First Year Skills Program

Legal Research & Writing


In the fall semester, first-year JD students are enrolled in Law 202.1A, Legal Research and Writing. The course introduces students to the basics of the court system, how to read cases, locating and selecting precedent, and how to construct legal arguments.

Our approach is a practical one: our aim is to teach students the skills they need to practice law at a high level. To that end, the program provides the first-year students with an opportunity to work on challenging assignments, get extensive written feedback, and receive hands-on research instruction.

Most of the writing instruction takes place in small sections taught by full-time faculty, all of whom have experience teaching and practicing law. In addition, two upper-level law student TAs are assigned to each section of first-year students to assist in providing individual feedback.

In the fall, the program emphasizes predictive writing. Over the course of the semester, students prepare two 10-12 page legal memoranda in addition to other, shorter assignments. For each of the two major memo assignments students submit a draft, receive extensive comments, attend a one-on-one conference about their memo and then revise and submit a final version.

Research instruction is integrated into the writing assignments, and includes the use of both paper and computer resources. In-library research instruction takes place on several afternoons throughout the first half of the semester, and is taught in groups of 8-10 students.

The program is structured to allow students the opportunity to do increasingly complex written analyses, using more sophisticated techniques as the term progresses. At the same time, students improve their research skills through the introduction of additional resources relevant to the writing assignments. Students also learn legal citation form through self-paced Web-based exercises.

Written & Oral Advocacy


In the spring semester, first-year students continue their writing instruction in a Written and Oral Advocacy course. Currently, our Written and Oral Advocacy program uses a trial court format. Thus, in the spring, the first-year skills course involves preparation of a brief for a trial court motion on a hypothetical problem, and arguing that motion before a "judge," usually a practicing lawyer (and Boalt alum) from the Bay Area. Arguing a trial court motion operates as a chance for students to see their first semester Civil Procedure course in action. And, it provides an additional real-world research experience, to help prepare students for their first summer jobs.

Beyond the first year, upper-level students may take advanced courses in both research (Law 208 Advanced Legal Research) and in appellate brief writing (Law 243 Appellate Advocacy).