Wayne State and U of M professors collaborate on book

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Professor Anne Marie Burr, director of Legal Writing at Wayne State University Law School, is co-authoring a new book "U.S. Legal Skills for Foreign Students" with Professor Howard Bromberg, an assistant clinical professor at the University of Michigan. The book will be published by Carolina Academic Press next year.

The original idea for the book grew out of the pair's experience designing and implementing the legal practice program for the first western style law school in China: Peking University's School of Transnational Law (STL), launched in Shenzhen, China in 2008 to provide practice skills necessary to achieve success in global law firms. The first year class consisted of 54 first year law students, only one of whom had been outside of China.

In developing the practice skills program, Burr and Bromberg quickly became aware they would have to create their own course pack to train Chinese students in the practice of law. Several excellent texts exist for training foreign LL.M. students on the doctrinal aspects of the U.S. legal system, but do not discuss practice skills, Burr says. A number of excellent books are written on practice skills for U.S. law students, but assume a familiarity with U.S. culture and the legal system which the Chinese students lacked. A few texts designed for LL.M. students combine doctrinal discussions of the Constitution and precedent with instructions on drafting memoranda and briefs, but do not emphasize the development of active, 'real-life' U.S. practice skills.

"At global conferences, we heard similar concerns," Burr says. "At least one foreign law firm servicing U.S. clients has started its own global legal skills academy for its associates who received LL.M.s but lack an understanding of legal practice basics such as law firm culture, negotiation styles, and billing protocol."

As a result, Burr and Bromberg set out to develop a book that provides a description of the practice skills - the "toolbox" - of the successful lawyer. They found a fellow believer in the importance of legal skills in Linda Lacey, senior editor at Carolina Academic Press.

Burr's commitment to excellence in the practical aspects of legal practice developed as a result of her own experience as a large firm partner and corporate senior counsel. She began her legal career as a federal law clerk for U.S. District Judge George E. Woods, before joining the regional law firm of Dykema Gossett. Becoming an equity partner in 1989, she specialized in corporate workouts.

During that same time, she was one of three finalists for an appointment as a U.S. Bankruptcy Court udge for the Eastern District of Michigan and her daughter was born.

"It was a very busy 18 months," she says with a laugh.

Following her tenure at Dykema, Burr served as senior counsel of the multinational corporation Allied Domecq, PLC. Responsible for mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures for the wines and spirits divisions, she worked on transactions in Mexico, South America, and Asia.

When the wines and spirits division of Allied Domecq was itself acquired, Burr turned to teaching, training, and mediating. In addition to her current position as an Academic Director at Wayne State University Law School, she has taught as a visiting or assistant professor at Detroit College of Law, Ave Maria School of Law, WSU Schools of Business and Communications, and Peking University's School of Transnational Law. She has taught subjects as diverse as civil procedure, debtor-creditor law, negotiation, legal research, writing and analysis, and legal drafting. She has also served as a certified mediator for the Oakland County Circuit Court and the Eastern District of Michigan Bankruptcy Court, as well as a for the National Center for Community and Justice.

An avid writer - she has published various articles on practice skills, alternative dispute resolution, and most recently her experiences teaching at STL - Burr enjoys teaching legal writing and reasoning from a practice perspective.

For the last several years, she has been working with developing a comprehensive program for first year students. The program begins at Wayne Law with an orientation module, teaching students about the structure of the court system and the development of the law through the common law process. During this time, students receive their first client file and begin to organize the material for their first legal memorandum.

"Our legal writing professors work with the same group of 25 students for the entire first year, teaching the students research, objective and persuasive writing, and oral argument," she says. "The capstone of the first year program focuses on the students' arguments before practicing judges and attorneys."

As rewarding as teaching practice skills to first year students has become, Burr has a new challenge for the coming year - teaching upper level students.

"For the first time, we're offering an upper level legal drafting class focusing on drafting common legal documents from a practice perspective," she says. "I'm spending the summer speaking to practitioners and creating client files and model documents for the students. It's a lot of fun."

A WSU law graduate herself, Burr enjoys the opportunity to give back to her alma mater and share what she learned in practice. When not teaching or writing, she enjoys traveling, sailing on the 28-foot Catalina she owns with her husband - also a Wayne Law grad - or visiting her daughter now in graduate school at Vanderbilt.

What's next?

"I'm very excited about the book," Burr says. "I enjoyed the opportunity to teach practice skills to foreign students at STL and I would love to duplicate the experience at Wayne Law and elsewhere in the United States."

Published: Thu, Dec 8, 2011