Law school honors Legal Writing Director Laurel Oates with Holdych Award

May 01, 2012

Seattle University School of Law has established a new award in memory of Professor Emeritus Tom Holdych to honor exemplary service and transformational institutional building. The Tom Holdych Award for Meritorious and Transformational Service will honor an individual whose skill and dedication has resulted in institutional development that has advanced and enhanced the long-term stability and reputation of the law school. It will be awarded periodically as merited.

The first recipient of the Holdych Award is Professor Laurel Oates. She will be receiving this honor as she steps down as director of the law school's acclaimed Legal Writing Program at the end of the academic year after 28 years of outstanding leadership. She will continue teaching in the program.

"I can think of no one more worthy of an award in Tom Holdych's memory than Laurel," Dean Mark C. Niles said. "Tom was an integral part of building the School of Law. Laurel has played a significant role in further developing the law school."

Oates is a cum laude graduate of Seattle University School of Law who returned to the school to teach legal writing in 1981, becoming director of the program in 1984. As director, she designed the Legal Writing Program, which has been ranked as either the number 1 or number 2 program in the country every year since the U.S. News and World Report has rated legal writing programs. 

She also co-founded the Legal Writing Institute, which has 2,400 members in 20 countries who are interested in the effective teaching of legal writing. She chaired the Institute's Board of Directors from 1984-1988, served as the editor of its newsletter, the Second Draft, from 1984-1990, and has returned to serve on the Board from 1989-2002 and again in 2010 to the present. In 2003, she was the recipient of the AALS Section Award on Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research; in 2007 she was the recipient of the Burton Award for Outstanding Contributions to Legal Writing Education; and in 2009 she was the recipient of the Majorie Rombauer Award for Contributions to the Teaching of Legal Writing.

Oates is also a prolific author and scholar. She has co-authored five books on legal writing, including The Legal Writing Handbook, which is now in its fifth edition, as well as Just Writing, Just Briefs, Just Memos, and Just Research. She has become an expert in legal reading and published several ground-breaking articles on that topic. She is a sought-after presenter at conferences on numerous topics, most recently innovations in legal research. She has also shared her expertise on legal research, legal writing, and advocacy with the practicing bar in Washington State with no fewer than 13 CLEs since 2004. Laurel, accompanied by her faculty colleagues, has also carried the banner of the law school to the four corners of the globe, teaching legal writing skills in India, Uganda, South Africa, and Afghanistan, helping establish an organization to promote the exchange of ideas about the teaching of legal writing between professors in Africa and the United States.

Professor Holdych, who died in April 2011, was a founding faculty member at the law school, taught the very first class on Sept. 5, 1972, and helped shape the law school into the success it is today. He taught thousands of students in contracts and commercial law. He was a beloved teacher, often cited by alumni as their most memorable professor. He loved teaching and was both "feared and adored" for his rigorous demands. He served as faculty advisor for the Christian Legal Society and delighted in serving on the oversight committee for the Union Gospel Mission Open Door Legal Services.