By Merry Sheehan
During the first year of law school, every student is required to take legal writing. For most first-year law students, legal writing is completely new and very challenging. For me, learning how to write like a lawyer has been one of my biggest challenges in law school thus far.
At the beginning of the first semester of my first year, my legal writing professor gave each of us a fictitious case file. The assignment was to write an objective memorandum that synthesizes the law and applies it to the facts of the case.
Personally, one of my biggest regrets in legal writing was my failure to ask questions during my first semester. I was nervous my questions were not wise and ultimately did not want to appear inadequate in front of my professor or classmates. However, this was a mistake and ended up hurting my memo grades that semester.
In the spring, my legal writing professor gave each of us another case file involving new facts and new legal issues. The goal was still the same, to write a memorandum that synthesizes the law and applies it to the facts of the case. However, this time we had to write a persuasive memorandum rather than an objective memorandum.
For this assignment, I told myself I was going to ask my questions and really seek help with my research and writing. I asked my legal writing professor for advice and perspective on how to improve my paper. She gave me advice such as how to make certain sentences more persuasive and how to tailor my legal rule to favor my client rather than the other party.
The best part about speaking with my legal writing professor was that she didn’t hand me answers on a silver platter. Rather, she told me her thoughts and guided me to where I needed to go and what points I needed to work on. This really allowed me to learn the differences in legal writing and be able to spot weak areas in my paper.
As a result, not only did my fears of feeling inadequate not come true but my grades improved dramatically. I received an A on my final paper and won the Distinguished Brief Award in recognition of outstanding performance in legal writing.
This summer as a judicial intern, I have used my research and writing skills every day. My judge not only has complimented me on the research and writing I have done for her but has continually rewarded me with more advanced projects.
My advice to first-year law students is to get to know your legal writing professor and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember, out of all your first-year courses, your legal writing course might have the greatest impact on your ability to write, speak, and think like a lawyer.
Merry Sheehan, JD’17, graduated from Suffolk University Law School in Boston. She is a member of Suffolk University Law Review and was a summer judicial intern for the Hon. Kimberly S. Budd in Suffolk County Superior Court. Sheehan is currently a clerk at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.