Every year, LLM (Masters of Law) applicants from various parts of the world struggle to make a complex decision: What is the best LLM program for me? This decision involves asking numerous complex questions about affordability, location, and a law school’s curriculum. Most often, however, LLM applicants forget to ask the most important questions: (1) what do lawyers do, and (2) which program will teach me or help me to improve to do what lawyers do?
As a lawyer and having taught at the LLM program at Case Western Reserve University School of Law for the past five years, I often find that LLM applicants do not know or forget what it is that lawyers really do. Lawyers solve problems and lawyers write about how to solve problems. Most LLM applicants may focus their search for a program that teaches them how to solve a specific legal problem, say intellectual property law or international business. Yet, this is only one side of the coin. LLM applicants should also look for a program with an excellent legal research and writing curriculum.
In weighing your options, you should look for LLM legal research and writing programs that have the following features: (1) electronic database research and citation training, (2) individualized writing workshops, (3) an approachable writing instructor or writing center, (4) instruction on how to research and write legal briefs or memos, and (5) teachings on how to research and write an academic legal research paper.
Electronic database research training involves training in Lexis and Westlaw. Almost all law schools have an agreement with both Lexis and Westlaw for the companies to provide free research training for their students at the law school and free access to both online research databases while the student is in law school. The program should also teach students how to properly cite legal documents. Citations teach student to pay attention to detail, which is a critical skill as a lawyer.
Individualized workshops are important simply because most LLM programs will be composed of students from various countries. The research and writing center should be able to make suggestions to a student based on individual need. A student from Saudi Arabia will have different writing concerns than a student from Thailand, and LLM legal writing instructors should tailor their workshops accordingly. This helps when the writing instructor or writing center is approachable. The student should be able to ask the instructor questions about research and writing whenever there is one.
An LLM writing program should also teach both the academic legal research paper and the legal brief. Most schools only teach one or the other. Yet, each is a different genre of legal writing that requires a different skill to master. The academic research paper teaches students how to be a scholar, which is an ongoing role tied to the responsibility of an attorney to engage in a dialogue about the law. The legal brief, on the other hand, teaches students how to make arguments, support arguments with relevant authorities, how to structure arguments, how to tell persuasive stories, and others. The legal brief is also the best method to train students to use the CRAC system, the standard rhetorical structure for U.S. legal writing, including law school exams.
Before making a final decision, don’t forget that lawyers are writers, and writing is perhaps the most important skill you must learn as a lawyer.
Rafael Dean Brown, Instructor, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
LLM in U.S. and Global Legal Studies Program. www.case.edu