Looking Back on BU’s Lawyering Course

This week I completed the final component of BU Law’s 1L Lawyering Skills course: The Esdaile Moot Court. It feels great to be done and now all that’s left is a final, celebratory class meeting next week.

I feel like Lawyering has crammed a lot into the academic year, but it also feels like the time has flown by. Such a cliché, but it’s true.

This past year I’ve been able to practice (1) writing research memos like those circulated in law offices, (2) conducting research into an open-ended topic using online legal databases, (3) interviewing and advising clients about legal issues, (4) negotiating and drafting a purchase and sale agreement, (5) researching and writing a motion to dismiss, (6) researching and writing an appellate brief, (7) presenting an oral argument before a 3-judge appeals court, and (8) learning technical citation skills useful for legal writing and any of BU’s law publications. We also made visits to courtrooms around the area to hear motions argued by practicing attorneys, which put our own work into perspective.

Legal-Writing-2The writing that BU’s Lawyering program requires trains you in the neutral writing useful for interoffice memoranda as well as persuasive writing useful for advocating for a client in court. Personally I found the persuasive writing came more naturally. The neutral writing requires that you flatly state an issue, cite to any relevant case law, and identify both sides of any relevant issues so that a more senior lawyer in a firm can understand a client’s needs holistically. I had anticipated that it would feel simpler than persuasive writing, but in fact it challenged me more.

Without a side to advocate for, it can be difficult to accurately identify all of the potential issues relevant to a legal topic. If you feel sympathetic for the paralyzed climber who has come to you after falling on a wealthy landowner’s property, your memo may reflect that by omitting—consciously or not—potential facts and legal rules that might benefit the landowner who is trying to avoid liability for your client’s fall.

The point of this type of writing, however, is to inform your more senior colleagues and, most importantly, your client about the relative strengths and weaknesses of their potential case. A client may be seriously in need of some sort of relief and be keen on suing, but as a lawyer your responsibility is to inform him or her about all the relevant factors at play. In the scenario we were given, for instance, the landowner likely had immunity from our client’s suit due to a statute shielding landowners from liability who opened their land to the public free of charge.

Looking back, I see a dozen things I would have done differently in my memo, but part of Lawyering is getting a chance to make mistakes and learn in a controlled environment, before you’re out at a firm or and office.

The persuasive writing we completed this spring semester came more naturally. While you may not deny or mischaracterize law moot courtroomor facts in persuasive writing, the necessity to advocate for your gives you a clear vision of how to structure your arguments to best suit your client’s needs. For the storytellers out there, this form of legal writing will feel like second nature. Did the federal agent desperately rummage through your client’s private trash for evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment? Or was your client the U.S. government completely justified in collecting some papers from near the defendant’s home that looked abandoned and just happened to end up being incredibly incriminating?

The culmination of this semester of persuasive writing was a moot court experience judged by two law students and an alumnae/us. After memorizing the cases pertinent to your brief, anticipating the counterarguments of your opposing counsel, and working with your co-counsel to articulate the best argument for your client, you get to present in a 10-minute oral argument. I personally have no fear of public speaking, having been a classroom teacher and coach for the past several years, but this type of performance was totally different.

appellate cartoonThe judges were not shy about interjecting when they had a question. Most challenging was that, even though you have an outline with all of your arguments sketched out in order, the judges often ask questions that force you to skip ahead to a topic you haven’t introduced yet. It may seem wrong to skip over what you’ve prepared and have to circle back, but ultimately you are there to convince the judges. If they ask a question, you will do better to answer it right then and there. Telling them, “I’ll get to that in a minute,” can come off as rude, and they’ll be distracted during the rest of your planned-out speech until you get to the part where the answer they wanted comes up!

Overall, the entire Lawyering program definitely felt like a liiiitttlle bit extra to cram in with all the doctrine I was trying to absorb in my foundational courses, but it has certainly left me feeling prepared for my internship this summer and for my future career as an attorney.

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