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Legal Research and Writing

Course Overview

All first-year students participate in a Legal Research and Writing course that involves training in legal research, legal writing, legal reasoning and analysis, and oral advocacy. Experienced full-time faculty, or the equivalent, teach both the legal research and the legal writing components of the course. 

UK Law’s unique way of grouping first-year students for Legal Research and Writing both maximizes interaction between the students and their professors and pays tribute to exemplary lawyers. First-year students are grouped into Legal Research and Writing Clubs, and each club is named after a distinguished lawyer, most of whom are Kentuckians and several of whom are UK Law alumni. The clubs are small (between twelve and twenty students), which ensures individualized instruction and feedback from the professors and allows for substantial interaction with professors and peers inside and outside of class. 

Students also have the opportunity to interact with upper-level students, local practitioners and judges during panels and simulations throughout the year. These panels and simulations provide students context for some of their assignments.  They also give students the opportunity to see how they will use the skills they are learning in the Legal Research and Writing course in their careers. 

The course meets approximately twice per week over the span of the entire year. Students receive four hours of academic credit for successfully completing the course. The academic credit is awarded in the spring. 


Fall Semester

In the fall semester, students learn how to approach basic research tasks and how to use a variety of print and electronic resources for performing research. The students learn how to analyze the results of their research, how to predict an outcome for a legal problem based on their research, and how to convey their prediction to a supervising attorney in a manner that meets the needs of a law-trained reader. The students are also introduced to client correspondence and professional e-mail as alternative methods of conveying their predicted result. 

Students learn these skills through in-class exercises and discussion, and they practice these skills through problem-based research and writing assignments. The research assignments consist of exercises that focus on creating research plans; understanding the hierarchy of authority; and finding statutes, cases, and secondary sources using both print and electronic resources. In terms of writing assignments, students write two office memoranda and a professional e-mail. The first office memorandum is a “closed universe” assignment in which the assigning materials contain the authorities that the students will need to predict an outcome for the legal problem. The second is an “open universe” assignment for which the students conduct all the research independently. Throughout the semester, the students have multiple opportunities to receive written and oral feedback from and conference with their professors on their progress. The students rewrite each of their assignments, which allows the students to show how they have incorporated the feedback into the assignment and to receive critique regarding whether they have understood and adjusted their work in light of the feedback. 


Spring Semester

In the spring semester, the focus shifts from predicting the outcome to a legal problem to advocating for a particular result. The students use many of the techniques for effective legal writing from the fall, and they learn techniques that lawyers use in trying to persuade a judge to rule in their client’s favor. 

The primary assignment for the semester is to conduct the research for and write a brief to an appellate court. The students receive instruction on persuasive writing as well as oral and written feedback on their research plans and draft briefs. After submitting a draft brief and conferencing with their professors, the students rewrite their briefs. The students then have the opportunity to make a mock oral argument before a panel of judges based on the final brief. 

The semester culminates in an appellate advocacy tournament and recognition of the top brief writers. The top advocates from each club compete in a single elimination tournament that is held in the Fayette County District Courthouse. The top advocates make their oral arguments before local judges, practitioners, and law faculty. The judges select the Best Oral Advocate for the Appellant and the Best Oral Advocate for the Appellate. The winners of these honors and the winners of the Best Brief for Appellant and Best Brief for Appellate are announced at the Legal Writing/Litigation Skills Banquet in April.


Upper Level Courses

UK Law offers students opportunities to further refine and practice their legal research and legal writing and analysis skills after their first year. For example, students can take classes in areas such as advanced legal research, legal drafting, civil pre-trial litigation, and appellate advocacy. UK Law also offers a number of seminars that give students the opportunity to research and write a scholarly article. Finally, students can also participate in extra-curricular activities such as the Kentucky Law Journal, the Kentucky Journal for Equine, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Law, and moot court. 

For more information on legal writing and research at UK Law, please contact one of the following: 

Melissa N. Henke, Assistant Professor, Director of Legal Research and Writing Program 

James M. Donovan, Library Director and James and Mary Lassiter Associate Professor of Law

Below are helpful links to additional information about Legal Writing and Research at UK Law.