Be it Jack McCoy (Law & Order), Patty Hewes (Damages) or even Vincent “Vinny” Gambini (seriously, you don’t know this one?), the public is smitten with fictional trial attorneys. A Rutgers Law–Camden professor reminds us that the heft of actual legal life is spent offstage, writing. But, she points out, one very real character unites all attorneys: the client.
“Quite a bit of lawyering done in the U.S. is done by writing, a fact most lay people don’t know,” says Ruth Anne Robbins, a clinical professor at Rutgers Law–Camden, home of a nationally recognized legal writing program. “You might see trial jockeys or negotiators on TV, but what kind of show would feature people who just sit and write all day?” she posits. "Other than maybe a Monty Python skit?" Robbins has published the book Your Client’s Story: Persuasive Legal Writing (Wolsters Kluwer Law & Business) with colleagues Steve Johansen, professor of legal analysis and writing at Lewis & Clark Law School, and Ken Chestek, professor of legal writing at the University of Wyoming College of Law.
“What novice legal writers need to learn the most is the idea of advocating for a client, through a narrative that provides the audience a theory of how to interpret the law in favor of the client, based on the facts,” notes Robbins.
The Rutgers legal writing professor surmises that this recent publication represents a first for legal writing instruction centered on the client.
“Thirty years ago, the field began with professors from the undergraduate English departments seeing a need and creating a new discipline,” she notes.” Today, the field of legal writing is almost misnamed. It is much more about teaching students how to be client-centered advocates in written as well as oral advocacy.”
At Rutgers Law–Camden, the Legal Analysis, Writing and Research Program, which has pioneered a comprehensive “Orientation to Graduation” curriculum, has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a top program.
“The idea of the book,” she continues, “is to move the field towards the skills needed to represent a real client with a real legal problem, and away from obsessing about the way to write a complicated appellate legal brief."
Robbins knows firsthand the merits of working with a client to understand how to best tell that client's story. Over a decade ago, she began incorporating storytelling into legal writing teaching after her work founding the domestic violence clinic at Rutgers–Camden.
Now she continues the open dialogue she valued with her clients with her students and readers. In a world entrenched in legalese, Robbins and co-writers decided to make their text readable, even entertaining.
“What I’m willing to use to get my point across is concrete stuff that students can grasp and retain,” she says. From lessons by John Lennon, Stephen Colbert, and yes, Monty Python, to diagrams of billiard balls colliding to depict a law-suit, to students writing detailed descriptions of their favorite jeans, Robbins creates highly tangible lessons for students to comprehend complex information and improve their writing. Joseph Campbell’s hero types are also reinterpreted into a legal setting to help launch a client’s story into a winning argument.
“I tell my students, ‘if you have to write for a living, you might as well like it. If at the end of the course you are intrigued enough to want to learn more about client-centered advocacy, then I have done my job."
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Media Contact: Cathy K. Donovan