Our Legal Research & Writing faculty draw on decades of real-life experience to simulate the practice of law in the classroom. They have tried cases, negotiated deals, argued appeals, drafted opinions, and edited legal volumes—at law firms, nonprofits, public agencies, corporations, and courts across the country.

Each professor brings a unique perspective on what makes great legal writing, even as they teach the same core principles. Since most 1Ls have different writing professors between the fall and spring semesters, students see firsthand the many ways a legal writer can tackle a problem.

photo of Ursula Weigold

Ursula Weigold

Associate Dean for Experiential Learning and Education Innovation

weigold@wisc.edu

Courses:

  • Advanced Legal Writing: Craft and Style
  • Advanced Legal Writing: Writing for Law Practice
  • Legal Research & Writing I
  • Legal Research & Writing II

Q&A with Dean Weigold

What role did legal writing play in your legal career before you taught full-time?

In my work as an appellate court attorney, I read hundreds of attorney briefs each year and saw the best and worst of legal writing. I saw firsthand what an impact legal research and writing could have not only in individual cases, but on the workings of the court and the justice system.  I also wrote one or two memoranda of law to the court every week, summarizing my evaluation of pending cases. I had my own work critiqued regularly by nine judges, and that made me both humble and ambitious to always keep trying to improve.  

Why is legal writing your jam?

The right words—the right arguments—can have special power because of the stakes and context of legal writing. Even though some people see legal writing as formulaic, I see a lot of room for skill, nuance, and creativity. It’s exciting to help students develop those skills and see new potential in using language well.

If you couldn’t teach legal writing, what would be your alternative dream career?

I’d love to be a travel writer or a professional dog walker!

photo of Kim M. Peterson

Kim M. Peterson

Legal Writing Co-Interim Director

kmpeterson@wisc.edu

Courses:

  • Evidence
  • Legal Research & Writing I
  • Legal Research & Writing II
  • Trial Advocacy (Mock Trial)

Q&A with Professor Peterson

What prompted you to go to law school? Did your legal career follow the path you had expected? 

Honestly, I went to law school because I really didn’t know what else to do. I attended Madison and majored in History with a minor in Biochemistry. I knew I wanted to continue my education, but I did not know if I wanted to go to graduate school or law school. I did well in an undergraduate criminal law course that I took, I liked the subject, and I thought—why not? So, I took the LSATs and went to law school. I did not think I wanted to be a lawyer, I hated public speaking, and I thought I would end up working in business. I ended up being a litigation attorney and teaching legal writing. I love the law and am so happy to have “fallen” into this field.

If your students could leave your course with only one takeaway, what would you want that lesson to be? 

Many law students are high achievers who work very hard, and unfortunately, are often very stressed.  I want students in my class to learn how to write a thoughtful, logical, well written brief/memo and also be secure in the knowledge that even if the grade is not what they expected or wanted, they did their best and that is enough.  We all learn at different speeds and striving to be better every day is the goal.     

Not to generalize, but do you think lawyers are good writers? 

Surprisingly, I do. I know it is fashionable to say that lawyers are not good writers, but I think most really are. Lawyers have the difficult task of making complex legal topics sound logical, concise, and clear. In addition, we want to be interesting and engaging. Sometimes, because of the difficulty of the task, our work does not come out as well as we would like. However, most of the time the briefs, letters, and memos that lawyers write are so clear and concise, we don’t even think about the writing. That, to me, is the sign of a good writer.

Share one thing about yourself that students typically never learn, even after a full semester with you. 

Most students don’t know that I love to flip houses. My husband and I buy, remodel, and sell houses on the side, and we’ve been doing this for about 10-15 years.

photo of Andrew Turner

Andrew Turner

Legal Writing Co-Interim Director

andrew.turner2@wisc.edu

Courses:

  • Advanced Legal Writing: Contract Drafting
  • Legal Correspondence
  • Legal Research & Writing I
  • Legal Research & Writing II

Q&A with Professor Turner

What prompted you to go to law school? Did your legal career follow the path you had expected?

Nothing about my career path is what I expected. I started college intending to study astrophysics, left with a degree in anthropology, and then spent ten years in Bolivia working with indigenous communities. Before teaching at UW, I had stints managing a federal grant supporting international credit unions, helping non-profits expand their programs as the vice president of lending at a non-profit financial organization, and managing a multi-agency early childhood program. That’s not even counting my time at law school, graduate school, and then my time as a healthcare and transactional attorney. 

I see many law students putting pressure on themselves to “get it right” on their first job out of law school. But very few people find the perfect career fit on the first try. Careers are like dating—sometimes the very first person is your forever one, but that’s rare. 

I absolutely love the work I do now, but I couldn’t have planned my way into it. I did many things, each of them contributing something to my knowledge, experience, and preparation for teaching legal research and writing. Just as one example, I never guessed that my time teaching English in Taiwan would help build the comfort and experience in the classroom that I depend on today.

If your students could leave your course with only one takeaway, what would you want that lesson to be? 

You can’t teach what you don’t know. 

Legal writing is fundamentally about teaching your reader. You must help your reader smoothly, clearly, and accurately understand your legal analysis or argument. That’s it. Nothing else matters.

If you don’t understand what you’re talking about—truly, profoundly, and accurately understand what you’re talking about—you will fail to produce great legal writing. It requires, above all else, accuracy. Accuracy in understanding the law and its importance, and then accuracy in transmitting it. The law demands a level of accuracy and nuanced comprehension on an entirely different level than what most of us are accustomed to in everyday life.

Mastering that is a lifetime of work and practice. 

Why is legal writing your jam?

Legal writing is such a complex task that marries almost scientific rigor and thinking with the very human realms of persuasive rhetoric, effective communication, and empathy and understanding for your reader. My first career was as an anthropologist, and I’m fascinated by how human society and culture work. Legal writing is all about challenging your thinking at an incredibly deep level to understand the law, then using creativity and insight to see how that law applies to your facts, and then finally translating all of that to another human—taking into account their knowledge, culture, emotions, fears, and prejudices. People who think legal writing is easy or boring do not understand it.

Legal writing is demanding, precise, creative, and interactive, and it constantly pushes me. 

As for teaching legal writing, it’s wonderful because every semester I get a group of excited, intelligent, and hard-working students, and I have the opportunity to help them hone both their writing and their thinking. 

It’s 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. How are you spending your free time? 

Making homemade scones, scrambled eggs, and bacon. I cook a lot, but Saturday mornings are particularly fun because my wife, son, and I typically get our homemade breakfast and watch an animated movie.  

I’m usually up by 6:00 a.m. (I’m turning into an old guy that wakes up early every day), so before I even get breakfast going, you’ll probably find me in a group ride or racing people from around the world on Zwift, a virtual cycling simulator that has become a recent passion.

photo of Dustin Brown

Dustin Brown

Lecturer

dustin.brown@wisc.edu

Courses:

  • Legal Research & Writing I
  • Legal Research & Writing II
  • Legal Writing: from Counselor to Advocate (undergraduate)

Q&A with Professor Brown

Tell us about the greatest accomplishment in your legal career before you joined the faculty here.

I helped a teenager from El Salvador win asylum to stay in the United States. Josefina (not her real name) crossed the border into Arizona at age 15 after a harrowing journey to flee gang violence. But the risk she’d be killed wasn’t enough to win asylum; that threat had to be connected to one of the federally recognized grounds for asylum. My colleagues and I discovered that nexus after several weeks of interviews, when Josefina quietly outed herself as a lesbian—and revealed that gang members as well as others had denigrated her sexual orientation when targeting her. That was enough to prevail at an asylum hearing four years later. In the meantime, Josefina excelled in high school, enrolled in college, and made a lasting impression on everyone who met her. Winning that case, and ensuring that Josefina could stay here and continue making contributions to her community, was such a relief!

If your students could leave your course with only one takeaway, what would you want that lesson to be?

“Find the underlying simplicity.” That’s a piece of advice that Judge Peterson, chief judge of the Western District of Wisconsin, offered to 1Ls at law school orientation my first year here. This advice applies to so many dimensions of legal writing, from your theory of the case down to the construction of a sentence. The law is complex enough on its own, and dense writing only makes it worse. Our job instead is to distill the law down to its essence without losing any meaning. That’s hard to do. 

It’s like what ballet dancers accomplish in taking physically grueling, gravity-defying movement and making it look effortless. Our job is to make legal writing look effortless—even though it took tremendous work to get there.

Has teaching here changed the way you look at legal writing?

It certainly has. Legal writing had always been intuitive for me, and as a result, I lacked some of the basic vocabulary to describe what we do. Even though my intuition as a practicing attorney was largely on-target, I now have a much better understanding of why we do things a certain way and how to talk about legal writing. There’s a downside to this as well (unfortunately): although I’ve always been a careful writer, I fear I’ve become too careful. I need to allow myself to tap back into my intuition and avoid overthinking my writing.

It’s 7 a.m. on a Saturday. How are you spending your free time?

Well, with two young kids at home, I’d hesitate to call it “free time,” but at least it’s time off the professional clock. At 7 a.m. on a Saturday, my 18-month-old son has just gotten up while my husband and six-year-old daughter still sleep. So we head outside, where he’ll grab the broom or push his wagon or spray the garden hose. If we can escape our yard, I’ll take him for a walk; he’s still small enough that I can carry him in my arms for a while. If he’s sufficiently entertained by the outside world, I can listen to Weekend Edition on NPR as we wander. Either way, I spend a lot of time pointing out “Flowers!” and “Bunnies!” and the like.

photo of Ashby Fox

Ashby Fox

Lecturer

akfox@wisc.edu

Courses:

  • Legal Research & Writing I
  • Legal Research & Writing II

Q&A with Professor Fox

What role did legal writing play in your legal career before you taught full-time?

I practiced commercial litigation at a law firm in Atlanta for almost 15 years before my family moved to Madison and I joined the LRW faculty at UW Law. As a litigator, legal writing dominated nearly every aspect of my daily law practice. For example, I used legal writing skills each and every day when I drafted legal memoranda to colleagues, motions and briefs to be filed with courts, discovery requests and responses, oral arguments for hearings and trials, and correspondence to clients, colleagues, opposing counsel, or court personnel. I know from many years of experience that strong legal writing skills are an integral part of everyday law practice and are crucial to a successful legal career. 

What do you love about teaching legal writing at UW Law School?

The students, faculty and staff at UW Law School are bright, kind, enthusiastic, and inspirational. The Law School campus buzzes with energy, and every day I learn something new from my extraordinary colleagues in the LRW Program. Our work environment is collaborative and fun, and we work together toward our common goal of providing students with a valuable, realistic, and practical learning experience. Most of all I love working with the incredible students at UW Law, who continually amaze me with their intellectual curiosity, originality, talent, and boundless energy.  

Why is legal writing your jam?

Having practiced law for many years, I have seen first-hand the tremendous impact that effective (and ineffective) legal writing can have on the course of a case and the outcome for a client. I understand the importance of good legal writing in law practice, which is why I believe that I truly can add value when I help aspiring lawyers learn these critical skills. 

If you couldn’t teach legal writing, what would be your alternative dream career?

A professional ballerina.

headshot of Courtney Lanz

Courtney Lanz

Lecturer

cklanz@wisc.edu

Courses:

  • Legal Research & Writing I

Q&A with Professor Lanz

What prompted you to go to law school? Did your legal career follow the path you had expected?

My decision to go to law school was born out of practicality. I had been pursuing a career in education, but there were far fewer jobs available in my academic field when I finished graduate school than when I started, so I needed to broaden my career options. I made my best guess that being a lawyer would make good use of my research, writing, and public speaking skills, while still allowing me to serve the public. But I did not approach law school with a firm plan in mind, and I have not approached my career that way either. For me, that has turned out to be a good thing, because I am always open to the many opportunities being a lawyer presents.

As a law student, I never thought my career would take me to Flint, Michigan, at the beginning of the Water Crisis, or to the courtrooms of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, or before the Wisconsin Supreme Court as an Assistant Attorney General representing Wisconsin. Nor did I think I would have the privilege of returning to the classroom and helping students grow into this challenging but rewarding profession. 

When it comes to their legal careers, students often feel pressure to do things a certain way, or to tick certain boxes.  My experience has been that whatever the goal may be, there will be many ways to reach it, and there will be many unanticipated but enriching opportunities for professional growth along the way.  So expect the unexpected, be open to all possibilities, and above all, trust yourself!

If you couldn’t teach legal writing, what would be your alternative dream career?

I would be a professional baker. I worked at a bakery in high school, and I have kept baking over the years.  I enjoy baking bread, cupcakes, donuts, scones, muffins -- you name it.  And I am always looking for willing taste testers! 

It’s 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. How are you spending your free time?

Running! I woke up one morning in late 2020 and ran a few laps around the Capitol Square on a whim. Ever since, I have been running almost every day no matter how busy I am. I was slow and could not run very far at first, but I have steadily improved. It is a great way for me to clear my mind. 

headshot of Andrew Norman

Andrew Norman

Lecturer

andrew.norman@wisc.edu

Courses:

  • Legal Research & Writing I

Q&A with Professor Norman

Why is legal writing your jam?

Legal writing is my jam because the process brings order to chaos. There is often an overwhelming amount of legal authority and commentary surrounding a complicated legal question. It is easy to get lost, confused, or flustered when it doesn’t seem to fit together. The writing process demands that you cut through the noise and find the structure needed to analyze the question and convey the state of the law to someone who needs an answer.

If you couldn’t teach legal writing, what would be your alternative dream career?

A member of the Parliament horn section circa 1975.

If your students could leave your course with only one takeaway, what would you want that lesson to be?

That they have the capability to answer any legal question that may come their way. It may take significant time, effort, and research, but once they learn the process, they have what they need to practice law. This can get lost as an attorney continues to specialize throughout their career. Of course, expertise certainly helps! However, lawyers should not be afraid to jump into new areas of law when needed.

It’s 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. How are you spending your free time?

Probably watching the English Premier League with my daughter, if not already on the way to one of her soccer games.

photo of Mary Ann Polewski

Mary Ann Polewski

Administrative Director

polewski@wisc.edu

Q&A with Mary Ann

What is your role in the LRW Program?

I am currently the Administrative Director, a position I’ve held for over 10 years. This position is the one I have served in the longest. Since I started in the program as a teaching assistant in 1981, I’ve held a wide variety of positions. While I taught for several years, I’ve primarily been involved in administration, as I am now. I do a lot of behind-the-scenes scheduling, coordinating, and program and law school committee work.

I wrote the Citation Handbook and am responsible for updating it whenever there is a new edition of The Bluebook. I am the go-to person in the program for questions about citation.

How has the program changed over the years?

The LRW Program has gone through dramatic changes over the past 40 years. When I started law school here, there was only a 3-credit spring semester course taught by teaching assistants.

In the 1990s, the teaching assistants were gradually replaced by adjuncts. The adjuncts came to the building once a week to teach and were supported by a few part-time, permanent teachers. During that period, the program consisted of a 1-credit fall course and a 2-credit spring course. In 2011, the law school increased both LRW courses to 3 credits and began the transition to full-time, professional teachers.

The LRW curriculum has improved dramatically because of the increase in credit hours and the experienced, dedicated, full-time teachers. It has been exciting to watch the program grow and change and to see improvement every year.

What is something that people generally don’t know about you?

It’s almost impossible for me to go to the Art Fair on the Square or any other art show without buying something. I have to skip a lot of events just to keep the house from being overwhelmed.  I love having original art on the walls and shelves. In addition to some wonderful pieces from professional artists, we have works by my husband’s father, our daughter, a dear friend, and an elephant who lived and painted at the Alaska Zoo.

photo of Alison Stites

Alison Stites

Lecturer

astites@wisc.edu

Courses:

  • Legal Research & Writing I
  • Legal Research & Writing II

Q&A with Professor Stites

What prompted you to go to law school? Did your legal career follow the path you had expected?

I initially applied to law school because I planned to pursue a career in international public law— thinkthe United Nations, human rights, global conflict resolution, and the like. I studied economics in undergrad. I loved to travel, I picked up a few foreign languages, and I was convinced I could solve world peace! ( …Ok, maybe that is a bit dramatic, but you get the point.)

My experiences in law school broadened my perspective and revealed that there were many different career paths that would allow me to fight for the change I wanted to see in this world. Throughout my legal career I have held a number of different titles—from in-house counsel to litigation associate to professor. Each work experience has given me an opportunity to make a difference and explore an issue I am passionate about from a unique perspective. For example, as in-house counsel for an energy company, I was able to promote clean energy. As a litigator, I fought for fair elections.

While I most definitely did not follow the path I originally envisioned, I nevertheless found my way to a fulfilling and deeply meaningful legal career. In my role now as a mentor to first-year law students, I strive to ignite passion in my students and help them discover where they want their journey in the law to take them. 

What do you love about teaching legal writing at UW Law School?

I love the community—and that includes my students! Right from the start, when I joined the faculty at UW Law School, I felt like I had been accepted into a family. The LRW Program is a tight-knit group. We work well together and both support and challenge each other to be our best selves. Everyone I have had the opportunity to work with at the law school—from doctrinal and clinical faculty to IT and administrative staff—are welcoming, supportive, and engaging.

Each semester I get to share my classroom with a new group of students, and each semester I am perpetually impressed with the caliber of our student body. I give critical feedback in order to challenge each student and encourage them to push their limits and grow as legal thinkers. Though at the end of the day, I hope all my students know that I am rooting for them and that I am their number one advocate. I cannot wait to see what each student will go on to accomplish.

A note of advice to students: keep in touch with your professors! We love to hear where your legal adventure takes you.

Why is legal writing your jam?

Throughout my legal career I have been drawn to the classroom. I started teaching back in 2008 at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business. At the time, I was in-house counsel for a publicly traded Fortune 1000 corporation. I started teaching courses on business law and legal ethics because I saw the need first-hand to give prospective business leaders a better understanding of the laws that would regulate their future endeavors.

When my family and I relocated to Madison, I refocused my career on litigation. While I loved the variety and challenge of litigating, I profoundly missed being in the classroom. When the opportunity presented itself to join the faculty at UW Law, I jumped at the chance to return to teaching full-time.

I have a varied background in business law, legal transactions, regulation, litigation, and teaching legal principles that makes me uniquely positioned to mentor first-year law students. The skills students develop in their first-year LRW courses will make them more successful law students, clerks, and lawyers, regardless of their chosen career path. I strive to bring my real-world experiences into the classroom to prepare students for a variety of applications of the practice of law. I hope that by sharing my expertise, I can help students find their passion, hone their lawyering skills, and ultimately win the fight for whatever it is that they decide to fight for.

Share one thing about yourself that students typically never learn, even after a full semester with you. 

I love to ski! I grew up in Lake Tahoe and spent most of my childhood on the ski-hill. I started downhill ski racing at the age of five and raced into my college years. When friends are traveling to sunny, warm, beachy places to escape the cold Wisconsin winter weather, my family and I are scoping out where the snow is the deepest and where we think we can find the greatest likelihood of a storm (i.e. fresh powder!).

What are my favorite ski runs you ask? In no particular order: The Chutes at Mt. Rose, NV; Lemming Line at Revelstoke and Delirium Dive at Sunshine Village, both in British Columbia; Rat’s Nest at Snowbird, UT; Alta Chutes (or pretty much anything north-facing) at Jackson Hole, WY; the Back Bowls at Alpental, WA; and Còndor at Portillo, Chile, which is where my husband proposed.

photo of John Strange

John Strange

Lecturer

jwstrange@wisc.edu

Courses:

  • Legal Research & Writing I
  • Legal Research & Writing II
  • Legal Sources

Q&A with Professor Strange

What role did legal writing play in your legal career before you taught full-time?

Without doubt, legal writing played the leading role in my 20 years as a practicing lawyer. I’ve written motions, briefs, and all manner of other litigation documents; drafted and negotiated complex contracts; and written numerous ordinances, resolutions, administrative regulations, and policies.

I also had the unique opportunity to write at least two comprehensive reports, first for the Wisconsin Supreme Court regarding the processing of child protection cases in Wisconsin, and second for the City of Madison Mayor and Common Council recommending comprehensive changes to Madison’s government structure to increase racial equity and social justice.

Beyond these more formal pieces of writing, over the years I’ve written numerous memoranda, letters, and e-mails to clients, colleagues, opposing counsels, and elected officials on a wide variety of legal and policy questions. I even once wrote a poem for the Madison Arts Commission to explain the First Amendment bounds of a city policy! Knowing how to write accurately and well for all audiences in all possible formats is, in my opinion, the most important skill a lawyer can develop.

Why is legal writing your jam?

I love stories. Legal writing tells stories – the story of your client, the story of the law, and ultimately the story of how your client mixes with the law. Having the opportunity to tell those stories on a daily basis in a variety of settings is a fun, exciting, and consequential privilege.

If your students could leave your course with only one takeaway, what would you want that lesson to be?

That legal writing isn’t necessarily just about knowing how to put words on paper. It starts with good and patient listening; requires a curious and flexible mind, critical eye, and creative imagination; is rooted in thorough research and analysis; and is constantly improved by maintaining a healthy dose of empathy and humility. With that foundation, putting the words on paper in a way that is accurate, precise, and easy for readers to access will, eventually, become the easy part.

It's 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. How are you spending your free time?

Our house is full early risers! If my wife and I are not watching our three children in a basketball game, cross country race, or swim meet at 8:00 a.m., I’m probably either gardening or out on a trail run in the woods thinking about a bagel and third cup of coffee.

photo of Desmund Wu

Desmund Wu

Lecturer

desmund.wu@wisc.edu

Courses:

  • Legal Research & Writing I
  • Legal Research & Writing II

Q&A with Professor Wu

Why did you go to law school?

I went to law school to save the gays! Right before law school, I worked at an LGBT think-tank called the Williams Institute that was at a law school. My job was to organize legal conferences that brought practitioners and professors to talk about cutting-edge issues of sexual orientation law. Those attorneys were the first attorneys I’d ever met because I’m the first person in my family born in the United States. But, seeing these people talk passionately about issues that were deeply personal to me made me think, I want to do that too. So I applied and ended up going to law school and loving everything about the experience.

What is your teaching philosophy?

I believe in student-centered learning: the idea that the focus of instruction should be on students rather than the instructor. Research shows that students learn best when they feel safe, respected, and connected. One of my roles is to create this environment in my classroom so that students can connect with the learning material, each other, and the professor. Students also learn best when they are actively engaged with what they’re learning. While reading and understanding a case alone at home might be where learning starts, deeper learning happens by talking about the case with others inside and outside of class, explaining it to others, and then writing about it and getting formative feedback. Learning a new skill takes time and patience, so I like to tell students that I’m here to help, like a guide on the side rather than a sage on a stage.

I also believe in pedagogically-grounded teaching and I’m constantly improving on what I do in the classroom. I read broadly about teaching, especially from the education field, because I want to base what I do in the classroom on the latest research. The literature also inspires me to try new learning activities, assess the effectiveness of those activities at achieving learning outcomes, and then improving upon what I do year after year.

Share something about yourself that students typically never learn, even after a full semester with you.

I taught swing dancing for several years while still in college. That’s when I first figured out that I loved teaching. I’ve also played the piano since I was four years old.

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