Panel of judges share wisdom and top tips for legal writing to law students

WMU-Cooley Law School students recently had the opportunity to participate in an exclusive roundtable with local judges. On Friday, Nov. 13, the Tampa Bay campus’s Student Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and Legal Writing Department co-sponsored a judicial roundtable entitled “Professionalism and Ethics in Legal Research and Writing.” The event was aimed at reinforcing the importance of professionalism in persuasive legal writing.

Judge David Denkin, Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, speaks to law students during WMU-Cooley Tampa Bay's Professionalism and Ethics in Legal Research and Writing Judicial Roundtable event.

Judge David Denkin, 12th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, speaks to law students during a WMU-Cooley Professionalism & Ethics in Legal Research & Writing Judicial Roundtable event.

WMU-Cooley brought together a panel of six judges to share their wisdom, lead small group discussions during break-out sessions, and answer questions. This unique format provided for fruitful collaboration between students and judges. After each judge listed his or her “Top-Five Tips” for legal writing, the judges and students broke out into six small groups to discuss a factual scenario suggesting an ethical or professional legal dilemma.

Here are six samples from the judges of the their top tips:

  • Proof, proof, proof your work!
  • Be concise; get to the point, but summarize your findings at the beginning
  • Don’t misrepresent the law; it will destroy your credibility
  • Read the document out loud as part of proofing
  • Use IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, and Conclusion) and plain language
  • Cutting and pasting from previous documents can be dangerous!
Senior U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew speaks with students during a WMU-Cooley professionalism event.

Senior U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew speaks with students during a WMU-Cooley professionalism event.

The judges led the discussion and, drawing from students’ ideas, guided the group to a consensus on a proper resolution to the problem.  After reconvening from the break-out groups, each judge presented his or her group’s scenario and its ideal resolution to the full audience.

For example, a group led by Judge Susan C. Bucklew discussed a scenario in which a new associate is handed a file moments before covering another attorney’s motion hearing.  The brief in support of the client’s motion is poorly written and misrepresents the law.  Students considered the benefits and drawbacks of “throwing the other attorney under the bus” by simply disclaiming responsibility for the brief.  Judge Bucklew pointed out that most judges would appreciate an attorney acknowledging the brief’s shortcomings but assuring the court that he or she was prepared to “fill in the gaps.”

The students were engaged and enthusiastic about working with sitting judges. Federal Bar Association Cooley Student Chapter President Angela Tormey said, “Having the opportunity to spend time with judges, get their personal insight on simulated real-world situations, and have that two-way conversation was very educational.  It certainly brought to life lessons we encounter in the law school setting.” Third-year student Eula Bacon was even able to use some of what she learned the very next week during Trial Skills.  Judge Charles P. Sniffen had explained that, when preparing to question a witness, a good attorney should first consider the answers he or she wants to elicit and then draft the questions needed to get those answers.


In attendance were:

  1. Hon. Susan C. Bucklew, United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division;
  2. Hon. John F. Lakin, 12th Circuit Court of Florida
  3. Hon. Janette Dunnigan, 12th Circuit Court of Florida
  4. Hon.Diana Moreland, 12th Circuit Court of Florida
  5. Hon. David L. Denkin, Sarasota County Court of Florida
  6. Hon. Charles P. Sniffen, Manatee County Court of Florida

The judges were prepared, positive, and encouraging. According to Judge Dunnigan, “There are many concerns about the decline of professionalism and ethical behavior among lawyers.  Exercises like this can reinvigorate professionalism in the practice of law.  When you graduate an ethical and professional lawyer, you are one step closer to restoring the legal profession to its former place of honor.”

WMU-Cooley Professor Barbara Kalinowski

WMU-Cooley Professor Barbara Kalinowski

Blog author Professor Barbara Kalinowski teaches Research and Writing and has served in various judicial attorney and clerkship positions with the Michigan Court of Appeals in Detroit and the Third Judicial Circuit of Michigan. She has been a member of the State Bar of Michigan Publications and Website Advisory Committee, the State Bar of Michigan Character and Fitness Committee, the Legal Writing Institute, the American Society of Legal Writers (Scribes), and the Association of Legal Writing Directors (2007-2009).


Filed under Cooley's Great Locations, Faculty Scholarship, Student News, Achievements, Awards, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Panel of judges share wisdom and top tips for legal writing to law students

  1. Anonymous

    Tip # 3 should read CREDIBILITY, not CREDITABILITY. Unless, of course, the judges actually said “creditability” (I wasn’t at this forum, so it’s possible, I suppose).

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