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Linda Edwards

Linda Edwards random

We asked Linda Edwards, E.L. Cord Foundation Professor of Law at UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law, what has inspired and motivated her throughout her career. This author spotlight gives a glimpse into her passions and what brought her to where she is today.

What or who motivated you to study law?

[LE] After college, I was a high school teacher for a few years, but I knew I wanted to go to graduate school. I considered English and History, but thought those would be mostly “ivory tower” subjects. I wanted to study something with more real-world impact, and that sounded like law. I had never met a lawyer and never even heard of a woman lawyer (this was the early 1970s), so it sounded like a strange and scary idea, but I thought I could withdraw after the first semester if it didn’t go well. As it turned out, frightened as I was, I loved it.

Did you have a favorite professor in law school?  If so, who was the person and what made them stand out?

[LE] All my teachers were good in their own ways, but the one I remember most is the late Neil P. Cohen, who taught my Criminal Law course. Professor Cohen used some surprising methods to make the subject real to us. He arranged an optional “spend a night in jail,” so we’d learn a bit about what our clients might experience. When we were studying “attempt,” he actually brought a gun to class. (Obviously, don’t try this today!) He called on me, seated in the back row, to ask how close to the act one had to get in order to constitute an attempt. He began to approach me with the gun, asking with every few steps, “Is this close enough yet?” Soon I was saying, “Yes, that’s definitely close enough.” I’ll never forget the policy lesson: that an inclusive definition of attempt might help prevent the more serious crime. 

What law school course did you enjoy the most?

[LE] I liked them all. Even the ones I thought would be boring turned out to be interesting, and that continued to be true throughout my whole career. All legal subjects are complicated and implicate important policy rationales. They construct our civil society in ways we often don’t recognize. It doesn’t take much scratching of the surface before those crucial policy questions become visible, and that’s endlessly interesting.

Sadly, the course I liked least was legal writing, because the legal writing revolution hadn’t happened yet. I’m so glad it did. 

What are your primary areas of writing and teaching? What fascinates you about these areas of law?

[LE] I love to explore written persuasion, especially the many roles of narrative. My favorite course is an advanced writing course called “Briefs that Changed the World,” where we study various methods of persuasion and some of the Supreme Court briefs that used those methods to actually change our world. After teaching the course a few times, I wrote the text for the course (published by Wolters Kluwer). Every year, when I teach that course, I learn more – from the briefs and from my students’ reactions and observations. It’s inspiring to know that brief writers really can (and do) change the world.

Do (or did) you have a mentor, or someone that has inspired or encouraged you in your writing or teaching?

[LE] My most important mentors have been the many members of the community of legal writing professors. They’ve taught me how to think about legal writing and how to teach it in a variety of settings. They’ve encouraged me to find ways to deepen our understanding of both predictive analysis and persuasion. Together, over the last 30+ years, we’ve built a discipline with both sophisticated intellectual foundations and real-world significance.   

What motivated you to write a legal writing text?

[LE] After a few years of teaching, I came to believe that students could learn better if we did more with three things: (1) rule structures (e.g., a list of required elements or a set of factors or a balancing test); (2) the key forms of legal reasoning (rule-based, analogy, policy-based, and narrative); and organizing the syllabus so we can intervene earlier, according to the stages in the writing process. I wanted a text that would support those three goals, so I wrote my first legal writing text, “Legal Writing: Process, Analysis, and Organization.” It has just come out in its 7th edition – slimmed down for today’s experienced teachers and reading-resistant students, but still focusing on those same three foundations.  

What has been the most influential or pivotal moment in your career?

[LE] Being hired by Tony Amsterdam to join the NYU Lawyering Program. Tony had faith in me despite my lack of a flashy resume or influential connections. It was a stroke of luck that defined everything from that point on.

What changes in legal education excite you?

[LE] The increasing emphasis on experiential education. Traditional legal education has tried to divide the learning of “substantive” or “doctrinal” information from the ability to use that information. But all credible learning theories demonstrate that the division simply isn’t possible. A student doesn’t really know the law of wills without learning to draft a will. As we bring together these two artificially separated parts of the academy, we’ll be better teachers and also better scholars.  

What advice do you have for today’s law students? 

[LE] Remember that your professional reputation begins on Day 1 of law school. And in the final analysis, your reputation will be your most important professional asset. Build it wisely and well.

How do you hope to be remembered by your students or law school?

[LE] I’d love to be remembered as a good teacher, a good scholar, and a caring colleague – a simple but ambitious goal.   

What are your interests outside of law? 

[LE] I read mysteries, especially those with strong female characters, and I enjoy mysteries on TV, especially those set in other countries. I like to cook when I have a little extra time. Since my husband and I became (mostly) vegan, I’ve had a whole new set of recipes to try and skills to learn. Someday I hope to own a piano again, and when that day comes, I’ll dust off my old red John Thompson books and see what I can remember.