Minnesota Law

Fall 2022
Faculty Focus

David R. Cleveland: Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Legal Research and Writing

David R. Cleveland joined the Minnesota Law faculty this fall as clinical professor of law and director of legal research and writing. He has taught legal research, writing, and analysis in law schools for 17 years, including at Nova Southeastern University, Valparaiso University, University of Denver, and Mitchell Hamline. He also has a strong background in law school leadership, having served as a dean, associate dean, and legal writing director at various points in his career.

Professor David Cleveland

What interests you so much about legal writing and what do you most enjoy about teaching it? 

Legal writing, particularly 1L legal writing, teaches critical legal analysis and communication skills that are fundamental to any law career. How we think, how we communicate, and who we are as lawyers are all closely intertwined. I enjoy being part of the professional development of my students on these core issues. 

What are some of the trends you are seeing in the legal research and writing field? 

Scholarly works in the field are increasingly diverse and interdisciplinary, which helps improve pedagogy in the classroom. The legal profession’s growing demand for “practice-ready” and highly capable legal writers has brought a renewed emphasis on legal writing education. 

Do you observe any misconceptions about legal research and writing?

Entering law students sometimes underestimate the extent to which legal practice of all kinds relies on quality legal writing. The popular image of a lawyer as oral advocate, negotiator, public speaker, or the like tends to omit the extensive legal writing those lawyers were required to do in preparation for those oral presentations. Similarly, many assume that prior success, or struggle, as a writer is automatically transferable to legal writing. In reality, legal writing is a skill that can be learned and the best lawyers continue to improve throughout their years in practice. 

What are the best legal research and writing tips you would offer today’s law students? 

First, start early. Dashing off an essay at the last minute is a staple of the undergraduate experience, especially for bright students. That approach will not work for law students or lawyers. Second, approach the task with project management in mind. Most legal research and writing tasks involve identifying the problem, researching the facts and law, planning the writing, drafting, revising, editing, and proofreading. Students should set internal deadlines that make sense for the work required and time allotted. Third, structure is critically important to legal analysis and writing. Outlining your work is well worth the time it takes. Similarly, editing is well worth the time it takes as you near the end of your writing process. 

On what topics do you most enjoy researching and writing?

I enjoy examining the policies and practices of the federal courts, especially around opinion publica- tion, oral argument, and other aspects of communication to and from the courts. I also enjoy exploring the history of legal writing instruction in the United States. Finally, legal ethics and gambling law have been areas of interest for me throughout my career. 

What are examples of legal scholarship that you are particularly proud of having written? 

My first article was a lengthy exploration of the history of court opinions from the birth of the common law to the modern debate over unpublished opinions. It has been widely cited in both academic and litigation sources. The series of articles that follow it continue to explore the federal appellate courts’ unpublished opinion practices in a thoughtful, revealing way of which I am especially proud. Recently, I’ve been invited to co-author book chapters on legal writing as a discipline, and these projects were gratifying as well. 

What are you most looking forward to about serving as director of legal research and writing at Minnesota Law? 

I’m looking forward to working with the wonderful faculty, staff, and students here at the Law School. I join Minnesota Law with a unique set of experiences including an education degree; experience teaching at the high school, college, and law school levels; almost two decades of teaching legal research and writing; leadership in the national legal writing community; and service as a law school dean. Directing the program here will allow me to bring that wide range of experiences to serve this community. 

What do you like to do with your free time? 

I love to cook (and, to be honest, eat)! I enjoy everything about putting a meal together and serving others, and I’m always on the lookout for great restaurants, breweries, and food trucks around town. I also enjoy reading, writing, playing games, and walking my dogs. 

Could you share a “fun fact” about yourself? 

Many years ago, a group of students gave me the nickname “The Red Dragon.” If you drop by my office and see a fair amount of dragon imagery, it’s a result of this enduring moniker.