When College of Law administrators first had the idea for a course that would prepare students for judicial clerkships, they knew exactly who to tap to develop it. Janice Farrell Pea, a long-time adjunct professor at the College and a Class of 1997 graduate, spent 20 years as a senior law clerk to Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman, and she was thrilled at the opportunity to provide students with the necessary skills to achieve similar success. Thus, Judicial Opinion Writing was born.
The course launched in the fall of 2019 with seven students. A majority of the course focused on writing assignments, including a bench memo, a memo to the judge summarizing the oral argument, and two drafts of a judicial opinion. The students had the opportunity to choose among three different cases, People v. Morger, Yakich v. Aulds, and People v. Brown, all of which were argued at the Illinois Supreme Court during its September 2019 term. Although the briefs in each case were public records, Pea was especially grateful to former Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier ’64 for granting access to additional records in the cases.
Class meetings also facilitated discussion on a variety of engaging topics.
“One of our sessions focused on the use of rhetorical devices in judicial opinions. We spent the first hour examining judicial opinions and other documents for various rhetorical devices and discussed their effectiveness. Then each student made a presentation on the use of literary or cultural references in judicial opinions,” Pea said.
The students found references to the Bible, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, and many more.
Another session was spent discussing concurrences and dissents and their lasting impact on the development of the law.
“Judicial opinion writing has helped me both as a writer and a reader. As a writer, I am better at organizing my writing and prioritizing information to include within my writing. As a reader, I am better able to notice organizational structures and language that support comprehension,” said Brittany Wiegand.
Kira Berg added, “I have really enjoyed trying my hand at a new type of legal writing. It has been especially great to have a professor with a wealth of practical experience to guide us as we discussed all aspects of the process of deciding and writing judicial opinions.”
Pea also coordinated visits from several guest speakers, many of them alumni, and each with valuable insights to offer to the potential future judicial clerks.
Mark Palmer, Chief Counsel of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, spoke to the class about ethics and professionalism. Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Jacob Jost ’13 spoke about writing and editing. Appellate Court Justice Robert Steigmann ’68 and Federal Public Defender Colleen Ramais ’10 visited together, speaking about the expectations judges have for their clerks, and the differences between state clerkships and federal clerkships. Finally, Director of Career Planning Jolynn Caroline ’02 and Professor Verity Winship spoke to the class about the clerkship application process.
Jordan Russell found the visits from the guest speakers to be invaluable.
“I have learned quite a bit about how to structure an opinion and how to use different writing and even literary techniques to emphasize important points,” he said.
Overall, Pea has been pleased with the inaugural semester of Judicial Opinion Writing. She especially wants students interested in clerkships to recognize that being able to take a course like this is pretty unique. As she was building the content and structure of the class, she realized that the College of Law may be the only law school in Illinois currently offering it, and it is certainly not standard practice at law schools across the country.
Like his fellow classmates, Doug Malcolm can attest to the value of the course, and said he would recommend it to anyone interested in a clerkship.
“Professor Pea was a fount of knowledge thanks to her years of experience clerking for Justice Garman. She not only helped prepare us for what to expect if we get a clerkship – she also helped us prepare for the application as well. After this class, I feel confident in both my understanding of what will be expected of me in a clerkship and my ability to meet and exceed those expectations.”
For inquiries related to the Judicial Opinion Writing course, or to volunteer as a future guest speaker, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.