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First Year Curriculum

Susanna BagdasarovaSusanna Bagdasarova, ABA Death Penalty Representation Project, said legal research and writing class more than adequately prepared her for the hardest, most thorough types of legal writing assignments.

“The effort our professors required us to put into our class assignments during the semester paid off and made the work seem a lot easier.”


First-Year Applied Legal Analysis & Writing Course

The first-year legal writing professors firmly believe that effective communication is the key to being a successful lawyer because, in every area of the law, lawyers write. To be a successful lawyer, one must be an excellent writer. Students at Penn State Law begin their journey to become excellent legal writers in the first-year Applied Legal Analysis and Writing (ALAW) course, which is a full year course taught by experienced legal writing faculty. The legal writing professors bring their significant experience in teaching and from practice to the classroom and provide students with the individual feedback and support they need to succeed. 

Law firm simulation

From the first day in the legal writing classroom, first-year students begin to work on behalf of mock clients who have hired a lawyer to help with a particular legal problem. The client may want to know whether a lawsuit can be filed on his behalf, or the client may want to know whether she is likely to be found guilty of a crime. First-year students have the opportunity to experience how a lawyer can help a client solve a problem.  

In the first semester of ALAW (3 credits), the focus is on objective analysis and writing. Students learn to draft office memoranda, which are the fundamental tools for communicating objective analysis. Using the client-based approach, students analyze a client’s legal problem and then write about their prediction of the result of that client’s problem. Students also are introduced to client interviewing and conduct the legal research necessary to find the legal authority to analyze and apply to the client’s legal issues. Penn State Law’s legal writing professors recognize that the objective writing that lawyers do in practice varies. Therefore, students learn about both traditional office memoranda as well as more informal, email correspondence.

In the second semester of ALAW (2 credits), the focus is on advocating on behalf of clients. Students learn to write client letters as well as briefs filed with a court. Using a client based approach, students are assigned different sides in a lawsuit and must advocate for their clients in court. For example, students must become familiar with the law and the facts of the client’s lawsuit and draft a brief that will be filed with a court. For the last brief that is drafted in ALAW, students also present an oral argument to a mock trial judge based on the brief that they filed.

In both semesters, students are guaranteed to receive significant feedback from their legal writing professor. Legal writing professors use class time to workshop and critique writing samples. The professors also provide numerous opportunities for students to have one-on-one conferences to review their writing. Finally, legal writing professors provide detailed, in-depth, and individualized feedback to students about their written submissions.  

First-Year Legal Research Tools and Strategies Course

First year students take Legal Research Tools and Strategies (2 credits) in the fall semester.  Similar to legal writing, legal research is also a key to becoming a successful lawyer because lawyers research in every area of the law in which they practice; therefore, conducting effective, efficient, and accurate legal research is a critical skill.  The Legal Research Tools and Strategies course familiarizes students with the process of discovering, evaluating, critically analyzing, and applying sources of American legal authority used by lawyers to understand facts and resolve issues presented to them by faculty members, clients, and employers.  The course focuses on students achieving a comfortable proficiency for the discovery phase of the legal research process in which they learn to find law and legal commentary in its various publication formats.  However, importantly, the course also provides students with opportunities to evaluate, analyze, and apply the legal authority they discover in the context of the legal matters they are engaged to handle as they will expected to do as law students and lawyers.  This course is highly interactive and challenges students to conduct discrete research exercises and report their results, in written and oral form, in the context of fact-based scenarios and settings.