General Comments about Writing a Law Essay

 

 

 

 

·           The purpose of your article is to state and prove your thesis. You need to persuade your reader that your prescriptive proposal, i.e., the solution to the selected legal problem, is doctrinally sound. In other words, you need to convince the reader that your thesis is correct and that it is the best way of solving the problem you have identified.

·           You need to find authority for every question of law and matter of fact.

·           Make sure your ideas are really your own ideas, even if you think of an idea on your own, preemption check the idea and cite others with similar ideas in order to avoid plagiarism.

·           Use meaningful titles to introduce the article and each section.

·           Transition smoothly between issues to assure logical flow.

·           Address the opposing arguments that others could make against your thesis.

·           Place periods and commas before footnotes and quotation marks. (e.g.,Place periods and commas.[1])

 

Structure of a Law Essay

 

Title

·           The title should:

o         persuade people to read the article;

o         frame readers’ thinking, i.e., focus the attention of the reader on a specific angle or aspect of the problem that you want them to focus on;

o         help readers remember your article.

 

 

Introduction

 

·           The introduction acquaints the reader with the topic. Its purpose is to get the readers’ attention and make them want to read the essay. For this reason, you should try to make your introduction interesting, engaging, and original.  

·           A good way to attract attention is to show that there is an important and interesting problem that needs to be resolved. The most compelling problems are concrete.

·           Organization of the essay: The introduction must also help organize the essay. It should tell the readers what you are going to say in your essay.

·           The introduction should be short, simple, and clear.

·           The most important aspect of your introduction is your thesis.

o         The thesis should clearly and specifically convey your point.

o         The thesis should deal with a legal problem, e.g., an unresolved issue, a legal controversy, etc.

o         The most interesting theses are those that combine a descriptive (a claim about what the law is or was) and prescriptive (a proposal about what should be done) claim.

·           Context: You also need to place your thesis into some larger context.

 

Background or overview of the problem

 

·           This section explains the problem you seek to address, in other words, why you are writing this paper.  If the problem is the status quo, you need to explain why it is a problem. If the status quo is not a problem, you need to explain why it is not and why you are writing about it.

·           You need to explain the legal and factual frameworks that are necessary to understand your article.

·           Support your assertions with facts and with authors who have recognized a similar problem.

 

Thesis development

(several sections, each with its own thematic subheading)

 

·           You need to develop your thesis, i.e., you need to prove your point.

·           Find arguments to support your thesis.

·           Use examples from class, including class activities, class discussions, and required readings.

·           Make reference to theories and problems analyzed in class.

·           Think of possible counterarguments and discuss them.

·           Analyze the law.

·           This is your own critical analysis of the law and how it bears on the problem you identified.

·           Make your analysis in light of the theoretical framework analyzed in class, including the notions of law, traditions, functions, dysfunctions, sources, types of law, and classifications.

·           Consider policy arguments and social consequences of your arguments.

·           Include the implications and connections that are necessary to a full understanding of your point.

·           Use thematic subheadings to introduce every argument, idea, or example.

·           Divide your arguments in body paragraphs. Each body paragraph should make just one point that clearly develops and supports the thesis. In the same way that you have a thesis to indicate the point of the essay, you should have a topic sentence for each body paragraph. The topic sentence states the point of the paragraph, and all of the other sentences should support, develop, and explain that point. Because the topic sentence plays an important role in your paragraph, it must be crafted with care.

 

Conclusion

 

·           The purpose of the conclusion is to bring the essay to a satisfying close. You should avoid bringing up a new point in your conclusion and you should avoid lengthy and excessive summary. The most successful conclusions are thoughtful and reflective.

·           Back to context. After having presented your topic and proven your thesis, you want to be able to make an overarching statement based on that information. Just as the introduction sought to place the paper in the larger context about the topic, so should the conclusion insist on returning the reader to that ongoing conversation.

·           Summarize your thesis and main arguments.

 

Sources on academic legal writing:

 

·           Gerald Lebovits, The Legal Writer. Academic Legal Writing: How to Write and Publish, 64 NYSBA 2006, 50.

·           Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminars, Papers, and Getting on Law Review 24 (3rd. 2007).

·           Florida Gulf Coast University’s Writing Center and Dartmouth University’ Writing Program.

·           Aaron Schwabach, Anatomy of a Law Review Article, Thomas Jefferson Law Review Association 2005.

 

Legal databases:

·           Quicklaw (Wishart Library website)

·           Heinonline (Wishart Library website)

·           JSTOR (Wishart Library website)

·           www.canlii.org

 

 

 

 



[1] Gerald Lebovits, The Legal Writer. Academic Legal Writing: How to Write and Publish, 64 NYSBA 2006, 51.