On the road to a stellar legal career, this is where UNLV Law students make a “write” turn.
“I had a judge once tell me that they hired clerks from Harvard and Yale, but they always added a UNLV clerk to make sure they had a clerk who knew how to write and research,” says professor Terrill Pollman, a member of the founding faculty of the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law who was charged with developing the school’s lawyering process program.
The program’s mission since day one: Teach Boyd’s up-and-coming legal eagles the art of legal writing and research. And Pollman’s UNLV/Ivy League anecdote validates the program’s status as the No. 1 legal writing program in the nation, as ranked this year by U.S. News & World Report.
Focused on legal communication with clients and fellow attorneys, theories of persuasive writing and rhetoric, plus contract writing, research, interviewing, counseling, and negotiation, the required three-semester, nine-credit curriculum boils down to what Pollman calls “teaching smart law students the conventions of the legal community of discourse.”
Imparting those legal smarts begins with a smart plan of action led by a core of sharp and accomplished professors. In this regard, Boyd features an all-star roster. Boyd faculty members have won nearly every award given for teaching and scholarship in legal writing. These awards include the Burton Award for Outstanding Contributions to Legal Writing Education; the Marjorie Rombauer Award; the Linda Berger Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Legal Writing Scholarship; the Blackwell Teaching Award; the AALS Legal Writing, Research, and Reasoning Section Award; the Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Award; the Theresa Phelps Award for Legal Writing Scholarship; and the UNLV Foundation Distinguished Teaching Award.
“We’ve hired some of the very top scholars in legal writing,” Pollman says of the teaching faculty whose members have served as presidents and board members of every major national legal writing organization. “We’ve written [a combined] 10 textbooks, and three-quarters of the [law schools] in the country have used one of our textbooks. Once you start getting good people, it’s easy to get more good people.”
Of course, what’s a well-credentialed faculty without a classroom of eager legal minds to mold? Pride in the Lawyering Process Program has spread to the point where students sign up for more than the three required courses. “The admissions office and the dean find us the best students to work with,” Pollman says. “One of the things that UNLV prides itself on, justifiably, is that students at the law school create a great sense of community. In those first-year writing classes, which need to be small, that sense often blooms.”
Illustrating that point, Pollman recalls going to testify in front of a committee of the Nevada Assembly and finding that four of the seven committee members were Boyd alumni. “They are all saying, ‘Hi Professor Pollman! What are you doing here?’ Where on earth in the United States would you go to testify in front of your state Legislature and have four of your former students there? That’s the kind of special thing that happens through the legal writing program.”
Given that legal writing hasn’t always been embraced in law-school circles — Pollman describes that prior to 1990, legal writing programs were considered “the ugly stepchild of the law faculty” — the support of all four of Boyd’s deans, as well as the entire faculty, has been vital. Fact is, legal writing has been a focal point of Boyd’s curriculum since the school opened 20 years ago.
“It’s a pretty labor-intensive thing to teach, so you have to devote resources to create a quality program, and our deans have been supportive of that,” Pollman says. “They have not said, ‘Oh, we can get other students or adjuncts to teach that.’ As somebody who came here with the job of creating the program, I’ve been incredibly grateful for that.”
Of Boyd’s current leader, Dean Daniel W. Hamilton, she adds: “There isn’t anything we’ve needed that Dan hasn’t tried to help us get.”
UNLV Law’s commitment to legal writing extends beyond the classroom, too, with the school hosting and participating in conferences to share what they’ve learned while simultaneously encouraging the legal community at-large to embrace what is a critical component of law.
Combine all of it — a top-tier faculty, dedicated students, unwavering administrative support, and a sense of community bonding — and you’ve got the right recipe for a program to write its way to national glory.