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Legal Writing’s Harmful Psyche

By Kevin Bennardo. Full Text.

This essay argues that many in the legal writing discipline view themselves in a way that is harmful to the discipline’s success. First, the essay establishes that many legal writing professors view themselves as victims of oppression within the legal academy. Second, it relies on social psychology research to demonstrate that viewing oneself as a victim carries consequences. Groups that self-identify as victims tend to have an elevated sense of in-group solidarity and a diminished sense of personal responsibility. These attributes are both present in the legal writing community. Third, the essay demonstrates that these attributes are harmful in the context of an academic discipline. Robust internal criticism is important for the growth of an academic discipline because it allows those within the discipline to distinguish strong ideas from weak ones. As currently practiced, the elevated sense of in-group solidarity and the diminished sense of personal responsibility within the legal writing discipline result in a norm of protectionism that quells critical debate and internal disagreement to the detriment of the discipline. The essay’s conclusion suggests ways the legal writing discipline can take steps to improve itself from within to alleviate the problem.