Legal Writing at Duke Law School

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Learning to write like a lawyer is perhaps the greatest challenge of legal education. The writing faculty support Duke Law students in all of their writing endeavors, helping them to develop and perfect the skills necessary to produce top-quality legal writing.

First-year Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing Program

Duke Law School's first-year Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing Program evidences the Law School's strong commitment to writing and research excellence. The Program, supplemented by the Legal Writing Resources website, emphasizes the integration of legal analysis, writing, and research, and helps students to understand and consider the legal audience for whom they are writing. The research and writing faculty are paired for each section of students, providing opportunities for team-teaching and specialized instruction throughout the year-long course. (The writing faculty for the first-year course are listed below.) In writing assignments, which range from short office memos to trial and appellate briefs, students master sophisticated research skills, complex analysis, careful construction of legal arguments, and the special requirements of legal prose. The intertwined research and writing tasks additionally enhance the retention of research skills and promote more effective research strategies.

The Legal Analysis, Research and Writing Program is also distinguished by its use of writing faculty with substantial past law practice who have moved into the teaching of writing as their primary professional commitment and research faculty who are part of the Law School's professional reference librarians, all of whom are also lawyers. Duke was one of the first top-tier law schools to employ writing faculty whose first professional commitment is teaching; at a number of other top-tier schools, these courses are still taught by upperclass law students, recent law graduates, or practitioners who serve as adjunct professors. The blend of academic strength and first-rate practical experience in the Duke Law Program results in a rigorous and richly rewarding experience.

Upper-Level, Advanced Legal Writing Courses

Duke Law School's upper-level advanced legal writing courses provide students with opportunities to hone further the legal writing skills taught in the first year. These courses are geared to specific subject-matter or legal writing settings, taught by the writing faculty in small seminars, and include substantial feedback to students on their written products. Some of these courses also involve continued instruction in legal research.

Legal Writing In Civil Practice

This course helps prepare students for the rigors of legal analysis and writing in general civil practice by providing a variety of writing experiences including opinion and demand letters, pleadings, motions, and trial briefs. It culminates in oral arguments on motions before members of the bench and bar. » more info

Contract Drafting

This two-credit course introduces the components of contracts, a formal vocabulary for discussing them, and the skill of translating business deals to the page. Contract Drafting features writing exercises that will be done both in and outside of class. In addition, extensive peer and instructor editing will be used. While the skills taught will be basic, they will also apply to more sophisticated contracts, including those that Duke Law students can expect to see and draft in practice. While this writing-intensive course fulfills the upper-level professional skills requirement, because performing significant independent legal research is not a part of it, it does not fulfill the substantial research and writing project requirement. » more info

Scholarly Writing Workshop

In this course, students will produce an original analytic paper of substantial length. Papers must involve significant and thorough independent research, be well-written, and provide appropriate sourcing. Participants are free to choose any topic that may be addressed seriously in an article-length piece and that may be written during one semester. » more info

Judicial Writing

This two-credit course is intended to appeal to any student who is interested in or who’s already been hired for a judicial clerkship. The course offers each student the opportunity to focus on and assess the writing style practiced by the judge for whom each will be clerking (or another whose opinions she or he admires). In addition, the students will practice forms of legal writing that they, as clerks, will be drafting for their judges—a bench memorandum, a majority opinion, and a concurrence or dissent. The focus here is on organized, clear, effective formal writing, which is the focal point of both. » more info

Writing: Federal Litigation

This course is an introduction to several different types of persuasive writing used in federal litigation. The simulated writing exercises will focus on one hypothetical matter involving federal law. » more info

Mediation Advocacy

In this advanced experiential seminar, students explore the fundamentals of mediation theory and practice from the perspective of the mediator, the attorney, and the client.  Students have the opportunity to practice persuasive writing as they draft pre-mediation statements, and will learn the essential elements of drafting agreements memorializing your settlements.  By engaging in all phases of the mediation process, students not only improve their social and emotional competence, they will develop skills that will be useful in client interviewing and counseling, fact development and legal analysis, and a variety of other contexts beyond mediation. » more info

Legal Writing: Craft & Style

This is a two-credit boot camp for 2Ls and 3Ls who want to work towards acquiring professional-level writing and editing skills. Through weekly writing projects, students will master the line-editing techniques for creating optimal sentences and paragraphs. Through intensive study, practice, and an exit exam, students will master the essentials of grammar, usage, and copyediting expected of professional writers. Finally, each student will deploy these skills by creating two pieces of original writing commonly expected of young lawyers: a client letter and a client update on a development in the law. Throughout the course, students will have individual support and feedback for their work. » more info

Federal Indigent Defense in Practice

This skills-based simulation course focuses on writing as an advocate for the accused and developing foundational practical skills and substantive legal knowledge needed to prepare a strong defense. The course focuses on the real cases of several indigent defendants convicted of federal crimes and is structured around preparing a direct appeal from the viewpoint of a solo practicing attorney appointed at the direct appeal stage. Each student will work on preparing one defendant’s case throughout the semester.  » more info

Legal Writing for Non-Legal Audiences

Not all legal communications are directed at judges and lawyers.  This advanced seminar focuses on communicating legal ideas to non-legal audiences with different goals, values, and knowledge bases.  Students will explore how to counsel clients, engage with industry, manage media relations, and leverage platforms such as social media to communicate legal concepts in a broadly understandable manner.  The course combines communication theory with practical workshops, role-playing exercises, guest speakers, and case studies.  By the end of the course, students should feel equipped with the comprehensive communication toolkit needed for a modern, dynamic legal practice. » more info


Student Scholarship Workshop

This workshop provides students the opportunity to share their scholarship with other students. Students present their writings and receive feedback from peers and guidance from faculty advisors. » more info

Legal Writing for LLM Students

Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing for International Students

Duke Law School recognizes that LLM students will be writing or analyzing documents in English for US lawyers and clients during their careers. It, therefore, requires as part of the LLM curriculum a one-semester legal analysis, research, and writing course. The course trains LLM students in the process of legal analysis, reasoning, and essential legal research tools and methodologies in American law. The course teaches students to prepare written documents in the style and format appropriate for the audience and purpose, with an emphasis on objective analysis and writing. Lawyers cannot provide effective representation unless they master the necessary research skills. To that end, the legal research component of the course introduces LLM students to core tools and methodologies that will be essential to working with US law.

The course challenges LLM students to write in the direct, succinct style preferred by US lawyers and business people. Students improve their written English through numerous opportunities to review and revise their work. Taught in small sections by faculty who have practiced law and have extensive experience with international lawyers, the course prepares international LLM students not only for law school exams, but more broadly for a transnational career.

Advanced Legal Writing Workshop for LLM Students

In their second semester, LLM students may attend the Advanced Legal Writing Workshop for LLM Students. The Workshop provides international students a closer examination of advanced topics in legal writing. Topics of the Workshop include the fundamentals of contract drafting, preparing briefs, expectations of persuasive writing, an overview of legislative drafting, as well as extensive advanced editing techniques. The Workshop also fortifies understanding of subjects taught during the fall writing course, such as rule extraction and rule synthesis.

Summer Institute for Law, Language and Culture

The Summer Institute for Law, Language and Culture is a four-week intensive course introducing students to legal English, the U.S. legal system, and the law school experience. Through small-group class interaction, encounters with lawyers, judges, and teachers, visits to courtrooms and law firms, and interaction with popular media, students will learn to read and produce good legal writing, to study and understand U.S. law, and to make the best possible use of their U.S. law school experiences. Because the study of law is a language-intensive task, SILLC is designed to increase proficiency in reading and hearing English, to develop confidence and skill in speaking and writing, and to facilitate personal adjustment to the culture of U.S. legal education. Small class size and individual attention from the instructors give students a concentrated and tailored teaching experience. » more info


Prof. Mullem with students


Legal Writing Faculty and Courses