About the Legal Writing Academy
Making Practical Legal Writing Instruction Pervasive in the Law School Curriculum
“Great Lawyers are Great Writers” is the University of Ottawa Legal Writing Academy’s slogan.
We integrate practical writing instruction throughout all three years of legal study. Students gain experience with real-life writing demands through credited writing courses within the formal curriculum, module units integrated into first-year and upper-year substantive courses, a workshop series open to all students, and peer-mentoring sessions. Academy professors include the founders and experienced lawyers with a passion for writing and writing pedagogy.
Experiential learning drives every component of the Academy. We use real life writing tasks, combined with personalized and frequent feedback and mentoring, and presentations by practitioner experts. We emphasize student self-reflection, goal setting, and life-long learning strategies.
Writing Modules - The Content Expert And Writing Expert Team
We integrate writing modules into substantive law course. Our legal writing professors duplicate a realistic legal problem based on material supplied by the professor teaching the substantive law course. The content expert professor sets the knowledge-based learning goals and the writing professor sets the legal writing goals. Students learn the law as they would on the job, by writing a predictive legal memo, client advice letter, persuasive policy brief, factum, or brief to the court. The writing professors teach the ins and outs of writing effective predictive and persuasive documents. The writing module includes a class on self-editing and a reflective writer’s note capturing the student’s learning and new writing strategies.
Modules and Workshops for First-Year Students
We complement the regular legal writing instruction students receive in first-year criminal or torts law seminars with writing modules and workshop designed especially for first-year students. In the very first days of law school, students write their first memo to a Law Society Bencher on a professional responsibility problem. Within days, all student gets personal feedback on their writing that they then use to set personal writing goals for the year. Our writing experts follow-up with workshops and modules on How to Read A Case Like an Expert; Writing for the Legal Reader; Think Like a Lawyer – Write Like a Pro; Advise the Client, Persuade the Court (Predictive versus Persuasive Writing), and How to Edit Your Own Work. In the January term the students return to their writing goals in a module on writing client advice letters.
Interactive On-Line Learning
Pointfirstwriting.com helps us interleave legal writing instruction as modules in substantive upper-year law courses and for assignments in legal writing seminars. The modules support a blended learning approach combining face-to-face class room work with online instruction and activities. The online modules also provide a stand-alone, self-study resource that law students and graduates use during internships, pro bono activities, summer jobs, and as articling students and new associates in law firms.
Current students and practicing lawyers can home in on specific sub-skills when they need them and learn at their own pace. The website’s 24/7 availability lets users access module components anytime they write, whether for an assignment or an employer.
Legal Memos Made Easy doubles as a resource for writing predictive legal memos and developing targeted skills like writing strong introductions, clear issue statements, and well-organized and complete facts. Professors and students can start anywhere and use all or part of the module. Getting Ready to Write helps students organize research for any legal document Crafting the Memo’s Parts gives more in-depth instruction on specific memo components. Students can complete interactive online exercises and receive immediate feedback in the form of sample answers, and a writing mentor’s comments on rewrites. Two Sample Memos, based on real-life narratives, create a writer-mentor experience though embedded text, audio and video “Practice Tips” Each memo has a background story presented through either a series of lawyer-client emails or a brief audio interview. In the Practice Tips, Anna, a summer student (Hopper v Summervale), and Ben, a first-year associate (Bradley v Tech World), explain their writing choices and experienced lawyer-mentors comment on the novice legal writer’s work, answer often-asked questions, and elaborate on memo elements.
Edit Your Own Work demonstrates a practical, five-layered approach to editing any legal document. Each layer concentrates on a different editing task to keep students from becoming overwhelmed by editing everything all at once and to maximize editing power. Layers start with a brief overview and short exercises that students use to self-diagnose their skills level. We then describe and demonstrate editing strategies pre-tested by our students. As they go through the layers, students construct a personal editing checklist that they can modify in the future as they master different editing steps.
Future modules will cover Point-First Writing, Factums, Opinion Letters, and Policy Briefs.
Upper-Year Legal Writing Seminars
We offer multiple sections of several upper-year writing courses. All the seminars have limited enrollment to ensure intensive feedback.
4.1 CML 4307 Write with Purpose: Essential Skills for Lawyers prepares students for the practical writing tasks relevant to any legal career. Students practice writing legal documents with effective analysis, clarity, style, correct grammar, and cultural and gender sensitivity. They learn to write sharp, clear prose, edit their own and others’ writing, and become more proficient and efficient at composing and organizing any legal document.
4.2 CML 3174 Dean’s Research and Writing Fellows: Students develop effective legal research strategies and improve their professional writing by completing a realistic research problem designed by a practicing lawyer. The course reinforces key legal research competencies, and offers advanced instruction in the topic. Students engage leadership skills as they lead first-year students in the basic Legal Research course. Students must apply for the fall or winter term section in the preceding spring.
4.3 CML 4113 Legal Writing Portfolio and Leadership: Students with excellent writing and interpersonal skills produce high-quality legal writing to showcase to future employers. Students learn self-editing and peer mentoring skills. Students who demonstrate outstanding writing and interpersonal skills are eligible to become paid Legal Writing Academy Peer Mentors during the academic year. Students must apply in the preceding spring for a Fall, January term, or May intensive section.
4.4 CML 4113 Social Justice: Students develop knowledge and legal writing skills in a social justice context. They learn about writing challenges and choices writing persuasively on social justice issues. Students pick a social justice writing project of practical use to the community, a non-governmental organization, a charity, a government entity, or a vulnerable group. The final assignment is a legal writing project aimed at a social justice goal that students can showcase with organizations they might wish to work with in the future.
4.5 CML 4113 Legal Memos Made Easy: Online Summer Course. Students work at their own pace to write and edit a legal memo. Course assignments are designed to take approximately five hours a week to ensure the course is compatible with a student’s full time summer job. Students complete online interim assignments supported and guided by digital resources and teaching assistants from the Legal Writing Academy’s Leader’s program. Before completing the final memo, the Professor holds an editing workshop and meets individually with each student.
Writing Conferences with Writing Leaders
Writing conferences support the Legal Writing Academy's goal of developing strong legal writers across the law school curriculum. Students can sign up for individualized writing conferences with a Writing Leader. Legal Writing Academy Writing Leaders are upper-year law students with strong legal writing and analysis skills, trained to help other students become better writers. Leaders don't spell-check, grammar-check, cite-check, edit, proofread, or teach other students how to analyze substantive legal issues. Rather, Writing Leaders help other students develop strategies to recognize, correct, and avoid global writing problems. These strategies include:
- teaching students to be their own best editors
- identifying students' specific writing strengths and challenges
- making suggestions for improvement
- providing feedback on specific writing assignment
- offering a reader's response to students' written work
- discussing different rhetorical choices and approaches
- advising on issues of clarity, style, and argument structure
- guiding students in becoming skilled and critical readers of their own writing.