“Writing Is Thinking”

Professor Ian Gallacher Launches The Legal Writers Toolkit


Professor Ian Gallacher believes the world needs good lawyers, and he wants them to be good legal writers too. To this end, he is developing The Legal Writer’s Toolkit for all current College of Law students and alumni, and he hopes it will eventually be available to prospective students as well.

According to Gallacher, writing is thinking: “You can’t write well unless you think well. It is important for lawyers to write well because it allows them to show the quality of their thinking.”

Hosted online, The Legal Writer’s Toolkit will be organized by writing topic with both video and non-video-based content. Gallacher says he hopes the toolkit will help legal writers at any point in the writing process. “When they encounter problems, they can start here,” he says.

The traditional model for legal writing assistance at law schools has been the writing center, notes Gallacher, which is typically a faculty-led, student-staffed physical space. In a writing center, support happens in person when a student has an assignment due. After making an appointment, the student will get general help on their assignment through peer-to-peer counseling.

“A writing center model is a fine one,” Gallacher observes, “but it’s an expensive option and would be difficult to manage in a future that includes COVID-19 social distancing.” So at a time when centers of learning and student support are transitioning online, The College of Law is well-positioned to adapt its writing assistance rapidly to this change. Gallacher says the project was conceived before the COVID-19 crisis occurred, but that it’s certainly timely.

Gallacher notes one complication of COVID-19 closures, however: “My plan was to use the campus video production facilities to record a lot of this content, but I suspect this will be happening in my basement now.”

As of June 2020, initial non-video content for the toolkit—a reading list—is complete and available to incoming students. Gallacher asked several faculty—including Dean Boise and Vice Dean Keith Bybee—to select books they thought incoming students should read before law school, and he encouraged Bybee to select his own book, How Civility Works.

Focus questions accompany each title to help students understand the texts and “move their reading approach to the more active style required in law school, where students need to ask questions of the texts they’re reading in order to get the most out of them,” Gallacher explains.

If students complete the entire reading list, they will have a tremendous advantage in their first year of study, Gallacher says, with subjects ranging from negotiation techniques to technology’s impact on the law. The first iteration of the complete toolkit will be available this fall, with plans for the site “to grow as quickly as I can add material,” he says.

“It is important for lawyers to write well because it allows them to show the quality of their thinking.”

Gallacher joined the College of Law faculty in 2004 to lead the Legal Communication and Research (LCR) program. “Syracuse has a very liberal and engaged approach to legal writing education, which made joining the faculty extremely appealing,” Gallacher says.

Gallacher explains that Daan Braveman—College of Law Dean from 1994 to 2002—wrote in the December 1989 Journal of Legal Education about the importance of doctrinal professors teaching legal writing, a program he named Law Firm. “Daan’s article was groundbreaking,” says Gallacher. “It was one of the first signs that doctrinal faculty were alive to the importance of legal writing as part of the first-year curriculum. That made Syracuse a very exciting place for someone dedicated to the teaching of legal writing and for research to come.”

Professor Richard Risman came to Syracuse in 1998 and directed the Law Firm program until 2002. That was at that time legal writing was becoming a discipline in its own right, so Risman decided to teach more and the College made his position a tenured appointment, which was rare.

“The LCR program evolved from the idea of doctrinal teachers teaching writing as part of their courses. They came to learn that teaching legal writing is really hard, so once there were enough people identified as legal writing educators, LCR was possible,” Gallacher recalls.

Now at 63 years old, Gallacher has decided to try something new with The Legal Writer’s Toolkit, and Professor Aliza Milner has been named the new LCR Director. Teaching at Syracuse since 2006, Milner is described by Gallacher as “incredibly experienced and fabulous. She will take LCR and drive it into the future.”

With a stable writing faculty core and a continuing desire to create better legal writers, Gallacher—who in 2018 was awarded the Thomas F. Blackwell Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Legal Writing by the Legal Writing Institute and the Association of Legal Writing Directors—sees The Legal Writer’s Toolkit as a natural next step for the College.

“Syracuse is a place where we care about people. I obviously care about Syracuse students the most, but I also care about anyone who wants to be a better legal writer,” Gallacher says.