NYC Bar “Launching Your Career” Week 4: Legal Writing

On March 22nd, pre-law students participating in the New York City Bar's Launching Your Career seminar series heard from Grace Pickering (Director of Legal Education at Legal Outreach & Adjunct Professor at Fordham Law School) and Van Ann Bui (Director, Law Program at Sponsors for Educational Opportunity).


Students had many notes and questions for Grace during and after her detailed presentation on “Legal Writing: An Introduction.” Van Ann’s segment regarding personal statement essay-writing for law school applications was equally engaging; it garnered plenty of questions from students, and even took the discussion into over-time.

At the start of the night, Grace explained the court circuits (state-level, federal, appellate, and trial court systems). Her presentation continued with detailed explanations of cases and the basic structure of legal writing:

  •  She first outlined the essential elements in any case, including: Citation, Facts, Procedural History, Issue, Legal Standard/Rule, Analysis, Holding/Conclusion
  • An important clarification: some lawyers dislike using the word case when discussing a judgment. The technically accurate word is opinion.
  • “Briefing a case” refers to summarizing a case for yourself: it is about how you read and how you think about a case.
  • For typical writing, many attorneys utilize the IRAC format: Issue(s), Rule(s), Analysis, Conclusion (Holding). First, the issue is determined. Then, the rules relevant to the issue are identified. The Analysis (distinguishing or analogizing) is written. Lastly, a conclusion is held.
  •  Some homework for those interested: to take a look at Supreme Court opinion Illinois v. Wardlow, and outline its various elements.

Next we heard from Van Ann on the personal statement. She was incredibly knowledgeable in this arena:

  • It is important to write, write, and keep writing when it comes to this sort of essay. 
  • The most common question with the law school personal statement is: what part of my life do I focus on? A great place to start is discussing your path. 
  • What to avoid doing in a personal statement:
  1. Over dramatization
  2. Long, windy sentences
  3. Discussing theories about legal issues
  4. Reciting your resume
  5. Reciting how you’ve always wanted to be a lawyer
  6. Reciting how much you want to go to law school
  •  What to do:
  1. Organize and outline thoughts
  2. Be honest; speak in your tone of voice
  3. But also — be positive!
  4. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread!
  5. Ask friends, colleagues, mentors, parents for advice and critique.

We would like to extend a huge thank-you to Grace and Van Ann for such wonderful presentations last week. We're extremely excited for the final installment of Launching Your Career this coming Wednesday!

If you have any questions about the NY City Bar's Launching Your Career seminar series, please contact Van Ann Bui at VanAnnBui@seo-usa.org.


Kamya Arora is a pre-law student in her third year at Barnard College of Columbia University. Aside from reading and sharing advice on preparing for law school, she enjoys Russian literature, Bollywood music, and Wikipedia tremendously. Contact her with any comments or questions.

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