Can Legal Writing Programs Benefit from Evaluating Student Writing Using Single-Submission, Semester-Ending, Standardized, Performance-Type Assignments?

John Schunk, Santa Clara University School of Law


As a recent popular book makes clear, people react to incentives, and law students are no different. Law school students often shape their work and study habits according to what they think will help them maximize the grades they receive in a particular course. Law school students study differently depending on what and how their professor will base or calculate their grade. Law school students will prepare differently for an essay examination than for a multiple-choice examination, for a take-home examination than for an in-class examination, and for an open-book examination than for a closed-note examination. In short, how and when students are evaluated helps shape how they study for a particular course.

This essay suggests that this principle applies to legal writing courses as well and that legal writing programs can obtain a number of benefits from altering the traditional way of evaluating student performance in the areas of legal research, writing, and analysis. Many legal writing programs evaluate a student's perfo INTRODUCTION

rmance based on a series of assignments that students write and then rewrite after receiving comments from their legal writing teacher. Over the last decade, some have proposed altering this model by introducing the Multistate Performan

ce Test into the legal writing curriculum or by using traditional objective examinations in first-year legal writing courses.

Based on a three-year experience at Santa Clara University School of Law, this essay suggests that using these principles, those of performance testing and traditional examinations, in a slightly modified form can reap significant benefits for legal writing programs.

In part II,

this essay explains

what this modified concept looks like and how it works, explains how it differs from what many other law schools do, and explains what motivated the Santa Clara legal writing program to try this altemative.

In part III, this essay identifies the numerous benefits that may come from adopting this idea for evaluating student writing. As this essay will illustrate, these benefits were far greater and far more extensive than were anticipated. In part IV,

this essay examines student and teacher reactions to using the kind of assignments described here.