UC Law SF Professors Share Secrets to Great Legal Writing

Photo collage headshot of three legal writing professors

Professors Stephen Tollafield, Angie Gius, and Teresa Wall-Cyb help UC Law SF law students master the art of legal research and writing.

At UC Law SF, three dedicated professors— Angie Gius, Stephen Tollafield, and Teresa Wall-Cyb—bring nearly five decades of experience to the classroom in their Legal Research and Writing (LRW) courses.

The three full-time faculty members collaborate with and support a larger team of devoted and knowledgeable adjunct instructors. Together, they ensure that UC Law SF students have the writing and oral advocacy skills to excel in the classroom and in practice and to serve their clients and the public.

“It’s difficult to overstate how important these courses are for law students,” Director of LRW and Moot Court Stephen Tollafield said. “These are the most essential skills lawyers need to effectively represent and advise clients.”

After graduating from UC Law SF in 2002, Tollafield worked as a disability rights advocate and later as staff attorney with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In 2008, he started sharing his passion for writing with law students as director of the LRW program. “I love good writing, and I hope to pass those instincts and love of storytelling on to students so they can be better advocates for their clients,” he said.

The first-year J.D. curriculum includes two courses – Legal Research and Writing (LRW) I and II – for a total of six units of writing instruction. In these courses, students go from objectively analyzing simple legal questions to taking positions on complex matters, including active cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. By year’s end, each student has written multiple memos and a lengthy brief on a variety of state and federal legal disputes. Each student also presents an oral argument to a live panel of volunteer judges.

In Gius’ LRW II class – which focuses on persuasive legal writing – students have argued cases involving Indian law, police searches, and police surveillance tactics. She encourages students to keep “the big picture of the law” in mind and ask questions like, “What does this case have to do with our greater concerns about justice?” She also emphasizes that students can get creative in how they frame arguments about legal texts and statutes.

Gius clerked for a federal judge in New York before teaching legislative lawyering and policy advocacy at Georgetown University, where she also earned her LL.M. in advocacy. She then taught in the Lawyering program at New York University, where she earned her J.D. She’s been teaching for nearly a decade and has taught LRW at UC Law SF since 2019.

In Wall-Cyb’s class, students learn the most effective ways to research an issue to which multiple, inconsistent prior court rulings can apply. “Because legal research databases are so vast, it’s important to learn early a process by which to manage all this information,” she said.

Wall-Cyb has worked as a legal journalist, legal research attorney for a state court system, and attorney advisor for federal administrative law judges. Before joining UC Law SF in 2019, she directed the Externship and Honors Lawyering programs at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, where she earned her law degree.

Wall-Cyb said she’s passionate about helping students become effective writers. “I love hearing the students’ voices in their writing. I love seeing them develop these foundational skills that they get to stretch and use for the rest of their legal careers.”

Each LRW professor has unique words of wisdom for their students.

Tollafield tells students to always put themselves in the reader’s shoes, “Keeping your audience in mind will sharpen the focus of your analysis and presentation in ways that the audience will find really valuable.”

Gius recommends that writers avoid using complicated legal jargon, “One of the main things we teach is to write simply and clearly. You want to make your reader’s job as easy as possible.”

According to Wall-Cyb, the secret to great legal writing is practice and perseverance. “For almost everyone, the transition from non-legal to legal writing is going to be a bumpy one. Know that you’re not alone. Keep showing up with your best effort, and you’ll get there.”

UC Law SF also has a Legal Writing Resources Center that offers individual assistance to law students who need help with research, grammar, citations, editing, and other aspects of legal writing.

UC Law SF media contacts:
Liz Moore
Nicholas Iovino