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The Law School’s legal research and writing program gives all students a taste of what it's like to prepare a case and argue before a panel of judges.
“One thing that we are really proud of with our program here is that we get such great feedback from law firms, judges and other legal employers about the skills that our students come out with,” said Professor D. Ruth Buck, the co-director of the legal research and writing program. “That’s been really gratifying to everyone: to us, the students and the employers.”
In Legal Research and Writing, a required first-year course, the students cover fundamental legal research techniques, two styles of legal writing, and oral advocacy.
In the fall semester, students complete various research and citation exercises and write three office memoranda of increasing length and complexity.
In the spring, students write an appellate brief and present an oral argument before a panel of stand-in judges made up of alumni, faculty and Dillard Fellows.
This panel of judges — complete with robes and a mock courtroom — has already received the students' brief, and its members are versed in the topic and ready to ask questions of the student.
By the time the students appear before the panel, they have been well-prepared through the course work and practice arguments in class. Though some are always nervous, it’s an experience nearly all students find gratifying, Buck said.
Since each student appears before a panel of three judges, the program draws heavily on the expertise of both the Dillard Fellows — second- and third-year students tapped to help the first-years with their legal writing and oral advocacy skills — and of alumni who return to the Law School each year to participate.
“I think a very rewarding part of the program is that we have tremendous involvement from our alumni,” Buck said. “In the fall, right before Christmas, we send out a letter inviting alums to come back and judge the oral arguments. We get a great response, because they love to do this. They love to come back to the law school; they love to interact with the students. And certainly the students find it gratifying to get a 'real-world flavor' of what practicing law is about.”
Second- and third-year law students may apply for a fellowship in the Dillard Fellow Program, an integral part of the course in legal research and writing. Dillard Fellows work closely with the legal writing faculty and with first-year students, reviewing and commenting on papers, helping judge the oral arguments, and generally assisting students with their research and writing needs.