English. It’s the language that we read and write. Often associated with the country of England and sharing the same root, one may assume that the English are better at writing English than their formerly colonial counterparts. One may also wonder if their law students are any better at writing than our law students.
Apparently not. Chief Executive of the BPP Law School Peter Crisp laments here that even straight A students suffer from lapses in their writing. Mr. Crisp rightly points out that effective writing is the cornerstone of a law practice and that lawyers should be “the wordsmiths of the professions.”
Crisp and others are noting that even top students struggle with spelling, grammar and usage. To address the problem, Liz McAnulty, the director of regulation standards for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (“SRA”), proposes adding a foundation course in English language to the Legal Practice Course curriculum.
Crisp posits in his article that grammar, usage and spelling among members of the younger generation may be suffering due to their increased engagement in “clipped” (my term) messages – email, texting and on-line networking communication. Crisp shies away from Ms. McAnulty’s recommendation of remedial English at the law school level and urges tighter teaching at the grammar and university level. Crisp also recommends that struggling students can seek individual help from their law schools or pursue training as junior lawyers, shuddering at the indictment represented by formal remedial English at the law school level.
But why not? If there is a clear majority of students suffering from deficiencies in their writing, why shouldn’t the problem be acknowledged and addressed in law school before the students are unleashed upon the real world? Legal writing courses are standard fare and could include at least some time devoted to “plain language” and basic writing skills. These skills are as much a part of “legal writing” as the ability to craft an argument and include all the proper memo headings. If feasible, more exposure to proper methods is better than less. This added instruction would not be in lieu of, but rather in addition to, primary, secondary and college level instruction. Law school level instruction would not be a substitute for further training on the legal job, as the need arises.
It is clear that poor writing is a universal problem on both sides of the pond. The solution will require personal and institutional acknowledgment, as well as vigilance and intervention at all levels.