Interview with Dean Lisa Hutton

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This is an interview between Bev Meyers, Founder of Legal Writing Launch, with Lisa Hutton, Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Law.  The interview concerns three areas primarily, which are: provisional licensees practicing law under licensed attorneys, the importance of sound legal writing skills, and the Bar Exam Performance Test.  

BEV: Hello and welcome to Legal Writing launch, I’m Bev Meyers [,] . . . the Founder. Today I have the pleasure of speaking . . .  with Lisa Hutton, who is the Dean of John F. Kennedy Law School. Welcome Lisa.

DEAN HUTTON: Thank you, happy to be here. 

BEV: Tell us just a little bit about what your position is as Dean.

DEAN HUTTON: Sure. I’m the Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Law that is currently at John F. Kennedy University, but in January 2021 is transitioning to North Central University that is a sister affiliate of ours. The reason for that primarily, is because we are in development of a fully online accredited juris doctorate degree. 

BEV: . . .  you and I have a long history. Do you want to tell our listeners a little bit about our relationship?

DEAN HUTTON: Since 2005, you and I have been working together.  [Y]ou have owned the entire development of our legal writing curriculum . . . You’ve been on the faculty [in our undergraduate program] for 15 years and [have been] working very closely with me. 

PROVISIONAL LICENSEES PRACTICING LAW UNDER LICENSED ATTORNEYS

BEV: . . . I want to talk to you today about a new program that the California Supreme Court just announced days ago and it has to do with provisional licenses to recent graduates. . . .  [C]an you tell us a little bit about that?

DEAN HUTTON: Due to COVID, obviously the Bar Exam in July has been cancelled. It was at first postponed to September and then last week, the Supreme Court actually determined that it would be postponed until October. And the October exam will be fully online. [Law school graduates from the class of 2020 have the option of taking the October 2020 Bar exam on-line.]  [California will also give] . . .  the state graduates an option of waiting and taking the bar at a time when [the Bar exam] may be under a format and circumstances they would be expecting, the in-person exam.

BEV: That’s probably in two years, right? I think preliminarily they said until 2022. 

DEAN HUTTON: It’s looking like that, yes. And so provisional licensing is something that the Supreme Court [is] allowing graduates, if [students] graduated in the year of 2020.  [They] may work as an attorney under the supervision of an experienced, licensed, California attorney, for up to two years . . . until 2022.  The hope . . . is for students who can’t take the October exam or the next February exam or whatever due to our pandemic and the circumstances surrounding that, they can still be gainfully employed and working on their skills as incoming legal professionals. 

BEV: [T]he State Bar has not actually implemented the program yet since the Supreme Court simply announced it days ago. Is it your understanding that [the provisional licensee program] might be similar to a law student certification program that exists now?

DEAN HUTTON: It’s exactly what I think they are going to do. So, the certified law student program now requires that a student be successfully matriculated into their second or third year of law school and then apply for a certification as well as be either enrolled in or having finished Evidence and Civil Procedure. So, if that student meets that criteria, then they may apply to be a certified law student which allows them to practice law, but has to be done under the supervision of a licensed California attorney. 

BEV: . . . What do you think about the importance of writing skills for these individuals that are applying for these [provisional licensee] positions?

DEAN HUTTON: Essential. Writing skills for legal professionals are essential. Period. A lot of people have this false sense that practicing law is a lot of oral advocacy. Practicing law is actually a lot of written advocacy. Right? So, the written word controls. So, I think especially for somebody who is provisionally licensed . . . [writing] motion[s] . . . would be ideal opportunities for a . . . graduate working under a provisional license. . . . 

THE IMPORTANCE OF SOUND LEGAL WRITING SKILLS

BEV: I had the pleasure of interviewing an Appellate Justice for this [Course] and . . . he said was writing is really important, but what he’s really good at and what he really insists upon is editing. Editing, editing, editing, editing is his point of view. And that’s what makes a good writer. 

DEAN HUTTON: It does make a good writer. You start with one draft, you edit it down, you start with a second draft, you edit it down, and many iterations later maybe that is the document ultimately filed or sent.  I think too it isn’t one style of writing; it’s a lot of different tones that graduates and new lawyers need to learn how to effectively use.  A demand letter has a tone that’s very different than a communication to a client.  

BEV: And for instance, a memo or opinion letter, like a court opinion written by a justice, those are more objective, where you’re laying out both sides. On the other hand, if you’re writing a demand letter, you’re not trying to be objective, you’re trying to be persuasive. And you’re working on behalf of your client to demand something. 

DEAN HUTTON: Right and so I think it’s critical to be a good written communicator. Period. That’s the minimum. 

BEV: And wouldn’t you agree that good writing starts at a pretty basic level, certainly at the sentence level, but it’s definitely at the paragraph level, to build what I call Power-Packed Paragraphs using IRAC or some version of it, and using it rigidly because that’s how everybody knows what you’re talking about. 

DEAN HUTTON: That’s right. It’s clear, it’s concise and it’s logical. I tell students all the time, this is the formula; this is a formula for critical thinking and breaking down a legal question and coming to a logical and lawyerly-like conclusion. Do not deviate from that formula and it will serve you well. 

BEV: I’ve been writing blogs and actually doing research through law review articles and seeing some of the quotes people have which are amazing.  If you don’t think clearly, you don’t write clearly. 

DEAN HUTTON: Absolutely. 

BEV: And also the importance of logic, just simple logic in the law; that’s the law, the law is a trade and really what it’s founded upon is the ability to write well and the ability to use logic well. That probably sums it up. 

DEAN HUTTON: Well said. 

THE PERFORMANCE TEST ON THE BAR EXAM

BEV: Let me ask you one other thing. You know that I am working with some of your students that have failed the Bar, and they are taking my course and they are beta testing it for me.  And, I’ve indicated to you what they’ve told me that it’s somewhat like taking [the California Bar Exam] Performance Test. Is that your understanding, too, from the students that you’ve talked to?

DEAN HUTTON:  . . . We enjoy being the beta testers. The Performance [Test] is a very difficult portion of the Bar for a lot of students and it’s because they are taught how to take essay exams from day 1 and they are taught to do [Multistate Bar Exams] MBEs from day 1, but we don’t teach performance exam skills.  We do in some skills courses tangentially, but it isn’t a specific course.  So, what’s neat about your Course . . . is the opportunity to . . . look at the various different styles of writing, what we just talked about, that are going to show up on a Performance [Test].  You may be asked to write a demand letter . . . a legal memorandum . . . [or] jury instructions.  There’s a whole plethora of things, and so what your Course is doing so well, it’s not only . . . forcing good legal writing methods and techniques, IRAC and the like, just good legal writing, but also [teaches] the various types of . . . legal writing and how those change a bit depending on what the Performance [Test] is. And . . . you [are] setting it up where you’re actually using case files that the type of which a student would see on a Performance [Test] on the Bar, is serving them very well. 

BEV: Thank you so much, Dean Hutton, for being with us today, it was an absolute pleasure.

DEAN HUTTON: Absolutely, good to see you. 

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