Legal Research and Writing Program
The Duquesne University School of Law is serious about providing a top-notch legal research and writing program and graduating well-trained students.
Professor Jan M. Levine, a nationally-known expert in the field, directs Duquesne's Legal Research and Writing Program. Under Professor Levine's leadership, the school has implemented a comprehensive curriculum for required legal research and writing courses.
The program is based in the Alfred and Bridget Peláez Writing Center in the University's law library. The center, named after one of Duquesne's senior faculty members, Professor Al Peláez, and his late wife, Bridget, was made possible through a generous donation from a law alumnus who wishes to remain anonymous.
Law school instruction is founded on the idea of teaching each student to "think like a lawyer." In legal research and writing courses, students learn the basics of "writing and speaking like a lawyer." As students acquire these communication skills, legal research and writing professors offer them intensive individual feedback. Students then practice and hone these skills for the rest of their careers in law school examinations, journal writing, and all of their law-related jobs.
“Duquesne’s writing program is designed to provide students with the fundamental writing skills that all lawyers need,” said Levine. “Our students appreciate that lawyers are professional writers, preparing transactional and litigation documents, of course, but also writing correspondence and office memoranda, drafting legislation and regulations, crafting speeches, and playing a critical role in the creation of business documents and government papers. Any lawyer knows that if you can’t write effectively, you won’t be successful.”
Levine lists three keys to an effective writing program: “First, you must have dedicated students willing to do far more writing than they’ve ever had to do before. As I always tell my students, the average lawyer writes more than Stephen King; he or she just won’t make as much money! Second, you need a small student-to-teacher ratio, because students need individual guidance, and the best way to provide that is to have the faculty critique each student’s work and then meet with the writer for an individual conference, leading to a revision. Third, classes should be discussion-based seminars, in which students and faculty engage in a open dialogue about legal analysis and the structure of the documents, and in which there is no ‘hiding the ball’ about the material at hand.”
During the summer before school begins, first-year law students are sent excerpts from the writing and research texts, so they can "hit the ground running" for the first week of the course, the focus of an expanded week-long law school orientation program starting in August.
The fall semester of the legal research and writing course introduces the tools and techniques that are essential to law practice and legal scholarship: legal analysis, research using print sources and computers, and objective writing.
The progression of hands-on assignments has been planned very carefully. Students are expected to make mistakes and to learn from their mistakes, but not repeat them. The successive assignments become increasingly complex and require repeated practice of earlier techniques as the students acquire new skills, in a process that has been described as a recursive loop.
In the spring semester, students address additional research skills and learn the techniques of persuasive writing and oral advocacy via an appellate advocacy assignment.
“The spring semester’s moot court program will give the students their first opportunity to write, talk, look, and act like real lawyers,” Levine said. “For most students, the process of writing an appellate brief and delivering an oral argument is a tremendous experience, and probably the capstone of the first year of law school."