In the United States, students are given instruction in persuasive writing starting in middle school. They learn skills that they can use later in life as a foundation for the type of legal writing that lawyers are required to craft every day. But in some parts of the world, education in this type of writing in not emphasized and law students from these areas may suffer from lack of explicit instruction, making it difficult even to pass the bar, never mind establish a successful practice.
One part of the world where law students could use a booster shot for their writing skills is in Zambia. That’s why a team of 10 lawyers from DLA Piper and Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) decided to travel to the University of Zambia School of Law (UNZA) in Lusaka to teach a one-week course on legal writing to a group of more than 90 Zambian law students. They also spoke to the female students about striking a work/life balance and gave their students role models to look up to.
“Eight years ago, DLA Piper created ‘New Perimeter’ to organize and manage pro bono projects for teams of lawyers in developing and post-conflict countries,” explains Sara Andrews, senior international pro bono counsel and assistant director of New Perimeter. The organization has undertaken several teaching projects in Africa, she says, and they found Zambia a strong candidate, based on the recommendation of a local affiliate firm. The students had a strong need for legal writing instruction and assistance, as graduates of UNZA have a surprisingly low passage rate for the bar exam. So New Perimeter decided to send attorneys to Lusaka to teach a week-long class on the principles of legal writing and analysis.
In the second year of the program, Anita Turpin, senior legal counsel at BI got involved. The Andreas Neumann, general counsel of BI, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, had been involved in a New Perimeter program a few years back and connected Turpin with Andrews. After some discussion, BI saw a great opportunity to send four lawyers from Germany, Spain and Austria to take part in the program. This added to the international flair, as the DLA Piper lawyers were from the United States, France and the UK.
“With this international project, lawyers from different countries came together in Africa with certain guiding principles,” says Sebastian Guntrum, legal counsel at BI. “These are skills we learned during our education and career, and they can be applied to exams and essay questions.” Guntrum noted that as an instructor, he could see that his students were understanding the structure of the writing and applying it to questions, but he noted that these are universal skills that are used by lawyers around the world in multiple facets of their lives.
The students did have some glaring weaknesses at first, which the lawyers from DLA Piper and BI sought to address. “They were not used to writing in short and simple sentences, but rather using legalese or fancy Latin,” explains Heidi Levine, co-managing partner of the New York office of DLA Piper. “They thought it would make them look smarter and had been encouraged to use such language on exams. They thought people wrote that way.”
So the attorneys taught their students about IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application and Conclusion) as a methodology for legal analysis that would come in handy in preparing for the bar exam and in practice. Levine described the curriculum of the one-week program, which took place during the students’ school vacation. It consisted of lectures and discussion, with practice exams, essays and homework. Each classroom paired BI and DLA Piper lawyers as instructors, allowing for inside and outside perspectives, letting students see the interaction between the two.
Check out the part 2 of this piece: here