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An eight-year effort to improve student instruction and to gain more institutional prestige in the field of legal writing has resulted in national recognition for the University of Wyoming College of Law.
UW’s law school tied with Brooklyn Law School for 14th in the nation in the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking of legal writing programs. The ratings were released last week.
“This ranking highlights the fact that UW law students are graduating with one of the most important skills they need to succeed in the practice of law,” says Jacquelyn Bridgeman, interim dean of the university’s College of Law. “We have dedicated many resources to developing a cutting-edge legal writing program, and it’s great to see those efforts recognized at the national level.”
The U.S. News & World Report rankings of professional schools, including law schools, are based on expert opinions about program excellence and statistical indicators that measure the quality of a school’s faculty, research and students. U.S. News also ranks a limited number of specialty programs within law schools, such as legal writing programs. The magazine’s legal writing program rankings are based on written surveys sent to legal writing program directors around the country.
In 2006, UW’s College of Law faculty and administration decided they wanted to substantially increase their efforts to train students in effective legal writing and to become a major player in the academic field of legal writing, says Professor Michael Smith, the college’s director of legal writing. Smith was hired that year, and a second tenure-track faculty member with expertise in legal writing, Ken Chestek, came aboard in 2012. Both Smith and Chestek came to the College of Law with national reputations as excellent teachers and scholars in written advocacy and as experts in legal writing curriculum design.
According to Smith, the top-15 national ranking is a result of the law school’s effort to improve legal writing both as a course of study within the college and as a discipline of academic exploration. More specifically, Smith attributes the national recognition to the following:
-- The College of Law’s hiring of two nationally recognized leaders in the field of legal writing.
-- The college’s decision to attract top talent by hiring its legal writing teachers as tenured or tenure-track faculty members, “a sadly rare phenomenon among law schools across the country.”
-- The college’s support to create a cutting-edge legal writing curriculum, both in terms of the required first-year writing courses and upper-level legal writing elective courses.
-- The college’s support of including writing instruction in many other courses across the law school curriculum, a curricular approach that gives students additional writing opportunities in many different substantive contexts.
-- The college’s support of small class sizes in legal writing sections to allow instructors to give more attention to individual students.
-- The college’s support in 2012 to create the Center for the Study of Written Advocacy, which is the first scholarly center in the country designed to facilitate and promote empirical and interdisciplinary scholarship on written legal advocacy.
-- The college’s research support that funds the scholarship and national presentations Smith and Chestek continue to produce in the field of written advocacy.
-- The college’s sponsorship of continuing legal education events on legal writing and advocacy for practicing lawyers and judges in Wyoming and Colorado.
“Lawyers, law firms and judges consistently rank writing as one of the most important skills, if not the most important skill, for the practice of law. Despite that, many law schools do not consider legal writing instruction an important part of a law school’s curriculum,” Smith says. “We’re proud to say that that is not the case at UW. UW’s law school not only takes legal writing instruction very seriously; UW’s legal writing program is actually forging the future of the discipline itself.”