Legal Education & Civility in the Legal Profession

A recurrent theme in current critiques of legal education is the need to develop lawyers with interpersonal, intrapersonal, and leadership knowledge, skills and values, as well as the traditional analytical skills and doctrinal knowledge. (A significant portion of Chapter 6, Teaching the Newly Essential Knowledge, Skills, and Values in a Changing World in the recent volume Building on Best Practices: Transforming Education in a Changing World (Lexis 2015) is devoted to the what and how of teaching such topics.)

Opportunities to reflect on this theme abounded in early October, when I had the privilege of attending the Civility Promise Continuing Legal Education seminar in Sovana, a small hill town in southern Tuscany, Italy. Sponsored by Seattle University Law School. and Robert’s Fund, the seminar brought together fifteen attorney participants from diverse practice backgrounds. They included a retired corporate attorney and managing partner of what is now a leading global law firm, a retired trial court judge, and lawyers with criminal or civil litigation, or transactional practices in both private and government settings.

Conceived by Paula Lustbader, teacher extraordinaire and emeritus professor of law at Seattle U. in collaboration with Italian artist Sergio Tamassia, the seminar was co-taught by two exceptionally skilled presenters: Tim Jaasko-Fisher, Senior Director of Curriculum and Programming for Robert’s Fund, formerly Assistant Attorney General and then Director of the University of Washington Law School Court Improvement Training Academy, and Craig Sims, Chief of the Criminal Division of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.

The seminar identifies three pillars of civility: consciousness, community, and creativity. After fostering each pillar within the group in a brilliantly executed mix of didactic, reflective, and creativity-facilitating teaching methods, participants are challenged to take their learning into the profession.

Each participant was drawn to the seminar for their own personal reasons and several shared compelling experiences — the opposing counsel whose business model was the shake down, the ultimately unsuccessful malpractice suit based on the theory that an attorney approaching a case with a collaborative mindset violated her duty to her client, the former colleague who cracked under pressure and – the ultimate case of incivility — murdered his opposing counsel. And all bemoaned the all-too-common misconception that the adversary system is about behaving uncivilly, rather than developing and presenting the most compelling arguments on the merits.

Concerns over incivility have led some jurisdictions to adopt mandatory civility codes and help inspire the burgeoning mindfulness movement. Like the profession, many law schools are pursuing mindfulness for multiple reasons, including encouraging civility. Whether these efforts will be sufficient to effect widespread change in individual attorney behavior and the culture of the legal profession remains to be seen. But the Civility Promise seminar provided both incentive and tools for change. We can also hope that it will inspire similar efforts in legal education.

Intercultural Communication, Cultural Knowledge and Self-Awareness

Several of the sessions at the recent AALS clinical conference in Tucson raised issues that involve what many call cultural competence. (EXCELLENT CONFERENCE, by the way). All agreed that these issues are very difficult to address. I have an article coming out in the Wash. U. Journal of Law and Policy this fall that grows out of the many years we have tried to teach about these issues at the University of New Mexico. Because our faculty, student body and client base in the clinic is so diverse, our differences become very obvious. Continue reading

Insights From Legal Writing Prof

As I was frantically trying to clear out my emails to stay under my disk quota, I ran across an email sent to the faculty by Barbara Blumenfeld, our Legal Research and Writing Director. I had saved it because I liked it. I thought it could use a broader audience so I asked her if I could post it. She graciously gave her permission. Here it is:

This past summer the Legal Writing Director’s conference focused on “Best Practices in Teaching, Management, and Scholarship.” We had several speakers and workshops on both the Best Practices and Educating Lawyers books. This reflects the fact that legal writing has been concerned with and teaching using many of what are the “best practices” for twenty years or more.
One of our plenary speakers was Judith Wegner, one of the authors of Educating Lawyers. Some of her comments reflect what you already know if you have explored the legal writing literature or talked with legal writing professionals: that legal writing is not an English class but is about reasoning and argumentation and that its pedagogy can lend insight to legal education generally. That is, it teaches legal communication and problem solving. Professor Wegner noted many of the special virtues of legal writing pedagogy, including:
* Bringing together content knowledge and practical skills in close interaction
* Allowing “time out” to observe/analyze thinking
* Fostering of the development of metacognition
* Tacit structure that models professional practice and self-awareness
* Integration of “practice” and professional identity with theory/cognition
Since lawyers are generally communicating a legal proof to a variety of audiences, legal writing must teach the skills necessary to develop that proof as well as to communicate it. Those skills are many of the skills noted as essential to training lawyers. Legal writing professionals have been studying learning theory and applying it to this teaching task for many years. Your UNM legal writing faculty would be delighted to discuss these thoughts and legal writing pedagogy with you more, either individually or perhaps as a panel at a dean’s hour or something similar.

%d bloggers like this: