There’s a lot of advice on the internet for law students about how to email a law teacher. Usually, its from disappointed or angry teachers. But, putting aside the personal angst, it’s not just about law school. Concise and clear communication is a professional skill.
You can learn more about the importance of clear communication, and why it’s important to teach it, in this week’s video.
Whether a law student is thinking about going into practice or joining another profession, interpersonal communication is a fundamental skill. Clear communication is central to improving things like accessibility and efficiency in the administration of justice. Simple communication means that clients and other lawyers can understand the intention of legal writing quickly.
But you’re probably looking for an even more practical reason, right?
Employers look for good communication skills. And being able to communicate effectively online with a potential employer has advantages. In a world where law firms run more application processes electronically, avoiding slipping into informality can improve a job applicant’s prospects of snagging an interview. And a job.
But if emailing a law teacher is a professional skill, does it really need to be taught?
If you have read some of my other posts, you’ll know I’m a big fan of going back to the curriculum. In an Australian context, electronic communication is explicitly included in the Council of Australian Law Dean’s commentary to Teaching and Learning Outcome 5 on communication:
knowledge and ability to work in plain English … in both traditional forms of communication … and contemporary forms of communication (such as email, video-link, and interactive online communications)
In an American context, the American Bar Association Standards, Standard 302(d) requires law schools to address ‘competency’. Although not part of the curriculum, Formal Opinion 477R also introduces additional requirements for the correct use and protection of email.
But let’s leave aside the formal requirements. The era when penpals (remember those?) would sit down and write to each other on paper has gone. I have had the experience of asking law students to draft a letter and there being slightly concerned questions about what format a letter takes. That was an excellent opportunity to talk about address blocks and salutations. While that’s not an email, the formality of the communication just wasn’t something that young law students had encountered.
But law teachers need to walk the talk …
Just like every other professional skill, law teachers need to model clear email communications. There are plenty of tweets from students about law teachers responding to their carefully crafted emails with ‘ Yep’.
I understand law teachers are busy. But if clear communication is a professional skill, then we also need to walk the talk.