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

Professor Jo Ann Ragazzo teaches this course which 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

Professor Jeremy Mullem teaches this two-credit course which 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

Professors Jeremy Mullem, Rebecca Rich, Sarah C. W. Baker, and Emily Strauss each teach sections of this course in different semesters.  In the 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

Professor Joan Magat teaches this two-credit course, which 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: Electronic Discovery

Professor Sarah Powell and Professor Rebecca Rich each teach a section of this advanced writing seminar that helps prepare students for the types of writing that are common to all civil litigation, while introducing them to electronic discovery. Writing assignments will all surround one hypothetical federal lawsuit that raises electronic discovery issues that arise in most civil litigation. Students will be associates in a hypothetical law firm and will handle the electronic discovery aspects of the firm’s defense of the lawsuit. » more info

Writing: Federal Litigation

Professor Sarah C. W. Baker teaches this introduction to several different types of persuasive writing used in federal litigation. The course will focus on one hypothetical matter involving federal law. » more info

Evidence in Practice

Professor Diane Reeves teaches this advanced writing seminar, which gives students practical experience in dealing with evidentiary issues in a broad range of hypothetical legal situations based upon real cases. Assignments and class discussions will focus on identifying and researching issues that arise in different procedural settings, analyzing them in writing, and presenting analysis orally. » more info

Legal Writing in the Context of a Complex Criminal Trial

Professor Diane Reeves, a former special deputy attorney general for the state of North Carolina, teaches this writing intensive exploration of complex criminal litigation. » more info

Writing in Civil Practice: Sport Arbitration

Professor Casandra Thomson teaches this advanced writing seminar that helps prepare students for the types of writing that are common to all civil litigation, while introducing them to oral and written advocacy in an arbitral setting. As access to courts becomes increasingly difficult due to overcrowding and budgetary constraints, and given the limited number of cases that make it to trial due to the cost of litigation, familiarity with the process of litigating in an alternative forum is critical for today's practitioners. Assignments will arise from a hypothetical arbitration over the proper interpretation of a provision in a collective bargaining agreement between a sports organization and its players' union. » 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 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 students in US-style reasoning and analysis, preparing them for law school exams. It teaches them how to locate US law in hard copy and electronic resources. It challenges them 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 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 gives international students additional instruction on US-style writing. Topics of the workshop include standards for academic research papers, letters, and contracts.

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