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Cultivating Confidence: LARC teaches students skills for success

​​​​​What are the benefits of developing writing skills? Professor Susan Thrower has the short answer: Getting a job and keeping a job. 

“Employers are looking for writing ability and coherent analysis in writing, in addition to good overall grades,” she explained. Most of our DePaul College of Law alumni would agree, along with a number of surveys of lawyers who hire law graduates.

Thrower is the director of DePaul’s Legal Analysis, Research & Communication (LARC) program. An eastcoast native, Thrower taught at American University Washington College of Law and George Washington University Law School before dedicating more than a decade to overseeing DePaul’s legal writing program. At the College of Law, she works alongside Associate Director Martha Pagliari (JD ’84) to help students enrich their communication skills and cultivate confidence.

The LARC experience

The College of Law’s comprehensive four-semester LARC curriculum establishes a set of tools for students to hone legal thought and expression throughout law school. The LARC program recognizes that writing in law school needs to be progressive and practiced regularly, with lots of feedback along the way.

LARC I focuses on the foundational skills of synthesis, analysis, written communication and plain-language drafting during the students’ first semester. LARC II, taken in the second semester of the first year, expands upon this initial instruction and includes research skills and strategy, persuasive writing at the trial court level and reporting orally to a supervising attorney. Both require five major writing projects, as well as a number of smaller assignments. 

The program also aligns with the College of Law’s certificate programs by offering first-year writing sections in several concentrations. The same skills are learned, but in the context of an area in which the student is particularly interested–including intellectual property, family law, and public interest law. 

LARC III prompts students to hone their persuasive writing and oral advocacy skills. Students learn to write for the audience of a judge as opposed to supervising attorney or client, and briefs are developed and revised according to several rounds of feedback. Students present in a series of oral arguments before their professor, the first being a trial level motion.

The last week of LARC III features an argument on an appellate brief, for which instructors assemble a panel to replicate an appellate court argument. “It’s far more formal and it’s a big deal to students—it always has been,” said Thrower.

Third-year student Jennifer James agrees. “The final oral argument created an opportunity for me to develop the critical skill of oral advocacy,” she said. “It gave me a chance to take my culminated work throughout the semester and present my argument in a real simulation, including a panel of expert appellate attorneys.”

Grace Barsanti, also a third-year student, echoes her sentiments. “Had I not done an oral argument in LARC III, I might not have realized that I really love litigation,” she said. “It was really refreshing to be able to see where all the hard work we put into our writing assignments could actually lead, and it put into perspective what we were researching and writing about.”

Not only are students required to take LARC I, II and III, they also must take an upper-level writing requirement, which allows students to dig deeper into different kinds of writing, including legal drafting or judicial or scholarly writing.

Practicing lawyers in a leading role

For LARC III and Legal Drafting, DePaul Law takes advantage of the talents of Chicago lawyers in a wide variety of practice areas. Students can take a course in patent law drafting or matrimonial law, for example, and receive guidance from experienced and practicing attorneys.

We are always looking to have a robust pool of available adjunct professors,” Thrower said. “We like for that pool to be varied with respect to background, because we have a lot of disparate needs, both for LARC III and drafting. Martha also practiced in the city and we draw on the fantastic set of contacts she has.”

Pagliari, who was previously a partner at Cassiday Schade & Gloor in Chicago, has a background in civil litigation, concentrating in medical malpractice, products liability and employment law. From 2008 until 2014, Pagliari was appointed by the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, an arm of the Illinois Supreme Court, as professor-reporter for its Illinois Judicial Conference Study Committee on Complex Litigation, which made recommendations to the Illinois Supreme Court with regard to successful practices for managing complex civil and criminal litigation.

The cache of adjuncts—sometimes up to 60—includes practicing lawyers from firms of all sizes, including sole practitioners and government lawyers. Recent hires include Shankar Ramamurthy, the assistant regional counsel for Health and Human Services and Lisa Hugé (MA ’08), a director of the Cook County Forest Preserve. Thrower says this range of practice areas helps accommodate changes and trends in the marketplace.

“We have many voices adding to the conversation on what young lawyers need when they go off to practice.” The adjunct line-up showcases the strength of the DePaul College of Law community. Alumni, including personal injury lawyer Vince Browne (JD ’97), Illinois Appellate Court Clerk Natalie Carlomango (JD ’98), and civil defense litigator Joe Comer (JD ’10) routinely teach these courses.

The LARC experience emphasizes personal feedback. LARC instructors make a point to offer office hours at times when students are not in class. Instructors carry through with mandatory conferences during all three semesters and drafting, meeting with students one-on one to discuss everything from works in progress to technical questions like citations.

“From what I can tell from my national colleagues, DePaul Law offers oodles more teacher access to students, both informally through office hours and through structured time in the conferences,” said Thrower. “This is something we were really intentional about when I came in and restructured the curriculum to make sure that we were embedding these kinds of conferences into every single semester and every LARC course.”

Jennifer Rosato Perea, Dean of the College of Law and long-time proponent of writing across the curriculum, agrees: “the LARC program is distinctive in its comprehensiveness to ensure that students ‘exercise’ their writing muscle throughout law school, in its incremental building of skills to instill confidence, and its variety of offerings by both experienced instructors and skilled attorneys.”

Prepared (and confident) to enter the real world of practice

Thrower says students tend to realize the benefit of the program when they go out into the world. Many students find that firms are incorporating time pressured writing projects as part of the interview, and they are ready for them because of their LARC experiences. Thrower believes they’re also more prepared for the performance piece of the bar exam (the MPT).

“It makes sense to me to let students practice while they’re still in school,” she said.

For example, several years ago, Thrower introduced a short capstone exercise for LARC I that gently removes the training wheels for students to realize their own progress and autonomy in writing and legal analysis. Through this exercise, she witnessed a positive response from students as well as a swell of confidence.

 Much of the gratification for her and other LARC teachers comes over time. “The gratification comes as students practice their skills in the classroom, gain confidence in themselves, and then are able to excel in hands-on experiences like externships and clinics. Students learn a bucket from us and their employers recognize it.”