One challenge of introducing international LL.M. students to legal writing is coaxing them to evaluate and comment on examples of English writing. This is a necessary practice in my writing course; students look at model answers for format and organization, notice cohesive devices and subject headings, and read examples of strong and weak analysis to compare to their own work. Students also conduct peer reviews, and revise and resubmit drafts of their work, incorporating comments from the professor and their
teaching assistants. So, students should start learning to critique, and to respond to critique, early in the course.
Critique is often daunting to international students, I think for two reasons. First, they do not have enough confidence in their English writing and reading skills to believe they can improve upon any example. Second, they might feel uncomfortable finding fault with a classmate’s work, particularly if that classmate is a lawyer, judge, or other professional in their home country.
When I first introduce my students to the concepts of reading and briefing a case, of Socratic Method, and after they’ve had a chance to watch the clip from The Paper Chase where Professor Kingsfield asks Mr. Hart for the facts of the case, I like to share with them a helpful and humorous piece of advice from my Civil Procedure professor on my first day of law school many years ago.
The advice was: If you’re ever asked for the facts of a case and you’re not quite prepared or need an extra moment, you can always says, “Well, Professor, the plaintiff sued the defendant.”
While offering a nice chuckle and a good strategy in a pinch, it also gives students a useful lexical chunk to solidify in their brains. More importantly, it helps demonstrate to international students the expectation that a more detailed answer needs be provided when a professor asks for the facts of a case. And, if you’re so inclined, it also provides an opportunity to make the distinction between civil law (plaintiff + defendant) and criminal law (government/prosecutor + defendant) cases.