The Complete Series for Legal Writers

by Alexa Z. Chew and Katie Rose Guest Pryal

The Genre Discovery Approach: Preparing Law Students to Write Any Legal Document

Katie Rose Guest Pryal, J.D., Ph.D.


Employers bemoan that new lawyers cannot write. Professors teaching upper-level law school courses wonder why students cannot apply their first-year (1L) legal writing skills. Law students worry that their legal writing courses have not prepared them to write all of the document types they will encounter in practice. In response to these complaints and fears, law school administrators push legal writing professors to squeeze more and more different document types into first-year legal writing courses.

I argue that the “more documents” strategy does not adequately prepare practice-ready legal writers. We cannot inoculate our students against every conceivable genre that they will encounter. Instead of teaching more and more legal document types — legal genres — we need to teach 1L students what to do when they encounter an unfamiliar genre.

Because a genre is a relatively stable communication type that has certain predictable conventions, we can teach our students what steps to take to deliberately discover new genres. This “genre discovery approach” to legal writing pedagogy builds upon current teaching trends, borrowing crucial elements from rhetorical genre theory to enhance students’ understanding of how genres work. Once students understand how genres work, they can write any genre that they encounter (in upper-level courses and the workplace), even genres that they have never seen before. They will be prepared to write any legal document.

Read More: 

Pryal, Katie Rose Guest, The Genre Discovery Approach: Preparing Law Students to Write Any Legal Document (2013). Wayne Law Review, Vol. 59, 2013. Available at SSRN: