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Legal Writing Conference Provides Tools for Practice

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Miami Law recently hosted a national legal writing conference featuring 17 speakers from law schools around the country. Professor Alyssa Dragnich worked with the Legal Writing Institute to bring the one-day training workshop to the law school campus, where legal writing experts shared best practices and innovations in teaching legal writing, persuasion, and research.

Professor Rosario Lozada Schrier enthusiastically welcomed conference participants to Miami, and noted the increasing challenges of teaching communication skills in law school. Professor Schrier remarked on the Florida Supreme Court's recent amendment to the oath of admission to the Florida Bar, which now requires attorneys to pledge civility to opposing parties and their counsel in all written and oral communications.

Professor Schrier emphasized that first-year legal writing courses give students an opportunity to begin practicing this civility. "We frequently interact with students by providing constructive feedback in class, during office hours, and remotely with email and other tools," she said. "We also require our students to work together as colleagues on many assignments. These interactions give students a preview of legal practice, where civility and professionalism are critical."

Miami Law Professors Pete Nemerovski and Annette Torres each spoke about teaching methods they employ in Legal Communication & Research Skills to prepare students for the demands of practice.

Professor Torres discussed creative pedagogical approaches to help students become comfortable with oral advocacy — a skill they will need in any field of legal practice. As an example, Professor Torres noted that she introduces her students to oral advocacy with non-legal topics, such as "Football vs. Baseball: Which Is America's True National Sport?" Professor Torres explained that the exercises allow her students to lose their fear of public speaking and begin to hone their argument skills in a low-pressure environment. Students are then able to transition with less apprehension to pretrial motion arguments and appellate arguments.

Professor Nemerovski explained that LComm introduces students to the concept of timekeeping, under which students are required to write detailed descriptions of their work that will satisfy clients and billing partners. "Students appreciate this introduction to an important aspect of legal practice," he said. "I know I could have benefitted from some exposure to timekeeping during law school. When I started practicing law in 2003, I remember getting called into the billing partner's office and reprimanded for not doing my timesheets right."

Conference attendees were particularly interested in the exercise, and many are considering adding a similar component to their legal writing offerings.

The law school welcomed the participation of Amber Graham, who supervises law clerks in the Office of the General Counsel for Florida's Eleventh Judicial Circuit. Graham reviews legal memoranda and proposed orders drafted by new law graduates and student interns. She was uniquely positioned to comment on strengths and weaknesses of junior attorneys.

Dean Patricia D. White offered encouraging remarks to the attendees. She discussed the significant change that Miami Law implemented in its first-year legal writing program in 2010, when the law school launched a new full-time faculty model with LComm. Dean White explained that the full-time model gives students broader access to faculty members who are dedicated to helping the students develop critical research, writing and communication skills that will prepare them for practice.

With more than 75 years of combined law practice experience, Miami Law's LComm faculty teach a required first-year course in which students are introduced to the practical skills of effective written analysis, legal research and oral advocacy. Beyond the first year of law school, LComm faculty members also offer courses in client communication, legal persuasion, judicial writing, and editing for lawyers.