Lecturer of Law Erica Byrd knows the impact that being a good writer has for an attorney. Before joining the Georgia State Law faculty as part of the Lawyering: Foundations program, Byrd was the lead writer at her firm. She was winning cases without even walking into the courtroom, by drafting complex motions and appeals.
While in law school at the University of Georgia, Byrd decided she wanted to practice family law for its mix of the public interest work affecting people’s real lives that she enjoyed while also in a private practice field. She began practicing family law at a mid-sized firm in Atlanta, and quickly she was able to set herself apart with her writing skills.
“In addition to my family law case load, I started getting picked for all of the big writing projects, the complex motions, all the appeals work, both in family law and in general civil litigation,” Byrd said.
When it comes to being an attorney, everyone has their skill set and for Byrd it’s writing and teaching others to write well, too. She says beyond just being chosen as the go-to writer for a variety of projects, she also was teaching the junior associates, clients and summer interns these skills.
“Many attorneys are lacking writing skills when they leave law school. I saw it both within my firm and in the greater legal community,” Byrd said. “There’s a lot that lawyers have to learn when they enter practice, but if you are a good writer, you can win so much on motions and letters alone.”
Byrd explains this skill is vital starting with the first document filed with the court. If the lawyer doesn’t cite the correct law or is sloppy in their writing, they are going to miss opportunities at best, and lose their case or commit malpractice at worst.
“There are several types of dispositive motions that have no requirement that a hearing take place, and those dispositive motions can decide the whole case,” said Byrd. “So, an entire case, who wins or loses, can be decided completely based on documents filed with the court without ever having stepped foot in the court room.”
Georgia State Law grasps how important legal writing is, which is a big reason why Byrd was drawn to join the faculty and to teach full time. It’s taught as part of the Lawyering: Foundations program, six-credit hours over two semesters, where students are turning in near weekly assignments, in addition to major assignments, and getting frequent, direct feedback from their professors.
“One of the aspects of Georgia State’s legal writing program that sets it apart from other law schools is that students are practicing their writing skills so frequently, and there isn’t a better way to learn legal writing and analysis than to actually do it and get the feedback from people that know how to do it,” she said.
Byrd’s goal is to make sure every student masters these skills since they are crucial to the practice of law regardless of practice area. She says the changes and progress she sees in her students from the beginning of the year to the end is exceptionally rewarding.
“I love being able to work closely with them,” Byrd said. “The smaller class size for Lawyering: Foundations allows me to get to know all of my students and to provide individualized feedback and support. I love being able to really see their work grow and celebrate that with them.”
Written by Mara Thompson