The First Year

Legal Reasoning, Research, & Writing

Recognizing that language is a lawyer's most important tool, the first year of the legal writing curriculum helps students begin to become experts in working with the language of law. Recognizing that lawyers rank skills in oral and written communication, legal analysis, and legal reasoning as the most important components in the successful practice of the law, the first-year curriculum helps students acquire and develop those skills. Students learn to research, read, analyze, and apply the law. They practice with the methods needed to effectively communicate and persuade: how to create and test arguments, how to organize a legal document, how to draft and revise for an audience.

Students are assigned to small sections of about 25 students each for the two legal writing courses in the first-year curriculum. Professors who teach the curriculum work closely with students throughout the writing process, providing individual feedback on drafts and outlines through written comments and writing conferences.

The required legal writing curriculum at Thomas Jefferson totals seven units in the first year plus completion of an upper-level writing requirement. The core writing course, Legal Writing I, is taught by tenured and tenure-track professors augmented as needed by highly qualified visting professors or TJSL Faculty Fellows. The first-year advocacy course, Legal Writing II, is taught by a combination of full-time faculty and experienced practitioners. After the first year, students continue to develop lawyering skills and methods through advanced work in specific areas of the students' interest.

Legal Writing I

In Legal Writing I, students are introduced to the basic lawyering skills used by practicing attorneys. All first-year students take Legal Writing I, a four-unit course, in their first semester. Students are assigned to small sections of about 25 students each. In this course, students learn to read, brief, and analyze different sources of the rules of law, particularly case law made by judges and statutory law made by legislatures. Students learn how to research in primary and secondary sources, both through print and online sources. Students learn how to effectively organize a typical written document, most often an interoffice memo, and how to develop and evaluate the arguments that could be made about the application of a particular rule to a client's legal problem. They learn to draft and revise an interoffice memo predicting the outcome or answering a supervisor's questions.

Second- or third-year teaching assistants are available to first-year students through Legal Writing I. The teaching assistants are available to help guide students through their early assignments, particularly in research, but they also can provide advice and assistance with other challenges of the first year.

Legal Writing II

The second required course in the legal writing curriculum is Legal Writing II, usually taken in the second semester. In Legal Writing II, a three-unit course, students deepen their understanding and practice their use of the basic lawyering skills acquired in the first semester. They apply those skills to the task of persuasive written and oral advocacy, following a client's lawsuit from the trial court to the appellate court. In this course, students work with experienced faculty, including active practitioners, to conduct research, craft thoughtful arguments, draft and revise trial court and appellate briefs, and prepare to present a case in oral argument before a panel of moot court judges. Following a client's legal problem from trial to appellate court helps students grasp procedural as well as substantive issues, learn to research more broadly and more thoroughly, and experiment with different persuasive methods as the lawsuit progresses.

Legal Research

In the first year, legal research is incorporated within the curriculum of both Legal Writing I and Legal Writing II. Students learn to use legal research sources, both print and online. Emphasis is placed on learning efficient techniques and effective strategies for legal research within the context of a particular assignment.