Why do people write?
If you’re like most, writing is probably a last resort. Or, you’re using it to avoid direct contact with someone. Either way, writing is a means of managing and learning as much as communicating. As a writer, you’re often collecting and organizing a staggering volume of thoughts, struggling to make sense of your world and pinpoint what’s relevant and important. You’re searching for a voice, to capture and clarify experience…and truly make it your own. In the end, your writing is about persuading as much as conveying. And you can only hope that your writing established your authority, revealed a path, and left a record for others to follow.
Legal writing is no different. On shows like Law and Order, the drama is predicated on discovery and oral arguments. In reality, cases are often built by harried attorneys cursing at their laptops with files and Post-its strewn across their credenzas. In law, letters, memos, motions, briefs, and contracts are the vehicles that drive the process. And attorneys must master the language of law, which is driven by facts, rules and precedents. This language prizes accuracy, precision, logic, formality, and clarity. And it relies on complex sentence structures and archaic legalese to address issues that are technically and philosophically ambiguous.
If you want to be a lawyer, let alone a judge, educator, or (gasp) a legislator, you must be capable of performing research and analysis and writing clearly, succinctly, and persuasively. So which law schools best prepare students to do that? As part of its 2015 law school rankings, U.S. News & World Report ranked specialty tracks like legal writing. Unlike its overall ranking, which weighs criteria like placement rates, LSAT scores, and assessments from law school deans, tenured faculty, lawyers, and judges, U.S. News calculates its specialty rankings strictly from votes submitted by legal scholars, with each voter able to nominate up to 15 schools. Based on the number of votes cast for particular schools, here is U.S. News’ ranking of the top 10 law schools for legal writing:
(See next page for rankings of the top legal writing programs)