Big Brother - The Legal Version

Big Brother - The Legal Version


A new mentoring program at the Faculty matches first-year undergraduates with Faculty graduates. The graduates read papers written by the students for their Legal Writing and Research course and offer useful comments.

-Yuval Shoham-

Just eight months after Sapir Peles began her studies at the Faculty of Law, she found herself standing in front of former Justice Minister Professor Yaacov Neeman, listening to his comments on the first legal paper she had ever written. “To be honest I was very worried. I was worried that he would tell me that my legal arguments weren’t any good,” Sapir admits. “But in fact he strongly agreed with my points and we had a very fruitful and interesting discussion.” 

Many of Sapir’s classmates must have been similarly anxious. Some 60 first-year students participated this year in a new program at the Faculty that “twinned” each student with an attorney, judge, or senior legal expert who is an alumni of the Faculty. The mentors read the legal paper written by the student in their Legal Writing and Research course and offered their opinion. Thus alongside the comments of the course teachers, the students got a chance to meet with senior and experienced legal experts and to listen to their opinions. 

“When the dean of the Faculty initiated the program, the thought behind it was that we have a wonderful pool of alumni, and we want to develop our connection with them and their bond with the Faculty. We felt this was a great way for them to contribute some of their extensive experience,” explains Adv. Yael Kariv-Teitelbaum, the course coordinator. “Not every first-year student has a judge for a parent, and I think it’s important that they meet people from the field of practice. Apart from that, I know that people sometimes feel that while the students at the Faculty are great interns and have sharp and profound legal minds, their writing and legal phrasing aren’t always as good as they should be. So I think it’s great that another pair of eyes reviews their paper and offers an opinion.” Attorney Kariv-Teitelbaum emphasizes that the goal of the meetings between student and mentor is to offer the students a different and broader perspective. “The mentors don’t judge the papers according to the criteria used by the course teachers and they don’t give a final grade. Instead, they draw on their broader worldview and offer some tips and comments concerning the quality of the writing and the legal arguments. Above all, they aim to provide tools that will be helpful to the students as they continue their studies. The meetings also sparked more personal discussions, and many students told us that they had developed a good connection with their mentor. Some of them even decided to stay in touch in the future.” 



Adv. Yael Kariv-Teitelbaum


“Taking a 360-Degree View of Reality” 
In the course, which is compulsory for all first-year students, the participants choose a research question relating to a specific legal issue and write a 3,500-word paper on their chosen subject. For most of them, this is their first encounter with legal writing. By way of example, Sapir wrote a paper discussing the ramifications of the declaration of areas of land in East Jerusalem as a national park, and considered whether this move enables equal construction and development for all the residents of the city. Sapir says that while her subject could be considered an overtly political one, she managed to avoid the pitfall of political bias in her paper. “Professor Neeman, whose political views may differ from my own, was very matter-of-fact and didn’t let politics influence our discussions,” she emphasizes. “Indeed, it was interesting to view the subject through the eyes of someone who has served in government and made numerous decisions relating to the issue addressed by my paper. For example, I mentioned that the decision to establish the national park on the slopes of Mt. Scopus was taken in 2013, when Neeman was justice minister. So I was fortunate to have a mentor who is a real expert in my chosen subject. We also had an interesting discussion about the history of Jerusalem. As a native of Jerusalem who spent part of his childhood in the Old City, Neeman brought to our discussions the personal angle of what it is like to grow up in a city with so many rifts.” 

For his part, Professor Neeman comments: “I think it is really important that even at a very early stage, students take a 360-degree view of reality, rather than a 90-degree or 45-degree perspective. It’s important that they can appreciate and understand broad social ramifications – the ways that any subject influences political and other aspects. It’s important that they have a broad perspective on reality. That’s why I’m so pleased that they contacted me and I think this project is very important. Apart from that, Sapir’s paper was excellent.” 

The Legal Expert’s Main Tool 
As everyone knows, the pen is mightier than the sword. Yet the pens of recent generations seem much less mighty. Young generations spend every minute of their day immersed in smartphones, Facebook, and Twitter, and they find it hard to free themselves of the need to cram as much information as possible into as few sentences as they can. Anything more than 140 characters seems to be droning on; and who even has time to read a whole book?! While it may be reasonable to assume that law students have stronger-than-average writing skills, the course – and the new program – can surely give them a significant helping hand. “I think it starts as early as high school: they don’t work enough with the students to develop their writing and phrasing abilities. You can see something of a deterioration in this respect,” agrees Attorney Kariv-Teitelbaum. “In the course we try to teach the students how to write a proper argument, how to undertake legal research, how to phrase themselves properly, and so forth. But obviously we can’t give them feedback on every sentence. The students need to learn to write – certainly as jurists, for whom writing is naturally their main tool. I certainly hope that as many students as possible will participate in the program next year.”