Mercer's Legal Writing Curriculum draws on best practices from learning theory and other disciplines. Mercer faculty members continue to explore and refine the most effective ways to teach legal writing and research. Here are some of the key characteristics of Mercer's approach to teaching:
1. We've identified the most important legal research, reasoning, and writing skills needed by lawyers so we can be sure the curriculum introduces them at the right time and then covers them thoroughly and effectively. As a result, the curriculum provides students with many opportunities to practice the skills of researching legal issues, formulating rules from authority, synthesizing rules from multiple authorities, selecting organizational frameworks, using appropriate forms of legal reasoning, and communicating clearly and effectively.
2. Because it's impossible to write well without thinking well, we emphasize understanding the kinds of rules, the forms of reasoning, and the structural decisions common to professional legal writing. We teach students that the early stages of the writing process are a means of thinking through and evaluating a problem.
3. We teach the core legal writing courses in the second and third semesters. That way, students have a chance to adjust to law study before they tackle the important substantive material of the core writing courses.
4. In the first semester of law school, we provide students with introductory work on how to conduct legal research, assess legal authority, reason about legal issues, and organize legal communication. Students prepare for the core writing courses by taking Legal Analysis and Introduction to Legal Research in the first semester. This first-semester introduction prepares students to enter the core legal writing courses with an understanding of the basic concepts.
5. We draw on different kinds of teaching and mentoring strengths at appropriate stages in the curriculum. Tenured and tenure-track professors with a long-time commitment to the field teach the core writing courses; student mentors are available in the introductory first semester; small writing groups using peer feedback and reader-response techniques are introduced in the second and third years; and practitioners teach some upper-level drafting courses.
6. We teach writing as a constructive process with different goals at different stages. We comment and hold conferences on early drafts so we can help students learn to revise and strengthen their organization and content. In later writing stages, we focus on the conventions of particular kinds of documents and the technical requirements expected of formal legal writing.
7. Research teaching is process-centered too. We focus on teaching students how to devise a research plan and how to adjust that plan according to their results at each stage of the process. Since lawyers must be life-long learners, our goal is to help students develop both the confidence and the ability to know how to efficiently find the law on any subject.
8. Drawing on principles of learning theory, we postpone focus on citation format and writing mechanics, including grammar and punctuation, until students have become familiar with the thinking and reasoning methods of their new discourse community. People entering a new discipline must adjust to new thought processes and sources of authority. Once they become more comfortable with their new discipline, they are better able to focus on technical requirements and to refine existing skills.
9. We fully integrate electronic and print research instruction to better teach the relationship of these research methods. Students have many opportunities to practice using a wide range of legal and law-related resources.
10. Mercer students complete more credits and more semesters of legal writing and research than do students at most other law schools. Mercer requires eight credit hours of legal research and writing in the first two years plus a two-credit seminar in the third year. In addition, most students choose to take one or more of our popular upper-division electives.
11. The Certificate in Advanced Legal Writing, Research, and Drafting provides the most thorough legal writing and research course of study available. In addition to their first three semesters of required writing courses, certificate students (1) complete two semesters as a member of an Advanced Writing Group, (2) take an advanced research course, (3) take an advanced drafting or writing course, (4) prepare a writing portfolio, and (5) pass a grammar and style competency examination.
12. Because we understand that the needs of students, graduates, and the legal profession are always changing, we continuously assess our overall curriculum and the individual courses. To keep pace with the changing requirements of law practice, we keep up with alumni and employers, and we adjust our courses and curriculum when needed.