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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 teach both the legal research and the legal writing components of the course. 

Course section size is small (usually 14 to 20 students), which maximizes interaction between the students and their professors. It also ensures individualized instruction and feedback from the professors and allows for substantial interaction with professors and peers inside and outside of class. In the spring, students also have the opportunity to interact with upper-level students and hear from lawyers and judges. These opportunities provide students context for some of their assignments. Indeed, there are opportunities throughout the year for students to appreciate how they will use the skills they are learning and practicing in the Legal Research and Writing course in their legal 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. 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 further guidance regarding whether they have understood and adjusted their work in light of the feedback. The opportunity for ongoing practice and repeat access to formative feedback is key to student growth and progress. 

 

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 initial briefs. After submitting an initial 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" (the professor and upper-level students) based on the final brief.

 

Upper Level Courses

UK Rosenberg 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, advanced legal writing, 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 co-curricular activities such as the Kentucky Law Journal, the Kentucky Journal for Equine, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Law, the Moot Court Board, and the Trial Advocacy Board. 

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

Melissa N. Henke, Associate 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.