Legal Writing and Research

November 14, 2007

E.B., 1L

I was nervous about my first legal writing assignment. At YLS, we don’t have a separate legal writing course for 1L students. Instead, we learn research and writing within one of the four first-semester classes—in my case, Constitutional Law. It was just a few weeks into the semester; we hadn’t discussed Second Amendment yet, but I was supposed to write a legal memo analyzing the constitutionality of a gun control law in Washington D.C. I didn’t even know what a memo was supposed to look like, let alone how to write one.

Thankfully, the week that we received the assignment my Con Law small group also had a class with Yale’s legal writing professor, who gave us a crash course in legal memos. My TAs also held a brownbag lunch session to answer our questions about the assignment.

Fortunately, my success in law school is not at all dependent on my ability to master memo-writing on my first attempt. This was just a first draft of a memo; our TAs were going to give us feedback before we tried the assignment again. It was also an ungraded draft of an ungraded memo. Because I’m in my first semester at Yale Law School, even if the memo had been “graded,” it still would have been a pass/fail assignment.

The comfort of knowing that my memo wouldn’t cause me to fail out of law school didn’t change how hard I worked on that first paper. I began the memo days before it was due. The night before I turned it in, I was up late revising, proofreading, and formatting my citations. The 16 of us from my class were emailing each other all night long, joking with each other about the assignment, planning our post-memo party for the following night, and taking headcounts to see who was still up at midnight . . . 2 AM . . . 3 AM. The knowledge that the paper was ungraded, however, did take the anxiety out of the assignment. I wasn’t thinking about how the memo would affect my transcript or job opportunities. I didn’t need to worry about how my memo compared to the others in the class. I just tried to put forward my best effort, in an attempt to learn how to do legal writing well.

This week, I’ll start the process again with my first brief.