Upper-Level Writing Requirement

Upper Level Writing Contract Form

American University Washington College of Law
Upper-Level Writing Requirement Policy Statement

I. Purpose of Requirement

As a requirement for graduation from the Washington College of Law, all students must meet a minimum legal writing requirement after completion of the first year of legal study. The purpose of the upper-level writing requirement (ULWR) is to ensure that prior to graduation each student shall have demonstrated competency in legal research and writing by composing, under faculty supervision, a product that evidences qualities of legal scholarship, writing ability, and craftmanship. Faculty supervision means faculty involvement in the selection of the topic and research plan, formation of the outline, review of the rough draft, and critique of the final draft after submission. Faculty includes members of the full-time and adjunct faculties.

Once a faculty member has undertaken to supervise a written work product, the student may not submit that product for review by another faculty member for any purposes without compelling circumstances being present in the view of both faculty members, and without their consent or that of their designees.

II. Fulfilling the Requirement

The ULWR may be satisfied by writing a single topic paper of not less than 30 pages in connection with a law school seminar or other law school activity of at least two credit hours, as long as it is prepared under faculty supervision. Textual footnotes which contain substantial legal analysis (i.e., such as are found in student scholarly journals) may count against the page length requirement only with the consent of the faculty member supervising the project. The 30 page minimum length may be varied when the supervising faculty member determines in the exercise of her or his discretion that exceptional circumstances exist which warrant such action.

Jointly written products are presumed not to meet the requirement in the absence of special justification, including the ability to separately identify the work product of the student seeking credit and an evaluation by a WCL faculty member that this portion of the joint product, standing alone, satisfies the ULWR. See III.A.2.a., infra, for special rules pertaining to interschool moot court briefs.

A. Fulfilling through a Seminar

If a particular course or seminar by which a student wishes to produce her or his ULWR will not satisfy the policy's page length standards, the student has three options:

1. Elect not to satisfy the ULWR through that course or seminar.

2. Elect to satisfy the ULRW by writing a paper that meets the 30-page requirement without seeking any extra credit for the work that exceeds the course or seminar requirement.

3. Elect to satisfy the ULWR and seek extra credit for the additional work by registering for an Independent Study Project and complying with the page length guidelines governing such projects (see separate ppolicy statement for this law school program). For example, if the requirement for a course or seminar is a 20 page paper, and a student writes a 40-45 page paper, an additional hour of credit could be earned through an Independent Study Project by the addition of the 20-25 pages to the original 20 pages. The number of credits applied for on the Independent Study Contract should list only the additional credits for the independent study, and must exclude the number of credits to be received through the seminar itself.

B. Fulfilling the Requirement through a Law School Journal

Student notes or comments which have been recommended for award of full credit by the appropriate editors of one of the four law school student scholarly journals are eligible for consideration for meeting the ULWR. If a student seeks to use written work on a journal to fulfill the ULWR, approval by a faculty member at the outset is mandatory; faculty members are prohibited from approving any writing project intended for journal submission that is first presented to the faculty member after it has been written. This approval must be reflected in a contract setting forth the proposed topic and timetable for the paper (see sample form 1).

It is expected that journal editorial staff will play a significant role in the development of the written work, as per requirements in each journal's policy manual. Over the course of the preparation of the paper, meetings must be held between the student and the editor to ensure a discourse and appropriate review. For each meeting, a synopsis of approximately one page must be prepared by the editor and signed by the student and the editor outlining the contents of the meeting, the suggestions made regarding the paper, and an updating of the timetable established for the completion of the paper. A copy of each report will be provided to the faculty member directly upon completion of the meeting. Upon receipt of these reports, the faculty member may contact the student to discuss concerns regarding the paper.

Typically, this student/editor interaction should involve a meeting to discuss the selected topic, a meeting to critique the initial outline, a meeting to review a rough draft, and a meeting to review the final draft. Suggested forms are attached. In order to fulfill this requirement, documented meetings addressing the topic, outline, rough draft, and final draft must occur.

At the conclusion of the journal's final review of the project, the faculty member should receive a copy of the final draft of the paper and a critique and analysis of the paper by the editor. Like the meeting summaries submitted throughout the course of the project, the critique is not intended as a grade but rather as an objective opinion of the editor regarding the paper. The critique must state that the paper satisfies the journal's publishable quality requirement in order to meet the requirement that the ULWR be satisfied by a written work product produced in connection with a law school program weighted at 2 credit hours; journal staffers receive 2 credits for satisfying the publishable quality standard and performing a certain number of hours of work.

Upon receipt of these materials, a faculty member will review and evaluate the paper submitted by the students, and may: 1) accept the paper and certify that the standards of the ULWR have been met; 2) make recommendations for changes in a final draft by the students; 3) reject the paper as insufficient to satisfy the ULWR. Because the faculty member is only deciding whether the paper meets the ULWR, a negative decision by a faculty member does not prevent the journal for which it was produced from accepting it as meeting its publishable quality requirement and awarding academic credit without incorporating the changes required by the faculty member for the purposes of certifying compliance with the ULWR.

Assuming the paper is approved by the faculty member, s/he shall submit the standard one-page ULWR certification form to the Office of the Registrar. All other documentation regarding the paper and the oversight of the paper must be maintained by the student.

In the event the journal does not recommend that the student paper meets the journal's publishable quality standard, with the result that the student will not receive 2 hours of academic credit from the journal, the student may request the same faculty member to sponsor a 2-credit Independent Study Project and tender the note or comment in satisfaction of the written work product requirements of the project. The faculty member is not obligated to undertake sponsorship of such an Independent Study Project under any circumstances (and especially if the request is made in the student's last semester of law school when there may not be sufficient time for the faculty member to have an educationally appropriate impact on the development of the final work product). Further, the faculty member, in her or his discretion, may require the student to make any changes in the note or comment s/he feels are necessary and appropriate in order to permit her or him to award 2 hours of academic credit and certify compliance with the ULWR.

C. Fulfilling the Requirement Through a Journal's Long Write-On Competition

A student may also fulfill the ULWR through participation in a law school journal's Long Write-On Competition. Faculty supervision differs slightly from that outlined in the above section. In this instance, the faculty member and the student agree upon a topic, and the student then writes the long write-on article for the competition without faculty input. After the article is accepted by the journal, the sponsoring faculty member again becomes involved by receiving the outline meeting memo, rough draft meeting memo, etc., as described above. The faculty member can suggest changes retroactively as a condition of her/his willingness to certify compliance with the ULWR.

III. Nature of the Product

While the writing requirement may take the form of a traditional seminar paper, the product does not have to appear in a traditional form. Products evidencing qualities of legal scholarship and craftsmanship can range from highly abstract to eminently practical contributions. The product may emphasize a variety of skills, such as:

A. Problem Solving:

The student may define a problem or a series of problems and propose and evaluate solutions using the processes of the law. This product could include opinion letters, analyses or drafts of proposed legislation, petitions for or comments on agency rule or the like.

B. Empirical Research:

The student may undertake empirical research as a method of inquiry in to a legal problem and analyze the results, and have such writing considered for the requirement.

C. Legal Advocacy:

Legal writing in the context of real or simulated litigation (i.e., advocacy courses, interschool moot court competitions, and clinical programs) may qualify only if it exhibits significant legal scholarship and analysis of complex subject matter, and otherwise satisfies all the requirements of the ULWR. For example, a trial brief which analyzes the legal and evidentiary issues of the litigation or memoranda and motions on complex or novel issues could qualify under this section.

1. Special Rules for Interschool Moot Court Briefs

An upper-level interschool moot court brief cannot satisfy the ULWR if the student has only written half of a 30-page brief and argued the case. The decision whether to approve a given moot court product for the ULWR is to be made on a case-by-case basis by the sponsoring faculty member.

a. As a matter of length, each student must submit a coherently written legal analysis of the issues for which s/he is responsible that satisfies the general length requirement. In practice, competition maximum brief length limitations will require that the student either present a 30-page draft brief covering her or his issues that has been carefully edited, or expand the final brief to satisfy the length requirement.

b. In addition, the quality and complexity of the legal analysis in the submitted work must be on the same level as that expected from any other item considered for the ULWR.


IV. Criteria for Scholarly Quality

A. The requirement of a grade of C or better is to ensure that the written product demonstrates a minimum measure of scholarly quality. Scholarly quality is not measurable solely in terms of the number of hours devoted to the legal research or the number of pages of the final product. These objective measures, however, often may be an indication of the student's seriousness of purpose, the useful learning hours devoted to the project, and the thoroughness of the final product. What is essential, is that the written product is informed and reflective; and, given the purpose of the project and the method(s) used, reflects appropriate legal craftsmanship. In sum, the final product should reflect a substantial commitment of time, effort, and thought, and should demonstrate competency in legal research and writing.

B. Students should be advised of the desirability of completing this requirement prior to their last semester of legal study in order to have sufficient opportunity to satisfy the scholarly quality component. Since all product submitted for ULWR certification must be produced under faculty supervision , which will assist the student in generating the necessary level of scholarly quality, sufficient time must be allowed in the opinion of the faculty for that supervision to occur. With the permission of the instructor, a student may be given an incomplete if the paper does not meet minimum requirements in order to provide an opportunity for additional research and writing to bring the paper up to the minimum level required for certification of compliance.

C. If the faculty member gives a paper a grade of A and, further, believes it is of high excellence and makes a substantial contribution which will be of value to others in the same field , the faculty member shall submit a copy of the paper for deposit in the WCL library. In addition, a letter signed by the Associate Dean for Student Affairs shall be placed in the student's permanent file with a copy to the student noting that the paper has been designated an outstanding paper and deposited in the library. To facilitate the administration of this section, a faculty member who certifies a paper as meeting these standards should forward a copy of the Certification of Compliance form to the Associate Dean, with the required signature allowing the law school to deposit the student's work in the library, in compliance with federal privacy laws, the original and a copy of the paper being given to the Registrar for transmission to the Pence Law Library.

V. Administration

A. Faculty teaching a course or seminar requiring a written paper that satisfies the ULWR shall so certify in writing to the Registrar's Office prior to advance registration for the course or seminar. In order to certify that a student has complied with the ULWR, the completed Certification of Compliance form must be submitted to the Registrar at the completion of the project. The form may be obtained from the Registrar's Office (suite 304) or the Student Affairs Office (suite 301).

B. For compliance other than with a course or seminar meeting the above requirement, the requirements of an Independent Study Project, Externship, or Field Component must be net. When the requirement is to be satisfied by any of these programs, it must be for a minimum of 2 credit hours. As a practical matter, the only way a written product produced through an Externship or Field Component activity can satisfy the ULWR is when the student is given a single topic assignment, such as a brief, court opinion, or the like, of sufficient complexity that it will require at least 30 pages of analytical text to address properly. It is not possible to submit memos, draft briefs, opinion letters, etc., on different topics and add the pages together to reach the 30 page minimum requirement.

[September, 2000]


Form 1

Student/Faculty Agreement

It is agreed that ____________________ (student) will seek to fulfill the upper-level writing requirement through the production of scholarly writing while a member of the ________________________ (journal/review). Professor ______________ (full-time or part-time faculty member) has approved of the topic listed below and agrees to review the final submission of the paper and the attendant documentation.

It is agreed that _____________________ (senior editor) will participate in the oversight of this paper along with _____________________ (student) and conduct regular meetings to review the topic, outline, rough draft, and final draft of the proposed paper. It is further agreed that __________________ (senior editor) will prepare a critique, not a grade, of the paper upon its completion.

Proposed paper topic:




StudentFaculty Member


Journal/Review EditorDate


Form 2

Critique of Topic and Research Plan

Student: ___________________________________________

Senior Editor: ______________________________________

Date submitted to faculty member: _____________________

Refined topic statement:


What is the basic research plan for this paper?


What timetable has been established for the preparation of the outline, rough draft, and final paper submission?




Form 3

Outline Meeting

Senior Editor: ____________________________________

Student: _________________________________________

Date submitted to faculty member: ____________________

What are the five most important points this paper will make?


What are the biggest obstacles to completing the research at the present time?


What is the dominant theme or idea likely to be addressed in this paper?


What is the proposed date for the completion of the rough draft and the final submission?




Form 4

Rough Draft Meeting

Senior Editor: ____________________________________

Student: _________________________________________

Date submitted to faculty member: ____________________

On the form below, describe the contents of your meeting regarding the rough draft. Make sure to include a discussion of the final date for the completion of the paper. What were the principal problems that were identified in the analysis of the rough draft? What strengths appear to be emerging in this paper? How has the topic of the paper changed since the preparation of the initial topic statement?


Form 5

Final Meeting Summary and Critique

Senior Editor: ______________________________________________

Student: __________________________________________________

Date submitted to faculty member: ____________________________

I. Please describe the content of your final meeting. What is the possibility of publishing this paper? What additional work would need to be done to make this paper acceptable for publication in your journal?


II. Critique: To what extent will this paper make a significant contribution to the field? What is the greatest strength and weakness of this paper? Please critique the clarity of writing and the depth of understanding evident in the final draft.