Vol 12, Issue 2
Legal Drafting – A Necessary Skill for Lawyers, but Not for Law Students?
We all know that there are 11 compulsory subjects we need to do known as the Priestley 11. These compulsory subjects are meant to establish the basic concepts that we need to know before we become trained to be lawyers. Yet there is something missing in this list of compulsory subjects: Legal Drafting. Right now it’s an elective in our JD program, but the competition to get into this subject is ridiculous to say the least. There are only 30 placements in the elective and there are approximately 300 of us who want to do it, perhaps more, but Melbourne Law School still does not increase the number of placements or classes. More importantly, they do not even make it a compulsory subject. There really needs to be a campaign by the LSS to make this a compulsory subject!
According to the Handbook, Legal Drafting involves preparation of legal technical documents, honing communication skills to clients through written advice, independently assessing one’s own drafting and synthesizing complex legal issues into a legal document. Students are encouraged to be creative, critical and concise about how they draft. Now, does that not sound like something we law students all need to learn, not just the lucky 30 students who are accepted into this subject?
The subject covers theories of legal writing, how to write an advice to a client, discussion on plain language, persuasive writing and writing contracts. The subject also involves guest speakers who are in-house commercial lawyers and government lawyers, so students will gain valuable experience from these speakers, especially if they consider applying for paralegal or grad positions in government or in-house.
I took Start-up Law as an intensive and we covered a fair bit of legal drafting and reading contracts among other things. It was the most practical subject I had ever taken. For the lucky Legal Drafting students, they will be doing just that for the next 12 weeks. I reckon they will have the best chance of getting a job simply because they got into the Legal Drafting subject (and presumably did well in it).
These are skills that lawyers execute every day and they need to be at the top of their game while doing it, otherwise they may be sued for professional negligence. Imagine every law student in Australia being required to learn legal drafting. When they work in the field, they will be a lot more proactive and intuitive in reading and drafting documents. The PLT and early work as a junior lawyer will not then involve having to learn extensively how to be a lawyer because law students will have a sturdy grasp on legal drafting and communication skills. I hear from other students who did clerkships that reading legal documents and writing letters is a common exercise of clerking, so the subject will prepare every law student for this inevitable task, if not as a clerk then at least as a grad or junior lawyer. Legal Drafting students will have a significant head-start in all this.
The system is letting us down here. For those in their final year of university, like me, we’ll miss out on this, but I hope every law student who still has a year or more to go, including future law students, will have the chance to do Legal Drafting.
Paul Goddard is a third-year JD student
More articles like this
The rest of this issue