Become a Patreon!


Excerpted From: L. Danielle Tully, Race and Lawyering in the Legal Writing Classroom, 26 Legal Writing: The Journal of the Legal Writing Institute 195 (2022) (42 Footnotes) (Full Document)


danielletullyIt's September 2021. Race walks into my classroom. It walks in with me. It walks in with my students. Race hangs on the walls, lingers in the air, and moistens the soil. In an alternate narrative, one with a different historical trajectory, where those who came before us made vastly different choices, we would find ourselves facing a different landscape. But we are here, in this moment. So race is in my legal writing classroom. To pretend otherwise would be like ignoring a legally significant fact in my research or when counseling a client. As a professor who teaches critical lawyering skills, such an error would be, at best, incompetent, at worst, malpractice.

To say nothing of race fosters a perception that it is siloed in law--“rather than seeing it as something that pervades, underpins or structures” all areas of it. To say nothing of race reinforces a White-dominant social culture that obscures power and reinforces a false narrative that law--not to mention the study and practice of it--is neutral. To say nothing of race communicates to my students that their lived experiences are not valuable to their legal education or to their law practice. Both conclusions are false. To say nothing of race perpetuates law school as a White space.

So how do I address race? Carefully, thoughtfully, self-reflectively, and honestly. And also, despite effort and intention, inadequately. Addressing race in my first-year legal writing course is an ever-changing work in progress. First, I approach my classroom as a “community of practice.” Habituating law students to the discourse of law is a key learning objective of my first-year legal writing curriculum. Echoing the words of Professors Chris Rideout and Jill Ramsfield, I acknowledge that what I teach “takes place within a discourse that is complex and highly conventionalized and which is also closely constrained by the institutional characteristics of law--the roles of lawyers, the organization of law practice, the purposes of law as a social and economic institution, and the underlying ideology of the law.” Within my legal writing classroom, culture is derived, in part, from the “containing culture” of the law school and also the profession. And at the same time, my students and I can shape that containing culture by how we create our community of practice. Like law, culture evolves.

I strive to cultivate cultural change through the syllabus & course policies, introductory questionnaire, core skills focus, assessment & feedback, and reflective practice.

I. Signaling Values in the Syllabus & Course Policies

Like many legal writing professors, my syllabus and course policies are not merely a bulleted list of topics, due dates, and requirements. Together they are a map through our journey. They situate our work together and acknowledge that we will explore cultural self-awareness, attorney well-being, and professional identity. They make clear that learning the law requires us to grapple with many issues, including race, societal inequities, values, and power. They acknowledge that members of our community have faced both individual racism and structural racism. These documents assert that effective lawyers understand the role culture, context, and cognition play in law, legal systems, and the lawyering process. Finally, my syllabus asserts that learning the law requires that we grapple with the historical impact law has had on marginalized and vulnerable populations as well as lawyers' roles and responsibilities in movements for social change.

[. . .]

Albeit very slowly, efforts across the legal profession have been coalescing around some core ideas: the law is not neutral, legal education and the legal profession create and perpetuate inequality, and for reform to work--for it to be meaningful and sustained--it must occur in every nook and cranny. Legal writing professors have a critical role to play in this reform. Through our policies, syllabi, and simulations, we signal what's essential, what's worthy of lingering in the margins, and what should be ignored--kept off the page and out of our deliberative process entirely. Failing to interrogate our role in this socialization process doesn't mean it isn't happening. It just means that we are not being purposeful in how we use our power and privilege as law teachers. Race has always been in the legal writing classroom. It is my obligation to acknowledge it and to work toward developing, as Professor Espinoza wrote almost thirty years ago, a “new legal language that is able to express the complexities of justice and to hear the cries of injustice.” It is my goal to work together to bring about a cultural shift in legal education, one that allows students and faculty to thrive in truly inclusive spaces where we all feel we belong.

L. Danielle Tully is an Associate Professor of Legal Writing at Brooklyn Law School.

Become a Patreon!