The First-Year Program

From left: Professor Spratt, Professor Beske, Professor Phelps, Professor Ridenour, Professor Figley, Professor Keith

WCL's two semester Legal Rhetoric course provides students with a strong foundation in fundamental legal skills.

The program:

  • Takes an approach that is both practical and sophisticated. Students learn not only to draft documents clearly but also to understand how language can be skillfully employed to apply and shape the law.
  • Uses teaching methods that simulate the actual work that lawyers do. During the first semester, students prepare documents - an office memorandum and advice letter - for two different "clients," learning how to adjust writing strategies as audience and purpose change. In the second semester, students prepare a trial memorandum and represent another "client" on appeal, writing a brief and arguing the case.
  • Emphasizes writing as a process. Students prepare multiple drafts of documents, and through individual teacher-student consultations, small group classroom workshops, and peer review, students receive feedback on their drafts, developing their skills as the course proceeds.
  • Applies state-of-the-art technology. In WCL's "smart classrooms," students use interactive, electronic equipment to see, discuss, and evaluate the impact of revisions on documents as changes are made.
  • Works with other first year courses to reinforce student learning. Andrew F. Popper, Professor of Law and coordinator of the integrated first-year curriculum, says, "We're working to coordinate all the aspects of the first- year through a series of exercises that cut across traditional curricular boundaries. Effective rhetoric and writing are essential to success, and Legal Rhetoric faculty members are integral parts of our teaching team."
  • Has one of the lowest student-to-faculty ratios of any fundamental legal skills course in the nation. Small classes make intensive student-centered teaching and learning techniques possible.
  • Is headed by Director Teresa Godwin Phelps, a tenured full-time professor with twenty-five years experience teaching legal analysis, research and writing, and who was one of the pioneers in developing legal rhetoric pedagogy.
  • Is taught by a tenured faculty member, full-time Legal Rhetoric professors, and adjunct professors who bring experience from a range of practice areas. Assisting faculty members, trained student "Dean's Fellows" provide support and help students improve their writing in individual conferences.
  • Is both required and graded, which sets Legal Rhetoric apart from many other U.S. law schools' first-year fundamental legal skills programs.