Meet minimum competencies to pass a course?

Identifying rules.

Analyzing and synthesizing authorities.

Applying them to facts.

Organizing coherently.

Using accurate punctuation and grammar.

Citing to authority.

We tell students that all of these are important in legal writing classes, but in all honesty, we show a different message. If a student does brilliant analysis, but butchers the writing and citation, the student can usually get a decent grade. The reverse is not true. But what if all of these had descriptive minimum competencies – students would need to show that they could write without sentence fragments to pass the course. Ditto for citation. Students would not pass the course if they didn’t reach a minimum competency. As long as we provide ample notice, practice opportunities and feedback, why not? Analysis is really important, but according to a survey conducted by two of my colleagues, when readers-judges- see grammatical errors, they don’t even get to the analysis. I think of grammatical errors as lettuce on the teeth – the kind of distraction that precludes further thought. Same with citation. If students can’t do that correctly, employers will give up pretty quickly.

So now we are in the process of defining our minimum competencies. It’s not easy. And it begs the question – if everyone is competent, what is an “A” in the course? Super-competence? Competence with flair?

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