Legal Writing Matters: Hurry Up & Write

By Dyane O’Leary

2 days.

8 hours.

5:00 p.m.

2 hours.

30 minutes.


When a lawyer is asked to complete a project in a fast-paced legal practice, these deadlines are what he or she may face.  While a student has weeks, if not months, to complete a memorandum assignment, an attorney may have hours, if not minutes.

Emphasizing time and project management is nothing new in law school.  Teaching time-pressured writing down to the minute is.  The traditional legal writing curriculum often includes several large assignments spaced out over the academic year.  Of course, there is value to having students research, read and re-read legal authority, outline, draft, edit, revise, discuss, collaborate, re-write, and polish.  But that lengthy process is not all — or even most, perhaps — of what lawyers do on a day-to-day basis.  And given the increasing call to make students “practice ready,” legal writing courses can and should start to introduce shorter, discrete assignments.

For example, in a course I teach entitled “Advanced Legal Writing: IP Litigation,” one class was held in a library conference room instead of classroom.  Students were instructed to bring laptops and a pen.  The task was to read one local rule, a hypothetical fact pattern, and a single appellate case, then draft and send an e-mail memo.  Sixty minutes later, I had some frazzled (and after the fact, appreciative) students and several outstanding e-memos reflecting quick but thorough and accurate analysis.

Another example of this type of assignment is our graded and timed legal writing exam for first-year law students, which is modeled after the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) that most students will face on the bar examination.

Time-pressured analysis and writing moves students out of their comfort zone.  Yes, it can be stressful and frustrating.  Should I outline?  Should I skim?  Should I re-read?  Do I have time to include a counter-argument?  Just as with any other skill in law school, students deserve the opportunity to wrestle with these questions and practice.  Indeed, the discomfort of answering a narrow legal question in an hour or two is something with which law students need to get comfortable.  After all, they are about to enter a profession packed with pressure.

So, students:  take your time, but hurry up and write!

Dyane O’Leary is an Assistant Professor of Legal Writing at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. Before joining academia, Professor O’Leary was a law clerk in federal court and an associate at WilmerHale in Boston. She also graduated from Suffolk Law. She can be reached at