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Law Student FAQs


1. What is the Substantial Analytic Writing or “SAW” requirement?

Every ABA accredited law school is required to have an upper division writing project as a graduation requirement.  UCLA’s is called the “Substantial Analytic Writing,” or “SAW,” and is set forth in our Academic Standards, Section I(E).  It requires that a student complete the following:

E. Substantial Analytic Writing—During the second or third year of law school, a faculty-supervised Substantial Analytic Writing (SAW) project.  This experience of sustained and intensive work on a specific project is a core element of a student’s legal education.  The content and format of the writing project may vary within a wide range.  For example, a student may choose to examine a specific proposal for law reform, drawing on empirical research or materials from a field other than law.  Alternatively, a student may choose to draw on his/her experiential course experience to analyze a specific legal problem.  Whatever the format, one of the central objectives of the project should assist students in developing superior writing skills.  Students may satisfy the SAW requirement by completing a faculty-supervised writing project undertaken for a minimum of two units that is certified by the supervising faculty member as a rigorous writing experience.  The writing project must be graded and may not be completed on a pass/fail basis.  In general, the SAW requirement may be satisfied by a Law 340 or Law 341 independent research paper, a seminar paper, or a paper for other advanced courses.  With the approval of the supervising faculty member, other writing exercises may qualify as the necessary rigorous writing experience.

2. How does the SAW requirement actually work?

Faculty members determine, based on the above criteria, whether written work required for a class they are offering will, if satisfactorily completed, fulfill the SAW requirement.   Faculty are asked (but not required) to include that information in their course descriptions and students are encouraged to inquire directly to the faculty if they are seeking to satisfy the requirement and want to know whether a particular course might qualify.  At the time you are choosing classes, we recommend that you read online course descriptions to determine whether satisfactory completion of course requirements might satisfy the SAW.

Once the final written work product has been submitted, the faculty member needs to determine, as part of the grading process, whether the student actually met the SAW requirements.  (It is possible for a student to pass a class, but not satisfy the SAW requirements.)  While the Records Office will ask the faculty member to verify the student’s SAW completion as part of grade submission, some faculty may not always provide this information.  Students should affirmatively fill out the SAW Completion Form so Records can note that the graduation requirement has been met.

3. What is the required length for a paper to fulfill the SAW Requirement?

There is not a specific amount of pages required. The length and substance of the paper is determined by the student and their faculty supervisor.

4. What’s “independent research” (also called “individual research”) and when can that satisfy the SAW?

UCLA offers three different categories of independent/individual research, which are the terms used to describe scholarly writing done under the supervision of a law faculty member.  These categories fall under the course numbers Law 340, Law 341 and Law 345.  Papers written under Law 340 and Law 341, if written for two or more units of credit, may satisfy the SAW; those written under Law 345 may not.  The Summary of Academic Standards, Section II(D), describes the three opportunities as follows:

Individual Research (Law 340/341) and Project (Law 345) Unit Rules— An upper division student may enroll in and receive credit for up to a combined total of nine (9) Law 340/341 independent research/Law 345 independent project units. In Law 340 (for a semester) or Law 341 (for a full academic year), students undertake legal research under the supervision of a faculty member resulting in an original scholarly paper analyzing a particular area of law.  In Law 345 (for a semester only), students undertake original research, usually involving empirical or field study, and produce a paper analyzing their findings.  Students seeking to enroll in a Law 340/341 or 345 course must submit a “Petition for Independent Research/Project form to the Records Office for approval; this form requires the student obtain prior written approval of the sponsoring faculty member, including approval of the proposed topic.  Consultation and supervision between the student and the sponsoring faculty member shall continue throughout the term(s) of enrollment.  Work may begin during the summer, if the professor agrees to this in advance, so long as a substantial portion of the work is undertaken during the term(s) in which credit is awarded.  All 340/341 units shall be graded for a letter grade, not on a P/U/NC basis.  The supervising faculty member shall determine whether Law 345 shall be graded for a letter grade or on a P/U/NC basis.

A student seeking to write an independent research paper is responsible for securing a faculty member willing to supervise the proposed project.   The student then needs to draft a brief description of the topic, obtain written confirmation (email) from the professor and fill out the Petition for Individual Research/Individual Project.   This needs to be submitted to the Records Office by the end of the first week of instruction; Records then processes the enrollment.  (The Dean of Students has discretion to extend the deadline through Week 4 of instruction; beyond that date, students must petition the Faculty/Standards Committee.)  Records processes enrollment for all independent research after the second enrollment pass; you cannot enroll yourself on MyUCLA.

5. What about the Law Review and other journal requirements?

The UCLA Law Review requires its 2L members to complete a first draft of a student comment by early in the spring semester.  To fulfill that requirement, most members of the Law Review enroll in either Law 340 for the fall semester or year-long Law 341, with the units distributed over both fall and spring semesters.   Other journals encourage student scholarship, whether through independent research or seminar papers.  Journal membership requirements are separate and apart from the school’s SAW requirement, but a paper written for a journal may also be used to satisfy the SAW requirement if it meets the SAW standards.

6. Why is it potentially a bad idea to wait until the last semester of law school to enroll in a course or independent study intended to satisfy the SAW?

If a student runs into any difficulties with lining up a faculty advisor, choosing a topic, or actually writing the paper, s/he may run into problems completing the paper and satisfying the SAW on a timely basis.  It is one (bad enough) thing to walk into your last final exam less prepared than you would like under ideal circumstances; you are still highly likely to pass the course and earn the units.  With respect to the SAW, though, even students who wrote papers throughout college can find SAW compliance to be a more daunting undertaking than they had anticipated.   Having that epiphany during what are supposed to be the waning days of law school can be problematic and ultimately interfere with your ability to graduate on time and take the bar exam with your friends. 

7. When are independent research and seminar papers due?

Unless a faculty member sets an earlier deadline, all papers (whether written for a seminar or as independent research) are due at 4:00 p.m. on the last day of final exams for the semester and are typically submitted to the faculty member via MyLaw.

8. But what if a student really needs additional time to work on the paper?

Any extension must be approved by the Dean of Students, who as a matter of practice seeks input from the supervising faculty member in order to determine whether the student has made substantial progress on the paper, and that failure to complete the paper by the deadline is justified by sound educational objectives or excused by such circumstances as would justify a student from taking an exam.  To obtain an extension, students need to: 1)  obtain approval from their professor; 2) Draft an email to the Dean of Students with a statement explaining progress on the paper and reasons for the extension request along with the professor’s approval.  Generally, extensions will not be approved for longer than one week.  However, if the student is doing a Law 340 and work on the paper needs to extend into the following semester, it may make sense instead to convert the paper to a Law 341.  Students in their last semester of law school should keep in mind that they will not be able to sit for any bar exam until the paper has been completed and their graduation can be certified (which is to say that finishing the paper cannot be postponed until after the bar exam). 

9. What’s the deal with writing requirements for programs/specializations?

The Epstein Program in Public Interest Law & Policy, the Critical Race Studies Program and the Program in Law & Philosophy all impose their own upper division writing requirements, sometimes more extensive than the SAW.  Students seeking to earn a specialization in one of those fields of study should check with the programmatic faculty advisor to determine whether their proposed written work will fulfill program requirements.  A paper that fulfills program requirements will be deemed to satisfy the law school’s SAW requirement, but the converse is not necessarily true. 

10. Can the law library help students with SAW paper research?

Yes. The law library has a SAW paper research guide to help students through the stages of research.  Additionally, the librarians hold SAW paper research workshops each semester.  Workshop schedules and materials are posted here, including asynchronous lessons, and handouts.  Librarians are also available for individual student consultations.