An Open Letter to My Fall 2017 Professional Responsibility Students

In my ten years of law school teaching, I have had so many great classes but I have never had a class quite like yours. It is not just that you made me feel good about the future of the legal profession. You did that, but the thing that was special was the atmosphere you created in the classroom. I think you all learned more as a result.

I tried to say some of this to you on the last day of class. But I have thought about it more since then, and I want to say this publicly. My purpose is twofold: I want to say thank you to the sixty of you, and I want other law students to know what they can do to get more out of each class.

In a large class, it can be hard to feel that everyone is engaged in the material and participating in the discussion. But that happened this semester. As the semester progressed, I tried to piece together what was happening. I think the following things that you did were especially important:

  • You all contributed to the conversation. Many of you regularly raised your hands because you wanted to add something to the class discussion. And every single one of you participated when I asked you to discuss a case or answer a question. You all were consistently well prepared for class. There were no free riders in this class.
  • You never belittled or talked about one another during class. I have to admit, I watched and waited for you to be disrespectful to one another in small (but typical) ways – but it never happened. Anyone who has ever taught a law school class knows what I was expecting. Students roll their eyes and whisper to one another about the student who tells a long story, who asks a convoluted question, or who acts especially interested in the material. But I never saw you treat one another with anything but respect.
  • You used your laptops to take notes. I know when students are using their laptops to chat with one another during class – because I see a large number of people smile at the same time, all looking at their laptops and not me. I never saw that in your class. Those of you who used laptops seemed to be taking notes. I know there may have been moments when you looked at Facebook or answered an email from your mom, but it was never obvious that you were doing that. And I appreciate that and so do your classmates.
  • You were willing to play along. I often asked you to role-play during the class. And you did it! You did not complain when I asked you to defend the deposition of a belligerent client, talk through whether your law firm could accept a case adverse to your sister, or bill time to a bunch of fake clients for three days. I think you learn more when you play the part of a lawyer, and I appreciate your willingness to go along for the ride.
  • You made connections with other courses. You did not resist when I asked you to see that the attorney-client relationship is an agency relationship – the same thing you were studying in business associations. You did not complain, “this isn’t civ pro” when I asked you to recall something you studied in civil procedure last year and see its relationship to PR. You were able to explain the connection between legal malpractice and the negligence law you learned in your 1L torts class. Instead of denying that you studied these topics in other classes – which past students have often asserted with a straight face – you were open to seeing how these bodies of law fit together.
  • You made connections between the class and the legal profession. Many of you started to recognize professional responsibility issues outside of the classroom. You told me about stories you read in the news and sent me links to court documents and outrageous attorney ads. You told me about experiences – good and bad – that you had with lawyers as their employees and their clients. You felt passionately that bar applicant Tarra Simmons should be given the opportunity to take the Washington bar exam. As future members of the legal profession, I am glad that you now feel equipped to comment intelligently upon these issues.
  • You expressed thanks and showed respect. I love that many of you said big, warm hellos to one another and to me when you walked into the classroom each morning. I appreciate the way that you nodded when your classmates made good points and the way that you made eye contact with me when I talked. So many of you took the time to say thank you – often in writing – when we discussed something in class that you enjoyed or that you expect to use in practice. In all of these ways, you were good role models for me. You reminded me to take the time to make connections with the people around me and to say thank you.

If you learned something this semester and enjoyed the class, it was because of what you and your classmates did in that classroom. A professor can only do so much. A professor can be well prepared for each class and bring a passion for the material. But the real magic happens – or doesn’t happen – because of what the students contribute to the class. During this past semester, I often thought, “I wish other law students could see what is happening here.” Maybe this letter will give them a glimpse of what I saw and what students are capable of doing in any law school classroom.

Thank you.


One Response

  1. Really I have never read such post before. What a way to thank students. I am going to share this post on social media.

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