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LBW Commenters Turn Up the Heat in the Yale-LRW Skirmish

On Thursday, I wondered in this post if a recent letter from an associate dean of admissions at Yale Law School might lead to a period of detente in an escalating squabble between that dean and the legal research and writing (LRW) community. That may still end up being the case, but now we may need to negotiate a separate peace between different factions of the LRW community, which have taken to the comments section of my original post to air some additional grievances with each other.

To recap, the associate dean wrote a blog post in 2011 that advised prospective transfer students not to use a recommendation from legal writing instructors, but rather to use recommendations from "core subject area professors, who can speak to your ability to keep up with the subject material, contribute to class discussion, and think through difficult concepts. ..." Many in the legal research and writing (LRW) community found that post objectionable, for obvious reasons, which ultimately resulted in a strongly worded letter from several LRW professors to the associate dean co-signed by 450 supporters. Last week, the associate dean agreed to take down the offending post (although she did not really take back her comments).

Over the holiday weekend, dozens of comments began to pile up on my original post, some of which showed that not all of the LRW community supported the letter sent to YLS. Comments from some of the dissenters (all anonymous) included:

  • "Please know that MANY in the legal writing community are embarrassed by this letter and completely disagree with its contents. In fact, many prominent leaders in the legal writing community refused to sign the letter."
  • "As a legal writing professor, I completely disagree with the premise of the letter sent to YLS. My colleagues have no business telling YLS how to make decisions about transfer applications.... As long as its transfer policy doesn't violate the law, it can do as it pleases insofar as deciding what application materials best predict success as a YLS student. This letter was ill conceived and damages the reputation of all legal writing professors."
  • "I'll speak for myself: I didn't sign the letter because I think this is an old and unwinnable "battle"; let Yale be Yale (and Harvard be Harvard, and so on). We have better things to focus on...."
  • "... hardly any of those regarded as leaders in the field signed the letter. In fact, only a few members from the Board of the Legal Writing Institute (the governing body) even signed it. Noticeably absent are the signatures of LWI's president, president-elect or even the past three presidents. To say this letter represents the views of most, or even a majority, of those teaching legal writing is ridiculous."

In response, many who co-signed or otherwise supported the letter criticized the commenters above for failing to explain why it was "embarrassing," as well as for the anonymous nature of their attacks. Comments included:

  • Cathren Page: "I do not see how [the letter] damages our reputation. In fact, we were correcting misunderstandings about what it is we do. This issue is larger than Yale's policy. The admissions blog is read by the legal community at large, and we were right to stand up for our reputation. Many of the same people who were leading the charge have been standing up for legal writing professors for years. Because of them, nationwide legal writing departments have received increased credits and resources. Student to professor ratios have improved. The status of professors has also improved with respect to their salaries, benefits, rights, academic freedom, and titles. The end result is that legal education has improved."
  • Mary Garvey Algero: "I am a former president of the Association of Legal Writing Directors. I signed the letter. I signed the letter as an individual, not in any representative capacity. Others chose to sign the letter; some chose not to sign the letter. Yale Law School has the freedom to conduct its admissions process any way it likes within the bounds of the law. My colleagues and I have the right to comment on that process, especially when we feel that incorrect information is being posted about the depth of knowledge legal writing professors gain about their students' abilities and how that knowledge can be especially helpful in the admissions process...."
  • Ralph Brill: "1. The policy of the Legal Writing Institute has, from its creation, excluded the idea of taking political stands, with the exception of trying to influence the ABA Standards. 2. That would not preclude individual members of the board from signing on, but they, like you, have the freedom to choose or not. 3. I would hope that you consider some of the signers as leaders in the field? 4. At any rate, it is interesting that you did not express any negative views at the time the issue of whether or not to write a letter to Yale was being discussed on the Legal Writing listserv....but then that might have required you to identify yourself."

Posted by Bruce Carton on September 4, 2012 at 05:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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