam that you marked down for these mistakes, I would feel differently. As students, we rush to just at least get the gist across to the professor that we know what we are talking about. This is difficult to do in a timed (often not enough time) situation.

There is no reason why a paper should have so many grammar and proofreading errors that it becomes distracting. Simply, it is a lack of care and attention to detail. You are absolutely right -- employers will not be impressed.

Boyd School of Law

Patrick Flanagan said...

I've seen demand letters that would make Mr. Strunk's and Mr. White's heads spin. Some of those, I didn't even finish reading.

If you're not going to take a few minutes to proofread, you're not going to convince me that you believe in your argument. If you write ungrammatically, you're not going to convince me that you're capable of creating an argument in the first place.

In short, clear writing demonstrates clear thinking. What's more central to a lawyer's skill (and, by implication, employability) than clear thinking?

Unknown said...

Thanks, folks, for confirming my priorities--I sure appreciate it!