‘There’s always more that you can learn’

What was one of Assistant Professor Amanda Elyse’s observations to aspiring attorneys who took part in the inaugural program of a new video series hosted by the American Bar Association’s Law Student Division? "Where we start in legal writing is not a fixed point."

Elon Law Assistant Professor Amanda Elyse

One of Elon Law’s newest faculty members offered advice on legal writing to a national audience as the featured guest in a program launched this month by the American Bar Association.

Assistant Professor Amanda Elyse, who teaches in Elon Law’s Legal Method & Communication Program, addressed aspiring lawyers from across the United States in the first “Virtual Office Hours” organized by the ABA’s Law Student Division.

“I enjoyed the chance to connect with law students from across the country and share tips about legal writing,” Elyse said. “The Virtual Office Hours are a great example of how we can use virtual spaces to connect across schools and learn from each other.”

Watch the full presentation from September 17, 2020.

Among Elyse’s suggestions to students:

  • Legal writing is a process that begins with brainstorming, which leads to outlining and diagraming – both important steps to effective written communication.
  • Don’t procrastinate. Even when your thoughts aren’t fully formed, put “pen to paper” to give you time to work with words and, later, to proofread and revise a draft.
  • Read your work out loud. “It’s amazing the things that you can catch through reading a piece of writing out loud. … I push my students to do this and every year they tell me that it helps them a lot by catching things in their writing and improving their sentence structure.”
  • Print hard copies of your work when you begin revisions. “When we are looking at screens, our brains are trained to skim a lot, and we don’t read as closely,” she said. “When you sit down with a hard copy and have a pen in your hand, you will catch things that you wouldn’t on the screen.”
  • Meet with your faculty members. “Don’t think that you’re bothering professors,” she said. “It’s part of our job to meet with you! And I find it to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job, to meet one-on-one student students and see how they’re writing is tangibly improving.”

In addition to her legal writing advice, Elyse offered broader recommendations for communicating about the legal profession to those unfamiliar with the profession.

“Seek out pieces of writing that aren’t written by who you usually hear from in law school,” she said. “A lot of what we read is written by lawyers and judges, for lawyers and judges, but obviously the legal system impacts many more people than that. … I encourage you to seek out writing that’s maybe written by people from impacted communities or who, for some reason, are going to have a different perspective on the law. You can also work to develop how you talk about the law with more of a mixture of audiences.”

Elyse joined the Elon Law faculty in 2020 after spending two years teaching Legal Writing, Skills, and Values at Seattle University School of Law. While she was in practice, Elyse represented social justice activists in both civil and criminal cases, as well as provided legal support to prisoners, including people indicted under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

Prior to her teaching role, she practiced with the Justice Law Group, the Civil Liberties Defense Center, and her own solo firm in Oregon. Elyse received her Juris Doctor from Seattle University School of Law, her Master of Science in writing from Portland State University, and her Bachelor of Arts (with Honors) in English with a creative writing emphasis from the University of Washington.

The ABA program was moderated by Jireh Davis, a second-year student at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University.