Trial attorney, adjunct professor named director of Penn State Law legal writing

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Trial attorney Richard Settgast, a Centre County assistant public defender, supervisor of the Penn State Law Indigent Criminal Justice Practicum, and adjunct professor of legal writing has accepted a position as the director of legal analysis and writing for international students.

Although Settgast has taught legal writing and advanced legal writing to Penn State Law LL.M. students since 2014, his new position will allow him to better craft a comprehensive system for equipping international students with practical writing and research skills they will carry with them for the rest of their careers.

“For the past 10 years I have devoted my professional career to public service," said Settgast. "In 2006, I was given the opportunity to intern at the Centre County Public Defender’s Office. My research and writing skills impressed not only the chief public defender, but also President Judge Thomas Kistler who hired me as his law clerk after I graduated from Penn State School of Law. For the next two and a half years I researched and wrote well over a hundred judicial opinions for the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County.

"In 2010, I was fortunate enough to be able to rejoin the Centre County Public Defender’s Office as a trial attorney and defend those unable to afford their own attorney. My approach to teaching legal writing is to bring that practical experience and apply it in the LL.M. program. The students won’t just be doing hypotheticals, but actually writing memos and doing assignments that relate to the work they would see as real attorneys practicing in the United States.”

Settgast first began working with Penn State Law in 2013, when he co-founded the Indigent Criminal Justice Practicum to give select third-year law students the opportunity of defending indigent defendants in real court. Under the supervision of Settgast and his colleague Casey McClain, practicum students have represented dozens of people, gained invaluable courtroom experience, gone toe-to-toe with assistant district attorneys and argued jury trials for their clients.

Settgast next began helping teach legal writing to LL.M. students in 2014, and looks forward to continuing this work in his new role as director of the Legal Writing Center. The program will consist of two courses — an introductory legal writing course and an optional advanced legal writing course — and will cover non-persuasive writing, legal research and memos, and well as persuasive writing and case briefs, with the advanced course culminating with an argument before a sitting judge.

“My goal is to not just introduce our international students to American legal writing, but to also show them what it means to be an attorney in the United States and expose them to the writing skills they’d be expected to have if entering a law firm,” Settgast said.

Settgast’s practical and skills-oriented approach will also complement Penn State Law’s Introduction to U.S. Legal Systems course — an intensive two-week crash course that, alongside legal writing, forms the backbone for LL.M. students’ success at Penn State Law.

“The purpose and the approach of the course is twofold: Not only do we give students an introduction to the U.S. legal system and how it differs from other legal systems, we also serve as an orientation to prepare them for American law school,” said Nicole Chong, professor of legal writing, who teaches the legal systems course. “So we teach everything from the different branches of government, the common law system and how to read court opinions, to very practical law school preparation like how to take notes in an American law class and how to take exams so students know what to expect in the coming year.”

For Assistant Dean of Graduate and International Programs Steve Barnes, the complement of Settgast and Chong and their respective roles is a winning combination for LL.M. students — making Penn State Law “a leader in helping international students develop critical, practical skills for the global legal market.”

But for Settgast, his biggest joy is simply the privilege of being able to teach.

“I have tremendous respect for our students who have traveled all this way to learn how we practice law, and I feel honored to be able to show them what it means to be an attorney in the United States,” Settgast said. “It truly is a privilege to work with such amazing students.”

Last Updated March 15, 2017