Victoria Spichinetsky ’07 on Leadership in Legal Writing, Teaching Lawyering
Editor’s note: Alumni Voices is an occasional series of articles by alumni sharing their perspectives. Minneapolis attorney Victoria Spichinetsky ’07 serves as an adjunct professor and lead section instructor in Minnesota Law’s Legal Writing Program.
I’ve been part of the Law School’s Legal Writing Program for many years: first as a 1L student and then student instructor during law school, later as an attorney instructor for 1L Legal Writing and Advanced Legal Writing, and now as the lead section instructor in the 1L Program. The goal of the program, and particularly the 1L Legal Writing class, always has been to teach students how to think critically (analysis) and communicate effectively (writing and oral advocacy). Both are essential to becoming a successful lawyer and problem-solver.
The legal profession continually evolves and our program evolves with it. We construct real-to-life problems in criminal law, business litigation, and constitutional law, among other areas, that students tackle over the course of the year. Instead of completing one-off assignments, students work with the same developing set of facts as new legal and procedural issues arise—just as they will as practicing lawyers.
Students engage in motion practice and must figure out—based on the various rules of civil/criminal procedure and judges’ local rules—which documents they need to submit or “file” in addition to the substantive brief. We encourage the students to study well-crafted briefs and writing samples to help them model and form their organization and writing style.
Of course, so much of what lawyers, including litigators, do is far removed from court. Most of our communication is with clients, colleagues, and adversaries. We teach students how to write emails to clients and supervising attorneys, and how to effectively present their ideas in a professional meeting—just as they will in their first weeks and months on the job.
What’s changed since I studied legal writing at the Law School? So much, but I’ll focus on three developments.
First, we are home to even more international students from all over the world. As a former ESL student myself, albeit at the age of 12, I understand the unique issues foreign language students can face, especially where the line between legal thinking and legal writing can so easily blur.
Second, the skills that we teach students in the Legal Writing Program tie closely to the skills they need to succeed in their doctrinal courses: issue spotting, understanding cases and statutes, and applying facts to law. We see the students’ work and progress before anyone else, and we now make a point of giving early feedback that they can apply not just in our class, but to all their coursework, including on first semester exams.
Finally, the student body changes over time, reflecting changes in parenting styles, technology, undergraduate education, and life experiences. We recognize these changes and find the best approach to help all students reach their potential. I try to get to know my students individually, and learn about their backgrounds, undergraduate degrees, prior employment, and career goals.
Some are trying to balance school and work, others a joint degree program, and still others family responsibilities. It’s important to relate to the students and understand what type of support and resources they need to learn good lawyering skills, succeed in law school, pass the bar exam, and become fulfilled and productive members of the legal commu