How to Satisfy your Upper Level Writing Requirement

GUEST BLOG Makenzie Way,
2L at the University of Pennsylvania Law School

Most law schools require upper-level students to satisfy a senior writing requirement before graduation. Generally, these writing submissions hover around the 25-30 page range, require rigorous research and editing, and are completed under a faculty supervisor. It’s no surprise then that for many 2L and 3L law students the upper-level writing requirement seems daunting.

Part of what is stressful about the writing requirement is figuring out (a) what you’re going to write on, and (b) how you’re going to fit writing a 30-page paper into your otherwise full semester. I’ve compiled a list outlining a number of possible ways that you may satisfy your upper-level writing requirement. Also, this list shows the potential pros and cons of each.

Comment or Journal Note

Pro:

 If you’re a member of law review, or another law school journal, submitting a comment may be a requirement of your journal membership. If that’s the case then you can essentially kill two birds with one stone. Request that your comment or note serve as your upper-level writing requirement as well.

Con:

 According to what journal you’re on, the range of acceptable topics for your comment or note may not align with your interests. In that case, if a comment is not required as part of your journal membership, you may want to consider whether you want to spend the time writing about an issue that is not of special interest to you – after all, 30 pages is not a quick project.

Seminar Courses

Pro:

 If you’re selective when choosing your seminar course(s) you can likely find one that requires a lengthy paper in lieu of a final exam. Many of these term papers can be used to satisfy your upper-level writing requirement. Bonus: you don’t need to spend the time seeking out a faculty advisor since your course professor already fills that role!

Con:

 Often times seminar courses have fewer credit hours then doctrinal courses, meaning you may have to stack courses to fulfill the required minimum semester credit hours. If that is, in fact, the case for you, your semester schedule may not grant you the necessary time to complete a quality lengthy paper. Furthermore, unlike a journal comment which is not completed for credit, seminar term papers predict your course grade.

On Your Own Time

Pro:

 Completing your upper-level writing requirement on your own provides you with a lot of flexibility in terms of selecting your faculty advisor, setting the completion timeline, choosing a topic, and determining your research strategy.

Con: 

If you opt to complete your upper-level writing requirement outside of more formal academic programs, you, of course, miss out on the chance to get course credit or immediate publication in a journal.

Independent Study

(Independent studies are essentially self-directed courses in which students research and write lengthy papers on a narrow topic. Another is where students work with a professor to craft a course on a specialty area of law)

Pro:

 Need a good alternative to completing the upper-level writing requirement on your own time? Find a faculty member interested in your topic. Then, request that they not only supervise your writing but also agree to oversee an independent study on the topic. Not only do independent studies look impressive on a transcript; you also get the chance to work closely with a professor (presumably) of interest to you. Plus, since this is a formal course you, of course, get credit hours!

Con:

 Unlike the ‘on your own time’ option, professors will expect a lot more out of you in terms of scheduling, research efforts, and even detail in editing when they know you are getting course credit, and the added benefit of an independent study on your transcript.

Research Assistant Project

Pro:

 If a professor you are working for, or interested in working for, has a project available (or a series of projects) you can request that your contribution on the project go towards satisfying your upper-level writing requirement. In many instances, you will receive some form of academic mention when the project publishes.  Even if you don’t, research projects are still a great resume booster.

Con:

 Research assistants generally get paid for their work; a blessing as a student. However, as general practice law schools require students to complete research projects without pay when seeking to satisfy their upper-level writing requirements.

Hopefully, the above-mentioned options provide some insight on how you can manage your upper-level writing requirement. As a final note of caution, however, make sure you confirm with your university that a particular avenue is acceptable before you expend too much time and energy on it!