Faculty Scholarship Digest

Terri L. Enns



Terri L. Enns, Students Critiquing Novice Writing: Building Hope by Building Bridges, 48 DUQUESNE L. REV. 403 (2010).

This article grew from a conference surrounding an article by Allison Martin and Kevin Rand arguing that legal education should “aim to instill hope in . . . students because hope and optimism are critical for law student success” in the short and long terms. Terri examines the role of hope in the context of the legal-writing classroom and deconstructs with this perspective an in-class critiquing exercise she uses in teaching Legal Writing and Analysis.

The article begins with discussion of the role hope and optimism can play in successful learning outcomes and the barriers the common frustrations of new legal writing students present to achieving this positive outlook. The article then turns to Terri’s exercise, in which, between the rough draft and the final version of the first student memo, they receive an identical writing sample and a grading rubric (the same one she uses to grade the students). The students spend about 15 minutes “in Terri’s shoes,” analyzing strengths and weaknesses and how they would help the writer improve.

At the end, Terri reveals the sample was her first piece of legal writing as a law student. She explains how this advances “hope” (a sophisticated multi-faceted concept that the article breaks down into several components) both with clear analysis and through written comments her students submitted. First, becoming “the Reader” helps the students set realistic and appropriate goals for their own legal writing. Second, critiquing the novice writing of an ultimately successful lawyer helps model learning as a process for the students. Third, sitting in the role of critic helps the student better understand the assessment process, thereby helping them emerge from it with hope in tact. Finally, critiquing the novice writing of a successful professional helps with the students’ “agentic thinking,” which Martin and Rand describe as “the motivational component to propel people along their imagined route to their goals.”