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.
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