Thursday, July 31, 2008

Teaching Fellows as legal-writing teachers

At the (new) legal writer, Raymond Ward posted about law schools that use aspiring young legal scholars to teach legal writing. I posted the following comment.

Yes, a few law schools still do this. It is not so much an initiation for the fellows to pass through. It's more like this:
Gosh, here we have aspiring young legal scholars. It sure would be great if our law school could help them get started in academia; then we'd be known as a feeder school for young legal scholars. But these folks are young and inexperienced. What can we have them do to justify a salary while their main focus is writing that first article, networking, and defining their scholarly interests? I know. They can teach legal writing!
Of course, these fellows are smart, and most probably could teach legal writing. But there are three main problems:
  1. Their hearts aren't in it. It's not what they want to do, ultimately.
  2. Their focus, naturally, is on their own (scholarly) writing, not on teaching legal writing.
  3. They turn over every year or two.
I once applied for a job as director of legal writing, and in one interview a professor told me he wanted to start a fellows program like the one described here. He asked me what I thought. I swallowed hard and said "It's a good way to develop young scholars, but it's not a good way to teach legal writing."

For an insider's view of exactly what the post and my comment are talking about, read this article:

Ilhyung Lee, The Rookie Season, 39 Santa Clara L. Rev. 473 (1999).

My abstract of the article:

Story of a job as a legal-writing instructor for one year. This author had practiced law and was trying to enter legal academia. The job was in a "fellows" program, and the author did get a faculty appointment at another school after one year. As a fellow, the author had 75 students. Particular points: overwhelmed by the work load, especially critiquing papers; a bit surprised at the disdain for the subject of legal writing. Upon getting a doctrinal job, was told "welcome to the academy." But remembers thinking, "I thought I was in the academy already." No. It was only legal writing.

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