Each semester, I supervise several law students who are writing research papers. Some are doing this for law review/journal, some are doing it for a seminar, and some are doing it for independent research credits.
I generally work with students one-on-one. First, each student will have a different topic that aligns with their experience and interests. Second, each student will have different needs from research strategies, to argumentation, to editing.
Analogously, a piano teacher will work with students of different abilities and ages. The eight-year old prodigy playing Chopin will have a separate lesson from the 12-year-old playing a simple Beethoven's Fur Elise. Similarly, I will have meetings with the student writing a licensing paper separate from the meetings with the student writing an insurance coverage paper.
I believe that legal research writing projects are best divided into at least eight stages:
This course does not have any specific (professor-defined) doctrinal or content objectives. Instead, it is best described as a structured workshop. Yes, you will meaningfully engage and grapple with substantive health law issues. But I will not define these issues. They will be particular and unique to each student. You will substantively engage with health law issues primarily during the process of using and responding to primary and secondary authorities in your own paper.
Major papers may seem like yet one more law school hoop to jump through. But they, in fact, serve a valuable purpose in helping you gain experience in synthesizing original ideas and arguments into a compelling written document. This is a valuable skill in any field of endeavor. Most of you will do far more writing than speaking in summer jobs and as new lawyers. So, you have to learn to write, as well as read and speak, about the law you are learning. Bryan Garner is right: “Legal employers prize writing ability more highly than almost any other skill.”
Your own paper is the primary focus, target, and outcome of this course. You get to choose a health law topic on which to focus your attention for the semester. You can research and write on the topic you choose, building and demonstrating expertise where you want.
1. Legal Research
1.1 Develop your legal research skills with respect to primary legal sources like statutes, cases, and regulations.
1.2 Develop your legal research skills with respect to secondary legal sources like journals, books, and grey literature.
1.3 Develop your interdisciplinary research skills, especially with respect to medical and health literature.
2.1 Enhance and hone your legal writing skills.
2.2 Develop a useful paper outline.
2.3 Critically evaluate peer writing.
2.4 Respond to feedback to revise your writing in terms of language usage, document organization, content, and format.
2.5 Employ appropriate citation conventions.
3. Oral Presentation
3.1 Make a clear oral presentation of the paper’s message to non-specialists.
3.2 Respond to questions and comments from participants.
4. Health Law
4.1 Choose a good paper topic in terms of originality, novelty, and usefulness.
4.2 Master a specific, narrow topic, demonstrating original analysis and synthesis of material that has not been previously synthesized and analyzed.
4.3 Develop your ability to recognize, analyze, and critically evaluate legal health issues.
4.4 Prompt your self-reflection and provide experience in communicating and listening to alternative moral viewpoints.
5. Portfolio Credentials
5.1 Produce a writing sample of publishable quality.
5.2 Have a writing sample that demonstrates your writing skills
5.2 Have a writing sample that highlights your professional interests.
Advanced Research and Writing Requirement
Most students write research papers in law school to satisfy the Upper Level Advanced Research and Writing Requirement (Long Paper) requirement for a J.D. degree. Those requirements are explained and specified in the documents below.
Elizabeth Fajans & Mary R. Falk, Scholarly Writing for Law Students: Seminar Papers, Law Review Notes, and Law Review Competition Papers (5th ed. 2017).
See also the following:
Mary B. Ray & Jill J. Ramsfield, Legal Writing: Getting It Right and Getting It Written (6th ed. West 2018).
Jessica L. Clark & Kristen E. Murray, Scholarly Writing: Ideas, Examples, and Execution (2d ed. Carolina 2012).
Austen L. Parrish & Dennis T. Yokoyama, Effective Lawyering: A Checklist Approach to Legal Writing and Oral Argument (2d ed. Carolina 2012) (see chapter 7 on academic legal writing).
A good style guide, like Garner's Modern American Usage.
The Blue Book – A Uniform System of Citation (Harvard Law Review, 20th ed. 2015).
Immediately below are two short videos that I prepared on selecting a topic and on selecting a thesis. The correspnding slides are also posted in PDF.
Here is the key takeaway. Choose a topic that (1) interests you, (2) that lends itself to completion in one semester, (3) that pertains to health law or health policy, and ideally (4) that leverages prior experience or coursework, and (5) you can use beyond law school for a current or future job.
A lot of skilled and talented people at universities find themselves in a situation where they have to write a large final thesis at least once during their studies. Many of them find it difficult to choose a topic and end up giving much time and effort into a paper that only serves as a means to get their degree, with almost no subsequent applications. But when there is so much energy invested in the thesis, why not choose a topic that will, on the top of gaining you a diploma, benefit and help someone else?
Schedule for Fall & Spring Semesters
The single biggest danger in law school (or any graduate school) writing is procrastination. Students often wait too long before starting to edit. Consequently, too many distinct stages of the project (research, writing, editing, polishing) get compressed into a too short time period. The quality of the product materially suffers.
To mitigate this risk, the following threshold dates are a paternalistic measure to keep you moving along. But they also permit me to provide substantial and meaningful formative assessment and feedback.
Stage 1 of 8 - Topic & Thesis
Spring - February 1
Fall - September 1
The primary mission of this course is for you to write your own paper. Therefore, the threshold step is to determine "on what" you will write this paper. What is the topic? What claim or position will you support and defend within this topic? While we have set a deadline for submissions, feel free to get a "curbside consult" or "bounce off" tentative ideas earlier.
1. Identify your topic. You may write on any topic in the area of bioethics or health law. There are no specific restrictions as to your topic, other than the obvious one that the paper must be in the general area of bioethics or health law.
2. Identify your thesis. This is the specific claim or argument that you will support and defend within your topic.
3. DUE TO PROF. POPE - In 400 to 500 words, describe the issue that you plan to address and what you want to say about it. Your topic and claim may evolve over the course of the semester. But state what it is now. This submission comprises 5% of your course grade.
4. After carefully choosing and defining a topic, you should begin preliminary research on that topic.This preliminary research will soon reveal the major issues and sub-issues included in your topic. Create Google alerts, West-Clips, PubMed alerts, and similar auto-searches. This will keep you engaged with the project.
1. Prepare a preliminary bibliography. I review these to ensure that you are engaging with the most relevant and most literature and legal developments for your topic and thesis.
2. DUE TO PROF. POPE - Submit a preliminary bibliography of those sources that you have used and/or those that you plan to use. Include at least twenty (20) citations. Your bibliography should separately list: (a) primary legal authorities, (b) secondary legal authorities, (c) non-legal authorities, and (d) any materials that you have difficulty obtaining. I understand that you may not yet have read or even obtained all these sources. I further understand that you will identify additional sources during the process of writing and editing. Annotate your bibliography. Write a sentence or two after your citation for each entry, indicating what the authority argues/demonstrate &/or why you plan to use it. This submission comprises 5% of your course grade.
3. While you are only submitting a bibliography at this stage, you should already be writing your paper. At this stage, do not worry about the quality of the words. Generating text matters most. Your writing may meander for a while before you discovered what it is that you want to say. But this is the method of great writers. Once you have a draft, you will see both gaps and possibilities. These writers also report that writing daily, even if for just 20 minutes, is far more effective than “binge” writing in spurts.
4. While a major writing project like this seminar paper is heavier on research near the beginning, do NOT think of research and writing as separate stages of the project. If you have not yet started writing, start NOW. Write what you can based on the materials you have so far. Then go back and do more research to fill the gaps in your draft. In other words, let your living document guide your research.
1. DUE TO PROF. POPE - Submit an outline of, and introduction to, your paper. The outline and introduction section comprises 5% of your course grade.
2. Your outline must include (a) a tentative title, (b) a thesis statement, and (c) major topic areas and subtopics (i.e. three levels deep). Your outline should follow a traditional format (see samples). Your outline should identify your working thesis, and provide the framework you will use in expounding upon it. Your thesis is a succinct and carefully-bounded statement of a problem or issue, along with your solution and/or suggestions for change or improvement.
3. After identifying your thesis, provide a general layout of how your will prove your thesis, including general background information that will help an intelligent reader who is unfamiliar with your subject to understand the issue and identification of key arguments you’ll be making and points you’ll be addressing.
4. Your outline should clearly set out the major issues and sub-issues. Your outline should reveal the basic structure and flow of your topic and forthcoming paper. As such it is fundamentally important that it be done carefully and thoughtfully. Outlines should be about three pages long. Your outline should be written in complete sentences. Ideally, these will become your section and subsection headings.
5. Your introduction section should provide an opening to the topic and thesis of your paper and provide a roadmap.
1. DUE TO PROF. POPE - Submit a substantive rough draft of at least one major section of your paper (other than the introduction). The section rough draft comprises 5% of your course grade.
2. This will probably be one of the first sections providing factual or legal background. But it can be any major section of the paper.
3. This one section should substantially (though need not strictly) conform to the requirements for the final paper. Roughly, each section in an 8500-word paper should be around seven pages long.
4. While the only deliverable at this stage is one section of your paper, you should have written (at least partially) most if not all sections of your paper. Indeed, you are welcome to submit more than just one section at this stage. Indicate in bracketed comments what your plans are for incomplete subsections.
Stage 5 of 8 - Complete Draft
Spring - April 3
Fall - November 3
1. Submit a substantive rough draft (not a first draft) of your entire paper. The substantive rough draft comprises 10% of your course grade.
2. Obviously, the more complete and "finished" this substantive rough draft is, the less effort will be needed to mold it into the final draft. A good operating assumption is that the substantive rough draft is at least two-thirds of the way toward the finished product.
3. Substantive rough drafts should be formatted per the requirements for the final paper. Target lengths of the substantive rough drafts should be at least seventeen pages of text and fifty footnotes. Indicate incomplete sections that you plan to develop with [bracketed comments] describing what you plan to do.
4. The substantive rough draft should reflect thorough, exhaustive research on your topic and be a complete (if still rough and unpolished) version of your paper. It should follow basically the structure established in your original or revised outline. But please note, that you are not bound by this preliminary outline and you may change the organization or issues as you see fit to do justice to your research topic.
5. Footnoting should be somewhat complete, needing only some minor rechecking, reorganizing and redrafting. Your thought processes should be clear, and only your language and presentation should still need much work.
6. Without a substantial rough draft, I will be unable to provide the feedback necessary to ensure that your final paper will be adequate.
Stage 6 of 8 - Revised Complete Draft
Spring - April 17
Fall - November 17
1. Typically, I exchange many drafts and versions with students. While this is not required, it is strongly recommended.
2. In response to each of your deliverables, I will be providing individualized feedback. So, you will get assessment from me at least seven times throughout the semester. This will through both written comments and MP3 audio comments. In addition to these, each student should have at least two (2) individual conferences with me. Some of these can be through Skype, FaceTime, or a similar tool. The other may be scheduled at a time convenient and relevant for you.
3. While only these two meetings are a suggested minimum, I encourage you to meet with me and to email me throughout the semester as you research and write your paper. I want to “check in” with you about your topic development, research progress, pitfalls, and accomplishments. And I want to explore how your current academic writing fits into your future professional plans.
Stage 7 of 8 - Final Paper
Spring - May 20
Fall - December 20
1. DUE TO PROF. POPE - The final paper comprise 70% of your grade.
2. Your final paper should be a polished, organized, well-written, and thoughtful treatment of an issue broadly placed in the field of health law. The specific requirements and grading criteria are attached.
Whenever possible, I have asked those law students preparing research papers to make 20-minute presentations in the same way that seminar students make class presentations. This works best when there are multiple writers who can critically comment on each other's presentations.