Practicing Lawyers in the Classroom Special Bonus Edition: Free Passion!

Like many others, I have incorporated practicing lawyers and judges into the classroom over the years in a variety of contexts.  This semester I had an especially rewarding experience with a guest speaker in my Public Interest Law and Social Welfare course (fka Poverty Law).  Of course, I try to only invite folks into my classroom when I think they have something valuable to deliver.  I have rarely been disappointed, although some speakers naturally are more entertaining than others while delivering their information.  This semester was different.  I have never had such an overwhelmingly positive response to a speaker before.  It was thrilling.  Who inspired this kind of reaction?    More importantly, can it be duplicated??? 


            I invited a practicing legal aid lawyer to speak to my class.  This lawyer has worked for legal aid for 40 years, and has been on the cutting edge of litigation and advocacy to save the homes of low income people.  He is a national expert on the subject of predatory mortgage lending practices and has testified before congress.  He is doing amazing work on behalf of poor people.  He arrived with a luggage cart full of handouts, and talked for an hour and a half about predatory lending, sometimes skipping around from topic to topic.  He ran over time.  Was the information he had presented in a linear fashion?  No.  Was it easy to follow?  Not always.  What was so great about it?  His passion.  Everyone in the room felt it.  After his presentation, a number of students stayed to introduce themselves and to thank him for coming.  Several students came to see me to tell me how much they enjoyed his visit.  Many sent emails saying things like, “the best class I have ever had in law school,” “best guest speaker ever,” or “I am considering going into this area of law now.”


            This experience demonstrates a couple of ideas related to Best Practices:  helping law graduates nurture their quality of life and integrating practicing lawyers into the program of instruction.  These are not easy tasks, and the goals can be achieved in a multitude of ways.  However, I learned this fall that showing students living, breathing examples of lawyers who have found meaningful, satisfying work in the law helps them identify possibilities for their own careers.  I would love to hear examples of ways that others have incorporated practicing lawyers and the concept of quality of life into their classrooms.

One Response

  1. Professor Bliss’ post about the importance of passion as a teaching tool should not be underestimated. Not only does it help graduates nurture their quality of life, and provide ethical, competent, models for students, I think it also provides students with much needed BRAIN FOOD. What do I mean? Carnegie outlined for us the change in thinking about knowledge acquisition. Scientists have rejected the 19th century understanding of the brain which undergirds the Langdellian approach to law teaching. Instead, for adult learners, motivation and context are much more important in turning information into knowledge than previously thought. Professor Bliss’s guest lecturer provided both to students – motivation for continuing to study and work your hardest to be a model professional and “context” for why what your studying is important. I posit that her students probably went into their next class better able to absorb information and turn it into knowledge. This does not mean that any satisfied practicing lawyer will do. Not every competent lawyer is meant to be a teacher. Sometimes the most knowledgeable lawyer in a field provides more EEYORE like characteristics than TIGGER enthusiasm, As teachers, it is our job to devise the best platforms and formats for using practicing lawyers in a way which provides the motivation, context and models that our students deserve.

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