About the Legal Research and Writing Program
To succeed in today’s rapidly changing legal environment, an attorney must be able to communicate effectively and efficiently to a wide variety of audiences. STCL’s Legal Research and Writing Program focuses on teaching students this highly valued skill set.
The Program strives to create practice-ready attorneys who can meet the challenge of providing excellent work in a timely and cost-effective manner. In the students’ first year, full-time, tenured and tenure-track professors teach mandatory legal research and writing courses in a hands-on, small-class setting. Students learn how to think critically about and evaluate every aspect of a legal problem. Through this analysis, they learn how to choose the best research tools for their needs and circumstances and to use them effectively to get the information they seek. In addition, students learn how best to present the information they have found to different audiences in different formats – to attorneys through an oral report or an office memorandum, to clients through a client letter, to adversaries through a pleading, and to judges through a persuasive trial or appellate brief or oral argument.
In subsequent years, students can augment their research and writing skills in numerous ways. Advanced legal research classes, drafting courses, and research paper seminars present opportunities for further study. The Clinical, Advocacy, and Advanced Dispute ResolutionPrograms also include a strong research and writing component as does participation in Law Review or STCL’s other student-run journals.
The unprecedented number of “Best Brief” and “Scribes” awards received for student writing, and the accolades of former students, attest to the vital role the Legal Research and Writing Program plays in STCL’s commitment to providing a truly practice-based legal education.
Legal Research and Writing Courses
Students are required to take Legal Research and Writing I and Legal Research and Writing II in their first year of study. Although these courses are related, each has a different focus.
Legal Research and Writing I introduces students to the ways lawyers think about, research, and write about the law. Students learn how to analyze legal problems and become familiar with the types of legal authority that are likely to govern them. They are taught the best practices for conducting efficient and effective research for relevant cases and statutes in paper and electronic media. Students master the skills needed to define the questions a client’s case presents, to locate the governing law, to interpret that law, and to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of the case with a view to predicting its outcome. They learn how to present their conclusions in a written office memorandum. The memorandum explains the relevant rules of law and uses their application in prior cases to reach an objective assessment of the client’s prospects, which serves as the basis of subsequent advice to the client concerning potential courses of action.
Legal Research and Writing II focuses on advocating for the client’s interests once the client has determined the course of action he or she wishes to pursue. Students learn how to craft persuasive arguments addressed to courts in trial memoranda and appellate briefs. At the same time, they are introduced to additional sources of law such as administrative law and international law and receive instruction in the use of more advanced legal research tools to help them find the authorities to support their persuasive arguments. The course concludes with an oral argument before a faculty-member judge in which each student argues for the position addressed in his or her appellate brief against a student arguing for the other side.
In addition to taking Legal Research and Writing I and II, students must fulfill a substantial writing requirement before graduation. Many students enroll in a two-credit paper seminar to meet this requirement. These seminars, which focus on specialized areas of the law, are small-group classes taught by experts in the field, who may be members of the regular faculty or practitioners appointed to the adjunct faculty. Each seminar requires students to complete a major research paper of publishable quality relating to the topic of the course. The production of a research paper of similar quality through supervised research under the guidance of a faculty member presents a further option. Students can also fulfill their substantial writing requirement through service on one of STCL’s student-edited journals – the Houston College of Law Law Review, Currents: International Trade Law Journal, Corporate Counsel Review, or Texas Journal of Business Law.
Upper Level Courses:
Students can enhance their research and writing skills by enrolling in a variety of elective courses, which are scheduled during the regular semesters or the intersessions between semesters. Many of the skills courses include a significant research and/or writing component. A few of these include Internet Legal Research, Appellate Advocacy (drafting appellate briefs), Civil Pretrial Advocacy (drafting pleadings), and the Transaction Skills courses (drafting contracts, loan agreements, conveyances, and other documents).
Students whose fundamental writing skills require improvement are encouraged to consult the school’s writing specialist, Professor Lisa Tilton McCarthy. After assessing the student’s writing, McCarthy works individually with the student to address specific areas of concern, such as word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, and the organization of ideas.
The Legal Research and Writing Faculty
STCL prides itself on being one of the select law schools in the nation with a tenured legal research and writing faculty. These full-time, research and writing experts teach students the fundamental skills they need to succeed as lawyers. In addition to conducting regularly-scheduled classes, the legal research and writing faculty meets students individually to provide specialized advice. Many of the legal research and writing professors worked as attorneys in private practice, district attorneys’ offices, and government agencies or served as judicial law clerks or teaching fellows before joining the faculty. These experiences enable them to infuse their teaching with a wealth of first-hand, practical experience. The instruction is further enriched by the legal research and writing faculty‘s pursuit of their own scholarly research and writing projects. Their articles appear in leading law reviews and journals.
Scribes and Other “Best Brief” Awards
Houston College of Law holds the national record with five best brief awards in the prestigious American Society of Legal Writers’ Scribes competition. The Society presents this award to the authors of the best written legal brief submitted in a national, moot court advocacy competition during the academic year. To put this achievement in perspective, no other law school in the nation has won more than one. Moreover, in 2012, Houston College of Law advocacy teams took first, second, and third place in the competition, marking the first sweep by a single law school in the competition’s history. Houston College of Law advocacy teams have also won a remarkable number of best brief awards in individual regional and national competitions.
Associate Dean and Director of Advocacy, T. Gerald Treece believes that Houston College of Law’ strong Legal Research and Writing Program is vital to the nationally recognized Advocacy Program. During the second semester of classes, students with extremely strong writing and oral advocacy skills are encouraged by professors to participate in the Advocacy Program where their skills are further honed. Houston College of Law’ program is the most decorated in the U.S. with 116 national advocacy titles and is consistently ranked among the top 10 programs by U.S. News and World Report.
Scribes Awards (links)
International Brief Writing Honors (links)