The Write Direction

Holistic approach makes Boyd School of Law’s legal writing program the best in the country

For the fifth year in a row, the William S. Boyd School of Law at UNLV has ranked No. 1 in legal writing, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2022-23 Best Graduate Colleges rankings.

What makes the program the best in the nation? For one, its commitment to remaining on the cutting edge of education.

“We’re not just teaching your dad’s legal writing or your grandfather’s legal writing,” professor Kathryn M. Stanchi says. “We are keeping abreast of what lawyers are really doing in the field. Where is writing coming up? How can we prepare students to be able to do all of the different kinds of writing so that they can hit the ground running?”

This fall, a new course debuted to help students prepare for the latest evolution of the bar exam, which focuses less on brute memorization and more on performance. Distinguished Visiting Professor Joan Howarth, dean emerita at the Michigan State University College of Law, and professor Katherine Beckman, assistant director of the Academic Success Program at Boyd Law, co-teach the Lawyering Process III course.

Helping students tackle performance tests is just one component. “We are emphasizing statutory analysis, working under time pressure, and the variety of writing tasks that new lawyers may be expected to produce in practice,” Howarth says.

For her part, Stanchi has built her career around legal writing and thrives on sharing her craft with her students. She loves to teach a course on advanced strategies for persuasion.

Stanchi believes that the Boyd School of Law’s stellar faculty members should be credited for the school’s top ranking.

“They are among the best faculty in the country doing that kind of work,” Stanchi says. “And they’re not just the top teachers, not just people [who are] nationally recognized for both scholarship and service, but some of the most prolific legal writing scholars in the country.”

As one of the newest members of the faculty, Stanchi says she moved from Philadelphia to Las Vegas because she wanted to work with the best people: UNLV law professors, who are authors of some of the top textbooks and scholarship in the field.

“Boyd has, over the course of the last 10 years or so, been on a mission to collect the best writing folks from around the country,” Stanchi says. “This was a dream job for me because of that.”

Another attribute that makes Boyd Law’s writing program spectacular, according to Stanchi, is its holistic approach. “The writing is taught in a context of ‘How can we make you be the best lawyer you can be,’” Stanchi says.

Case in point: Another new LPIII course focuses on writing for trials and advocacy, and is taught by professor Joe Regalia.

“Advanced Trial Advocacy LPIII merges on-your-feet courtroom skills with the fast-paced trial writing that real attorneys use in real civil and criminal trials,” Regalia says. “Usually courses at other law schools focus either on courtroom skills like opening statements and witness examinations—or writing—but not usually both together.”

Stanchi says many students come to law school thinking lawyers go into trial just winging it because they’ve watched a lot of TV and movies. “But that’s often not how a real trial gets conducted,” she says. “Most top-notch trial lawyers have a trial notebook; they’ve written out their motions ahead of time, they are prepared to brief complex trial issues. So that’s just an incredible addition to the curriculum. That’s an area in which many students may not realize that writing is critical.”

Of course, learning how to write is a lifetime pursuit, and it’s OK if students don’t immediately find it easy. But with study, practice, and the help of UNLV’s world-class faculty, the payoff will eventually happen.

The most gratifying moment for Stanchi is when alums reach out to her with writing success stories: “That for me—I could just die happy,” Stanchi says. “Just knowing that you helped somebody to succeed at something hard is pretty amazing.”