U. Miami Law is moving from a traditional legal writing program staffed primarily by adjuncts and part-timers (with a few one- or two-year contract LRW instructors) to one staffed by full-time legal writing faculty. On balance, this is a good thing, maybe a very good thing.
The mixed full time/part-time model had many virtues, not least that it put our students in contact with some really great local lawyers who were all but donating their time. Yet it also had defects. Three of the defects were particularly notable. First, while some of the part-time practitioners were and are great lawyers and excellent teachers, quality control was an issue; from time to time there were complaints that some practitioners would slight their teaching when work got busy. Second, practitioner adjuncts tend to be free only in the evening, which many first year students find difficult after a long day full of classes. Third, as the number of VAP programs and full-time post-JD fellowships grows at other law schools, it gets harder to recruit excellent full time writing instructors for one or two year contracts.
Meanwhile, the job of legal writing instructor has become increasingly formalized and professionalized due to self-organizing and pedagogic reform by leading writing instructors, pressure from the ABA to upgrade the instructors' status, and the fact that full-time staff count much more for purposes of calculating headline student-faculty ratios than do part-time staff.
As a result of these and other trends, law schools are increasingly moving to a purely or primarily full-time faculty model for their introductory legal writing programs. The University of Miami School of Law is joining the trend,
The University of Miami School of Law has selected associate professor Rosario Lozada Schrier to launch and direct the school’s new research and writing program, Legal Communication and Research Skills (L-Comm). Schrier will work with a team of full-time Legal Communication faculty to provide students with critical research and communication skills necessary to excel in today’s competitive legal environment. The program will begin in the fall semester.
“L-Comm reflects Miami Law’s commitment to preparing students to become skilled and professional communicators,” Schrier says. “From their first day of classes, students will interact in the classroom as a community of professionals. In this collaborative setting, they will master the fundamentals of legal research and analysis and learn to communicate effectively with diverse audiences at various stages of legal practice.”
Faculty with varied practice backgrounds will engage students in a dynamic classroom environment that integrates technology as a learning resource. The program will develop research skills in the context of a client’s simulated problem, which will evolve through initial case assessments, consideration of potential alternatives to litigation, pretrial pleadings, and appeals. At each stage of the process, students will advocate on a client’s behalf using both written and oral skills, all with the goal of preparing students for the reality of legal practice. L-Comm will emphasize active student participation by featuring small classes and frequent interaction with faculty through small group and individual conferences.
I can't say, though, that I'm particularly thrilled with the “L-Comm” branding. I don't know exactly what it sounds like — a bad summer movie? a branch of the Army? a new leg-band communications device? — but it doesn't sound very law school to me.
And while 'legal writing' is undeniably a very important skill, as traditionally taught it presumes a good command of ordinary writing. Sadly, this is no longer (if it ever was?) something you can assume every law student brings to campus at orientation. How to address the deficiencies (or absence?) of high school and college writing programs without stigmatizing, depressing, or overloading the people who most need writing help remains a problem I have yet to hear that any law school has solved.