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Pundits often whine about legal education not preparing students for the practice of law. And practitioners often bemoan the annoyances of practice, such as grumpy judges, poorly formatted pleadings, or indecipherable local rules.
Professor Ray Bernstein, of Santa Clara Law, teaches Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing (LARAW), a long-winded variant of the same legal writing class that every law school requires. The point of these classes is to teach students to write like lawyers. (They could start by teaching brevity.)
Perhaps as an ode to the annoyances of real-life practice, Prof. Bernstein adopted his own local rules, which are as tedious as the real thing. "Ridiculous" and "condescending" or a well designed primer for practice? You decide.
Joe Patrice, of Above the Law, was kind enough to upload the "Policies & Local Rules of LARAW Section D" to Scribd, and after reading them in full, I actually think this is a pretty good idea.
There are rules for content:
No document with more than ten mechanical errors (spelling, typing, grammar, missing words, formatting, quoting, or Bluebooking) will be filed in this course. [...] [D]ocuments violating this rule will be returned to you without further feedback, for resubmission in compliance with L.R. 1. I will set a specific deadline for resubmission.
A typo-ridden document won't be accepted for grading if it is clear that no proofreading has been done? Actually, that seems fair.
There are also rules for conduct:
When in class, you may not disturb me or your classmates with irrelevant computer or phone activities.
He calls this "contempt of court" and provides examples, such as Facebooking, texting, and gaming, that will result in a loss of points and a reminder to the class about impermissible conduct.
There are also rules for electronic filing, communicating in a formal tone via email, and not missing critical deadlines, all things which you'd think law students and lawyers would be familiar with, but which are all too often botched in practice.
Are they hokey? A bit. Annoying? Probably, but so is the detail required by the practice of law.
Patrice argues that Prof. Bernstein's rules are unnecessarily condescending, but we'd beg to differ.
How many poorly-formatted and terribly written briefs have you suffered through at the hands of opposing counsel? How many missed deadlines or requests for extensions? And judges find electronic devices so annoying that they hold themselves in contempt when their phones beep.
These "local rules" may be a bit over the top, but seriously, what attempt to simulate practice in school isn't criticized as such? It seems that Prof. Bernstein is taking a class that, far too often, is seen as a waste of time, and is attempting to make it useful for future practitioners. We applaud that, no matter how much we hate "real" local rules and sympathize with his students.
Is the lesson worth the annoyance? Join the discussion on Facebook at FindLaw for Legal Professionals.