Today marked the last day of writing class for second-semester Transnational Legal Practice students. They have worked tremendously hard, diligently outlining, revising and editing memoranda and short motions. They have practiced and produced a lot of writing in a few short weeks. I wanted to end the semester on a thoughtful note, to put these exercises in some kind of context. I chose pens.
My civil procedure professor once advised our class that each of us should keep a nice pen on our desk just for the purpose of signing our name, as a reminder that our signatures as lawyers have power and value. I remember telling myself that if I ever taught legal writing, I would pass on that advice. Today, I got to do that.
I presented each student with a red-ink pen, as well as a black-ink pen which had our St. John’s University name on it. I told each student that whenever they finished writing something, they should ask themselves a question, “Is this my best work?” If the answer is “no,” they should pick up the red pen. If the answer is “yes,” only then should they pick up the black pen and put their name on the paper. The documents they write and sign will affect other people, and that is why we strive to write thoughtfully and well.
Of course, one student immediately piped up that the red pen would wear out a lot faster than the black one. We all laughed and agreed, and each student applauded the others as they stepped up to receive their pens. It turned into a kind of graduation ceremony, which was nice, and I think they were able to realize the value in writing practice.