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Independent Writing

Students sometimes ask me whether I would supervise them for an independent writing project. If it’s something I know about, I’m willing. And, in the rare case it’s something no one the faculty knows about or the more common case where people who know about it are already maxed out, I’m probably willing. You see, students don’t often want me as their supervisor: I’m pretty demanding. I see our goal as to write something publishable, not just another term paper.

If you are interested in writing a paper please turn in a two page memo, ideally via email, on your proposed paper topic, listing the issues you intend to address and (perhaps) your first guess as to what you will say about them. I need this memo no later than the end of the second week of classes. Based on this memo I will either approve the topic or propose modifications. We will meet from time to time, on a schedule we’ll set up and you are also welcome to contact me at any time with questions. I will expect you to turn in a rough draft via email at a date to be agreed (some time around midterm), and I will return the rough draft with comments as soon as I can, on a first-come, first-served basis. You will not be graded on your rough draft — the comments are entirely for your benefit with no strings attached. The final draft is due the last day of classes unless we agree otherwise. In addition to giving me a hard copy of the final draft of your paper, please email the full project to me cc’ing my faculty assistant.

In picking a topic — by far the hardest part of the project — I advise you to consult Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review (2d ed.) [on reserve in the library] for a wealth of useful tips on picking a topic and writing the paper. A shorter version is on line at Westlaw, Eugene Volokh, Writing a Student Article, 48 J. Legal Educ. 247 (1998). See also Volokh’s page on academic legal writing and Prof. Stephen Schnably’s advice on picking a topic and on writing a paper.

For a quick reminder of a few good rules of writing (almost as applicable to a law paper as to its ostensible topic, the e-mail), see David Silverman, How to Revise an Email So That People Will Read It. For a slightly longer treatment, with a lot of good advice to the beginning legal writer, see David Post Writing Guidelines: General Principles & Rules Of Thumb.

I’ve also got a few idiosyncratic writing tips that I hold very dear.