How to Write a Seminar Paper


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How to Write a Seminar Paper

  1. 1. Writing a Seminar Paper Approaching the Topic and Claim, or “How to Write an ULWR With a Purpose, Without Writing a Brief”
  2. 2. Why Write a Seminar Paper?O Opportunity to publish, develop professional reputation O Writing sample for job interviews, especially judicial clerkships O Opportunity to specialize in topics of interest, to learn substantive law at a new level O Self-fulfillment achieved from producing an independent product – one of your last experiences in truly independent scholarly writing before you will be asked to be an advocate
  3. 3. Publish & Flourish O 1. Ask your professor to provide your name to Jon Lutz,, or Faye Jones, O 2. We’ll pass it along to Expresso and they’ll send instructions. O 3. Please contact Jon or Faye with questions or if you need assistance.
  4. 4. Writing Contests: Make Some $$$ Contest Listings: http://
  5. 5. Helpful Resources: O Scholarly Writing: 23FS031025418 O Academic Legal Writing: O Scholarly Writing for Law Students:
  6. 6. Helpful Resources: O
  7. 7. Picking and Grounding a Topic Topic and the question asked (thesis) in a seminar paper is important to the research and writing process that will follow
  8. 8. What is a Good Topic? ORelates to the substance of the class OHas some relevance to legal debates OHas some legal, analytical or methodological substance OWill be researchable
  9. 9. What Is A Good Topic? O Relates to the substance of the class O Cyberlaw Seminar – defined broadly to cover legal issues of the Internet, virtual life, Intellectual Property, and technology. O Energy Law Seminar – Is probably not the class for a paper on equal protection O Get your professor’s approval! O Has some relevance to legal debates O Legal challenges to net neutrality; regulation of virtual currencies O Sustainability of the planet if fossil fuels are depleted is probably better written for an ecology class or an economics class.
  10. 10. What Is A Good Topic? O Has some legal, analytical or methodological substance O Can you envision the paper drawing on legal doctrine, taking an analytical perspective (presenting/addressing arguments that would be appropriate to a law class), OR will it have an analytical approach (historical, philosophical, psychological, economic, empirical)? O Will it be researchable? O Are needed materials available in a language you can research in? O TIP: See a reference librarian for a consultation as early as possible!
  11. 11. Research Guides
  12. 12. How Does Topic Relate to Research? Don’t pick your topic in a vacuum! 1) Initially, it will be best to treat your topic as tentative, refining the topic along the way. This is your “drop/add” period. O At this stage the topic will narrow your research, but not so much so that it hamstrings you to a very specific question.
  13. 13. Researching the Paper Topic 2) Make sure that you have seriously READ at least 5 primary and secondary sources relating to your topic. O N.B. “Book” is not a four-letter word! O Start doing a pre-emption check. Resources to search: (1) Legal Periodicals, (2) American Law Reports (ALR), (3) Treatises, hornbooks, and practice manuals, (4) Legal Encyclopedias, (5) Current casebooks,  (6) Working papers in SSRN, (7) Blogs & websites, (8) Restatements & model codes O Can’t find a resource or hitting a paywall? Ask a librarian!
  14. 14. Researching the Paper Topic 3) Refine your topic and settle in on a more precise specification. “Drop/Add” period is over. 4) One last tip: take good notes and be organized! O Avoid plagiarism O Avoid retracing your steps O Create folders just for your topic research in WestlawNext O Keep print research in a designated folder or binder
  15. 15. The Next Step: Relating the Topic to a Claim A claim = a thesis Good legal scholarship makes: 1) a claim that is 2) novel, 3) nonobvious, 4) useful, 5) sound and 6) seen by the reader to be nonobvious, useful and sound.”
  16. 16. The Claim, examples 1) Law X is unconstitutional because . . . . 2) The legislature ought to enact the following statute . . . . 3) Properly interpreted, this statute/regulation/treaty means . . . . 4) This case/doctrine explains/contradicts this other case/doctrine because . . .
  17. 17. The Claim, examples 5) This law is likely to have the following side effects . . . . [ and therefore should be rejected or modified to say . . . ] 6) Courts have interpreted the statute/regulation/treaty in the following ways and therefore the statute/regulation/treaty should be amended as follows . . . .because . . . 7) My [empirical, historical, philosophical, economic, psychological, or religious] perspective on this law shows the law is flawed and should be changed [or not].
  18. 18. Approaching the claim with modesty O Develop your claim while you are still researching O At this stage, treat the claim as a hypothesis O Data (i.e., cases, secondary literature, etc.) may lead you to reject or modify the claim, but do not wed yourself to the claim against clear evidence that contradicts it… O Unless you can reject/distinguish/explain away that evidence in a sound manner
  19. 19. Keeping an open mind O Talk to faculty about your claim O Modify by adding nuance – factors, exceptions, etc. O Leave open the possibility that you may need to substantially modify your claim during your writing process – the other 50% O Distinguish the descriptive from the prescriptive parts of your claim
  20. 20. Once you select a topic and identify a claim, the writing process will not take care of itself. However, you will now be writing with a purpose, rather than writing in search of one.
  21. 21. THE END Don’t fall into the “I work best under pressure” trap!