Legal Research and Writing Curriculum
The Legal Research and Writing Curriculum at IIT Chicago-Kent is completed over the course of three years. Follow the links below to read more about the courses taken in each year.
Legal Writing I and Legal Writing II
During the first year, every student takes both Legal Writing I and Legal Writing II, for a total of five credit hours — more hours than are allocated to any other course. In the first semester, students develop the basic skills needed to analyze and explain the law objectively. The semester begins with an intensive series of lectures on the sources of law — including constitutions, statutes, cases, and regulations, and the significance of each in the American system of justice. Second, students examine individual cases to strengthen their ability to analyze decisions and understand both the precedent established by an individual case, and the reasoning behind it. Third, students focus on synthesizing the results of several cases in order to understand larger principles and use a body of precedent to predict how the law will apply in an individual case. These same analytical skills become the foundation of the student's training both in legal writing, and in other courses throughout the curriculum.
The remaining portion of the first semester is devoted to research and writing. Effective legal research is both thorough and efficient. At Chicago-Kent, students learn to use all the tools of legal research, including both standard print texts and computer assisted legal research. In addition, students are encouraged to think of legal research not merely as the use of particular sources, but as a process that requires strategy and planning. Substantial time is devoted to exploring which type of research tasks are most efficient when done in print sources, and which tasks can best be accomplished using computerized sources. Large-group research lectures are conducted by the school's exemplary and well-credentialed library research staff, and are followed up with small-group sessions led by the legal writing professors to focus on specific research strategies.
The writing component of the first semester teaches students to explain their analysis of legal problems in an objective and well organized memorandum which defines the legal issues raised by a client's problems, explains which legal rules will govern the problem, and finally, discusses how those rules will apply to the facts of the client's case. During the first semester, students write three legal memoranda. Following a written evaluation of the first draft and an individual conference, students will re-write each of the first two memos to reflect the critique of the professor.
During the second semester of the first year, students learn advocacy through persuasive legal writing and oral argument. Students write a trial brief and an appellate brief; following a written evaluation of the appellate brief, students re-write the brief. In the same semester, students also participate in the Charles-Evans Hughes Moot Court Competition, in which students make an oral argument based upon their appellate brief.
A variety of teaching methods are used in the first-year legal writing classes, including lecture (which is particularly important during the first several weeks of class, when students must digest a huge amount of information), discussion of exercises or samples of student work, collaborative learning exercises to master and practice legal writing skills, and computer presentations (either of prepared topics or in whole-class drafting or rewriting exercises). Although occasionally useful, traditional socratic dialogue as practiced in doctrinal law courses is generally not appropriate for legal writing classes. Individual student conferences and an invaluable part of the legal writing program, and are often the most effective way of answering student's questions and reinforcing topics covered in class (students are expected to come to individual conferences prepared with specific questions or work samples for the professor to discuss). The ubiquitous use of e-mail at the school further enhances students' access to professors for these purposes.
During the second year, students take two additional courses and receive advanced training in the research analysis, writing, and oral communication skills needed by lawyers.
Legal Writing III
The first of these courses provides an introduction to non-litigation oriented transactional issues and documents, through shorter assignments than are the norm in Legal Writing I and II, and to written and oral communication with colleagues and clients.
Legal Writing IV
This course focuses on legal research and writing in an area chosen by the student, such as environmental law, intellectual property, labor/employment law, civil litigation, or international law. Students are introduced to research resources and techniques in the particular area of focus, as well as to research in administrative materials, international legal materials, and empirical research. Students typically will prepare several legal documents representative of those prepared by lawyers practicing in the specialty area, and will engage in significant discussion of the substantive and procedural law that applies to the focus area.
During the third year, all students must take one seminar of legal research and writing in a selected field of law. Specific criteria apply to these seminars, which are taught by professors who are experts in the field. Students will be required to write an analysis of a complex problem at the level of expertise of a skilled practitioner.