Monday, April 10, 2023 | 2 a.m.
UNLV law school student Sarah Voehl is about to embark on a federal court clerkship, and she credits the university’s top-rated legal writing program for helping her get there.
“Most cases are won by writing and not by going to trial or doing oral arguments, so I knew that was a skill that I really wanted to focus on growing,” Voehl said. “If I want to be an excellent advocate, going to (a) school with an excellent writing program would go the farthest to get me there.”
The Legal Writing Program at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law has ranked near the top of the U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings for several years. This year, it tied with the University of Oregon for best legal writing program among almost 200 schools.
The Boyd School of Law was ranked 67th overall this year, also tied with the University of Oregon.
“We’re the only (law) school in Nevada … and yet, we’re No. 1 in the country for legal writing,” law school Dean Leah Grinvald said. “I think that’s just such a source of pride.”
Legal writing is part of the law school’s larger lawyering process curriculum, which has students cycle through three different legal writing classes over three semesters, as they build skills in legal analysis, research and writing. The first two courses cover legal writing basics, while the third course allows students to pick a specialized area of study, Grinvald said.
Voehl has taken four courses in legal writing since she started law school in 2020. Many of the classes are small, allowing students to get a lot of one-on-one attention from professors, she said.
“I think (with) a lot of legal writing, you can learn sort of general principles — how to write a roadmap and how to make a clear conclusion — but until you get that individualized sort of coaching, it’s more difficult to apply it,” Voehl said. “So I do think that was one of the main aspects of the program that really set me and my classmates up for success.”
During her second year of law school, Voehl was on UNLV’s moot court team. Students are assigned a case and a side to represent, then hold a trial as if in a real court.
Voehl said she learned about the appeals process and practiced writing briefs and making oral arguments. The experience “helped strengthen (her) writing” in general, she said.
Voehl’s most recent legal writing class was with U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer Dorsey. Voehl applied for Dorsey’s Writing for Judges class last fall and was one of 10 students accepted, she said.
Dorsey is “a world-class legal writer, so I was very excited to be admitted to that class,” Voehl said.
The Boyd School of Law is home to experts like Professor Mary Beth Beazley, who literally wrote the book on legal writing. She wrote “A Practical Guide to Appellate Advocacy,” a textbook used in legal writing classes.
Beazley, who joined the law school staff in 2017, said she has “the best legal writing job in the country.”
Because UNLV offers tenure to legal writing professors, Beazley said, she can work on improving her courses, supporting students and engaging in studies.
“The students at Boyd are great,” Beazley said. “Our students are really open to learning.”
Grinvald said plans at UNLV call for updating the curriculum, bringing new experts to the faculty and expanding a virtual legal writing bootcamp.
Voehl’s time at UNLV will end in May when she graduates, but the law school’s Legal Writing Program has already helped her reach at one of her career goals, she said.
Last spring, she applied for a federal clerkship, which gives her the opportunity to work with a U.S. District Court or U.S. Court of Appeals judge in Nevada. She begins in August, and attributes her being awarded the position to the law school’s professors and curriculum.
“It’s Boyd’s Legal Writing Program that made me competitive for these very competitive jobs and clerkships,” Voehl said. “I really credit Boyd’s Legal Writing Program, my moot court experience and writing practice with having achieved the clerkship that I really wanted to get after graduation.”