1L Contracts and The Remains of the Day

As law professors, we tend to teach in ways we were taught in law school, using methods we found effective as students.

For example, my very first law professor, Adrienne Davis, kicked off our first-semester 1L Contracts class with an unconventional assignment:  read the book, or watch the film: “The Remains of the Day.” What could this novel possibly have to do with first-year Contracts?  Professor Davis wouldn’t tell us. “You’ll see” she said.  “you’ll see.”  So I read the book.  Or I tried to. And then I became impatient about three chapters in because there was no contract dispute.  And my 1L brain was very angry.  “What is the point?!” my 1L brain screamed. So I watched the film.  And I still didn’t get it.  The story is about an English butler. It has nothing to do with Contracts.

So we 1Ls in Professor Adrienne Davis’s Contracts class were rather disgruntled.  “What was the point?” We silently asked her with our glares and our eye rolls.  “The point,” she said wisely, “was to give you a chance to contemplate duty.  Attorneys have duties to their profession and their clients.  The Butler in the book was grappling with his duty to his household.”

Professor Davis wanted us to consider what sort of attorneys we would be; what we saw as our professional roles and duties as lawyers. And that is what I invite my students to contemplate as well.  It is an invitation to tap into what I call “Self-Aware Professionalism.”

Socrates stressed the importance of self-awareness.  In 2007, law professor Paula Lustbader channeled Socrates when she wrote: “It is ironic that in institutions where the Socratic Method is the main currency, law schools do not do more to promote reflection.  Socrates himself states, ‘[L]ife without enquiry is not worth living.’ Through reflection and discernment, students develop skills to endure and excel with grace in humility in law school as well as in the profession.”

Reflection and discernment, as Lustbader wisely notes, have a place in legal education.  Her language about “students develop[ing] skills” could deceive the reader into thinking reflective learning is only useful in legal skills courses.  Yet, as my first-year Contracts professor also perceived, reflection and discernment have a place in traditional doctrinal law teaching as well.  Students learning legal doctrine surely benefit from a professor who creates space for critical reflection on the multifaceted causes and effects of that doctrine.  Reflective learning cultivates a robust and sustainable system of legal education.

2 Responses

  1. I loved this post from Jill. Especially as I now teach only in the classroom I must work harder to create reflective opportunities than I did when teaching the Semester in Practice. One strategy I use is an off campus class for which I invite Legal Profession students to my home for reflective class over a meal. They are invited in small groups (7-9 students). Their advance preparation is to read the problem devoted to Pro Bono work (in “Legal Ethics in the Practice of Law,” our ethics course book) and to read a work of non-fiction about a lawyer. Our goal is professional development, the method is reflection. Perhaps because I live 30 minutes from campus I get more resistance than one might expect but students almost all comment very positively afterward and many make the connection to self-reflection throughout their professional lives. What else are people doing?

  2. Insightful post here! I definitely am glad for professors still in touch with what worked for them as law students. And I do think self-awareness is something I hope most lawyers have – perhaps not all law students yet, though! Thanks for sharing.

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