The “Reasonable Zone of Right Answers”: Analytical Feedback on Student Writing

Jane Kent Gionfriddo, The “Reasonable Zone of Right Answers”: Analytical Feedback on Student Writing, 40 Gonz. L. Rev. 427 (2005).

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Let’s imagine a legal writing teacher giving written comments on her first-year law students’ drafts of a memorandum written to a work supervisor in law practice. Reading through one student’s memo, the teacher encounters the following sentence: “To decide if a plaintiff satisfies this requirement, the courts in this jurisdiction use a totality test where they assess the overall weight of the following four factors.” Someone with no knowledge of the relevant legal authority would read this sentence and have every reason to believe that it expresses a precise, accurate thought. But the legal writing teacher is intimately familiar with the legal problem the student is working on and immediately recognizes that the student has not adequately described the test used by the courts in this jurisdiction. Thus, the student has expressed legal analysis that is incorrect because it is not supported by the relevant authority. As the teacher knows, in this jurisdiction, the courts do consistently state that they look at the “overall weight of the following four factors,” but, in reality, the courts always require that one factor be satisfied before they move on to examine the overall weight of the other three. At this point, the teacher must decide how to provide the kind of written feedback that will help the student revise her written expression.

So how does the teacher respond with meaningful written comments that give the student sufficient support to revise the document? The teacher is responsible for contributing to the overall goal of the first-year curriculum– to teach each student how “to think like a lawyer.” In that role, the legal writing teacher should respond as someone who is educating the student in the skills of legal analysis and should alert  the student that the analysis is incorrect because it fails to adequately describe the test reflected in the mandatory authority. The teacher must then go on to assist the student in figuring out how to reanalyze the cases, using a methodology that will result in an appropriate analysis….Read More

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