Guide to Fulfilling the Advanced Writing Requirement

What is the Advanced Writing Requirement?

The Official Definitions:
  1. It is a substantial piece of written work that is student produced.
  2. It must show an awareness of pertinent primary and secondary authority.
  3. The paper must engage in “original thoughtful analysis,” not “merely report, compile, or describe the work of other authors.”
  4. It may not be an appellate brief.
  5. It should be longer than 25 – 30 pages, exclusive of footnotes and endnotes.
What does this all mean?
  1. The paper must be a very comprehensive, in-depth analysis of a topic. It should fully describe the question or area of law being studied.
  2. The paper must fully synthesize the work of others in the area of law selected. It must cite pertinent cases, law review articles and other sources. It should synthesize the cases and law so that the legal reader can understand their meaning. It should “cover the waterfront” and describe all pertinent detail, whether or not supportive of the conclusions the student reaches in his analysis.
  3. The “thoughtful analysis” requirement is perhaps the hardest for students to understand. Once you have fully surveyed the area of law in your topic, you must prepare your own analysis. This could be in the form of predictions of future developments in that area of law, opinions of the decisions already made, etc. At least one fourth of your paper should be devoted to original analysis, rather than reporting and describing the area of law as it exists currently.
  4. The Advanced Writing Requirement paper is a piece of critical writing, not instrumental writing like a brief is.
  5. The paper should be at least 25 – 30 pages in length (excluding footnotes and endnotes). Many professors believe that a comprehensive, in depth analysis of a legal topic can not be less than 35 – 40 pages.

How do I fulfill the Advanced Writing Requirement?

You can fulfill the Advanced Writing Requirement in three ways:

  1. Through an approved seminar. (This is the preferred method.)

    Advantages:

    • Faculty members teaching the approved seminars are expecting a certain number of their students to fulfill the Advanced Writing Requirement through the seminars.
    • Topics for the papers are defined within the boundaries of the subject matter of the seminar.

    Disadvantages:

    • Seminars may not be offered in areas of law that interests all students.
    • A paper written to fulfill the Advanced Writing Requirement from a seminar is necessarily more detailed and more analytical than a typical seminar paper.
    • Not all seminars are approved to fulfill the Advanced Writing Requirement. Check the catalogue or with the professor teaching the course to determine whether a paper coming out of the seminar fulfills the requirement.
  2. Through an independent writing project for credit, with a full-time faculty member. This option is not available to students in their last semester of law school. In addition, students wishing to satisfy the requirement through independent written work must submit a written proposal to a full-time faculty supervisor before the beginning of their second-to-last semester. The proposal should include a summary of the proposed topic, a preliminary thesis, and a research plan. The proposal must be approved by the faculty supervisor, who will meet regularly with the student in tutorial sessions during the course of the writing project, and will provide feedback on interim drafts. With the approval of the faculty member, notes or comments prepared for law journals may provide a starting point for independent work of this nature.

    Advantages:

    • The student can choose an area of law in which she has an interest.
    • Alternatively, the student can choose a particular professor with whom she has a relationship.
    • There is more flexibility with topic selection.

    Disadvantages:

    • The student has more up front planning to do.
    • She has to select a topic and find a professor willing to supervise that particular topic, or select a professor and ask if she is willing to take on an independent writing project and ask her for topic ideas.
  3. By writing the equivalent of a seminar paper in a course offered for at least two credits, if the instructor agrees in advance that the written work is of the kind that will satisfy the Advanced Writing Requirement.

    Advantages:

    • The student typically selects a clinic or course in an area of law in which she has an interest.

    Disadvantages:

    • The professor teaching the course may place a limit on the number of students who can satisfy the advanced writing requirement through that course.

When should I begin the Writing Process?

Ideally, you should begin the process sometime in your second year as a day student, or in your third year as an evening student. At this time, the student has become more comfortable in the law school environment and more confident in her research and writing abilities.

If you are entering third year (day) or fourth year (evening): BEGIN NOW!

Except in extraordinary circumstances, students must complete the requirement no later than the end of the next-to-last semester prior to graduation. The option of satisfying the Advanced Writing Requirement through Independent Written Work is not available to students in the last semester of law school.

How do I begin?

The process varies depending on the route taken:

  1. If you plan to satisfy the advanced writing requirement through a seminar, the professor may require additional work over what is required for the seminar.

    If you want to satisfy the advanced writing requirement through a seminar offered in the fall, discuss the addition work required with the professor as soon as possible. Let her know that you wish to satisfy your writing requirement through the seminar. Ask about due dates for the final product. Will the paper need to be finished by the end of the semester? Will an extension be granted?

    If you plan to satisfy the advanced writing requirement through a seminar offered in the spring: If you are a graduating student, this is not a good idea! Second -year students have priority for spring seminars (because, ideally, the paper should be completed before your last semester). If you are not graduating, you should, sometime before registration for the spring semester, talk to the professor about additional requirements for using the seminar to satisfy the writing requirement.

  2. If you plan to satisfy the advanced writing requirement through an independent writing project, you must do so before your last semester of law school (and you must submit your written proposal in advance of the second-to-last semester). Only full-time faculty members may supervise independent written work. You should also keep these two important factors in mind:
    • It helps to know your professor! If you have had the professor for a previous class, then you have a feel for her style, expectations, etc. All of this is very important when selecting a professor to supervise your independent written work.
    • Find a topic you are interested in. The advanced writing requirement is a daunting task involving lots of time researching, analyzing, interpreting and writing. Most likely, you will tire of the process sometime before you finish. If you don’t like the topic, it will be that much harder to stay motivated throughout.
  3. When you determine how you will fulfill the Advanced Writing requirement, complete the Advanced Writing Requirement Intention Form – Part I, and bring it to the Office of Registration & Enrollment. If you are fulfilling the requirement through an Independent Written Work project, you must also complete the Courses Requiring Faculty Approval form, obtain the supervising faculty member’s signature, and bring the form to the Office of Registration & Enrollment. Submission of these forms is required. At the successful completion of the Advanced Writing requirement, complete and submit to the faculty supervisor the Advanced Writing Requirement Certification Form. The faculty supervisor must sign the form, certifying the student’s satisfaction of the requirement, and convey it to the Office of Registration & Enrollment. All forms are available on the Forms page of this website.

How do I choose a topic?

If you are satisfying the advanced writing requirement through a seminar (the preferred approach), or course, then the topic will be (in part) dictated by the seminar or course content. If you are doing so through an independent writing project:

  1. Develop some preliminary ideas for a topic that interests you. With independent writing, most professors expect students to have researched topic ideas before coming to see them.
  2. Before doing a significant amount of research, meet with the professor. Discuss your ideas with her and determine together whether the project is feasible and one she feels comfortable supervising.
  3. Another approach may be to determine with whom you wish to work and discuss with her availability to supervise a writing project. She may already have topics that she wants to research and that may interest you.

How much time will the advanced writing paper take?

Every student approaches the writing process with his or her own style. However, a 35 – 40 page paper that receives a grade of B or better is by definition a significant task. It may (and most likely will) take longer than one semester to complete. You should keep that in mind in planning when to start the writing process.

You should begin the process after you have some experience in law school (i.e. after the first year for day students and after at least three semesters for evening students). The best approach is to try to find a seminar in which you have an interest. Otherwise, you’ll need to select an area of law with which you are familiar and in which you are interested, and a professor who is willing to work with you independently.


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500 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-1786 PHONE: (410) 706-7214 FAX: (410) 706-4045 / TDD: (410) 706-7714

Copyright © 2014, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. All Rights Reserved