Jumpstart Outline: Ideas to Help You Make a Plan to Teach “Public Citizen” Lawyering in Any Law School Class

Best Practices for Legal Education and Building on Best Practices urge legal educators to help students develop their professional identities. One aspect of a lawyer’s professional identity is performing the role of “public citizen.” The Preamble of the professional conduct rules in most jurisdictions explains that lawyers are “public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.”

We can help students begin to understand what it means to be a “public citizen” if we address the issue in concrete ways across the curriculum. The following outline provides some ideas for integrating public citizen lawyering into your course.  This is a long list, but there should be an idea or two that will work for your course, whatever its focus.

Use (or Adapt) Existing Course Materials, Exercises, and Activities to Make Explicit Connections Between the Course and the Lawyer’s Work as a Public Citizen

  • Find the Public Citizen Lawyers in Your Current Textbook. Are there lawyers in your textbook that are fulfilling the public citizen role? Discuss them when you see them.
  • Use Course Materials to Help Students Identify and Discuss Injustice. Help students become justice-seeking lawyers by helping them identify injustice. In the chapter Social Justice Across the Curriculum (in Building on Best Practices), Susan Bryant identifies seven questions that can be used in any class to help students explore injustice.
  • Discuss Needs for Law Reform in the Subject Area of the Course. When you encounter areas of needed law reform in course material, discuss how lawyers can play a part in making that change.
  • Use Writing Assignments to Give Students Experience Advocating for Law Reform. For writing assignments that require students to recommend or draft proposed changes to the law, make the explicit connection that this one way that lawyers fulfill the public citizen role: they advocate for improvement in the law. Provide them avenues to publish, discuss, and otherwise publicize their work.
  • Lawyer Speakers Should Be Asked to Discuss How they Serve. If you ordinarily invite lawyers to class to talk about course related topics, prompt them to talk about the things they do to serve the public and the legal profession.
  • Integrate Social Justice Issues Into a Course Exercise. Is there an exercise you currently use to develop knowledge or a skill in which you can introduce an issue of social justice? For thoughts on designing and debriefing that exercise, see Susan Bryant’s chapter Social Justice Across the Curriculum in Building on Best Practices: Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World, at pp. 364-66
  • Prompt “Public Citizen” Discussion in Journaling Exercises. Prompt students to reflect upon public citizen issues in their course journals. What are areas where they see a need for law reform? What could they do to address those issues now and in practice? Suggest that students talk to lawyers (with whom they work) about how they serve the public and the profession. Ask the student to reflect on those discussions in their journal.

Create New Activities and Exercises that Integrate Course Material and the Lawyer’s Role as Public Citizen

  • Prompt Students to Create a Professional Development Plan.Particularly in classes where students may have common career goals (such as in an externship or capstone class), prompt students to write about their values, interests, and strengths, and to make a plan for the future, including a plan for service.
  • Integrate Pro Bono or Service Learning Into the Class. Find an opportunity for the class to represent a client or clients or serve a community organization or population that is connected to the subject matter of the class.
  • Create a Law Reform Activity for the Class. Engage in action as a class to reform the law in an area of need connected to course material. For suggestions see Mae Quinn’s article Teaching Public Citizen Lawyering: From Aspiration to Inspiration, 8 Seattle J. for Soc. Just. 661 (2010).
  • Require Students to Interview a Lawyer. The interview should cover course-related material as well as the lawyer’s service to the poor, the public, and the profession.
  • Organize a Book Club. Identify a non-fiction law-related book with a connection to your course material and that provides a springboard for discussing the lawyer as public citizen. A great book about pro bono service and its impact on both client and lawyer is William H Colby’s Long Goodbye, The Deaths of Nancy Cruzan. A book that prompts lawyers to think about the ingredients of a happy life – including pro bono work and “serving a larger social purpose”– is Nancy Levit and Douglas Linder’s book The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law.

Share Information about Yourself as a Public Citizen

  • Be Inspiring. Tell an inspiring story about what another lawyer’s service meant to you or about what your service may have meant to someone else – and how that made you feel.
  • Talk About Yourself as a New Lawyer. Tell stories about your experiences as a new lawyer attempting to fulfill the public citizen role. What did you learn from those activities? Did you have mentors that inspired or encouraged you?
  • Note the Times When You Struggled. Share the times in your career when you have struggled with balancing the demands of practice, your personal life, and serving the public. What worked for you and where do you continue to struggle?
  • Incorporate Examples Connected to Course Subject Matter. Weave in examples of what you currently do to serve the public and the profession and explain why you serve.
  • Revise Your Faculty Webpage to Emphasize Your Public Citizen Work. Include your pro bono service activities, service to the profession (committees, CLEs, etc), and board service on your law school profile – not just your C.V.
  • Promote Your Service to the Public and Profession on Social Media. Alert your law school communications person to stories about your service activities so that students and alumni can learn about what you do through law school social media. Also, promote these same things in your own use of social media.

Fulfill the Public Citizen Role with Students Outside of the Classroom (Not Necessarily Connected to a Course)

  • Provide Access to Justice. Participate with students in organized pro bono events or service activities.
  • Improve the Law. Enlist students to help you prepare to testify or do research about a suggested change in the law – and bring the student along when possible.
  • Serve the Profession. Ask students to help you with a CLE – from preparation to attending and presenting with you. Or invite students to participate in a bar committee or bar event with you.
  • Identify a Need and Fill It. Work with student organizations you advise to identify a group with interests related to the organization. Find out their needs and make a plan to partner with them.



What inspires the scenarios and characters in your final exam questions?

As we wrap up another season of grading, I return to the thought that grading finals can feel like reading the same story again and again. This task is slightly more entertaining for me if the story involves some interesting characters or scenarios. Here are a few places I look for inspiration when I write final exams.

  1. Real Cases. Sometimes, a case in the news serves as inspiration for a final exam. That happened this fall when my PR final posed a question involving a lawyer who solicited clients in a funeral home in a state where he was not licensed. Other times, I work backwards and pick an issue I want to address in my final (like Rule 19 in civil procedure) and then find a case involving that issue. (For the Rule 19 case, I once used a scenario based on Diaz v. Glen Plaid in which the defendant asserted that the University of Alabama was an indispensable party in a case involving the trademark-protected image of a houndstooth elephant).
  2. TV Lawyers. The set-up for my essay question is often a memo from a lawyer asking a junior lawyer to help with a client’s problem. I often base that senior lawyer’s name on a tv lawyer. Through the years, those attorneys have included Alicia Florrick, Ally McBeal, Jimmy McGill, Kim Wexler, and many others. The facts have nothing to do with these lawyers or their tv shows. The names are really just for my personal amusement.
  3. Other Characters from TV and the Movies. Beyond tv lawyers, I sometimes look to other tv shows and movies for inspiration for scenarios and character names. My civil procedure exam once described a federal lawsuit arising from a bowling accident involving characters from The Big Lebowski. Knowledge of the movie does not help exam performance, but often inspires a joke (perhaps something about a rug that really tied the room together) that makes exam grading easier for a moment. I have learned not to make the scenarios sound too much like something that might be happening on the actual show. (During the show’s heyday, a student complained I had included “spoilers” in an exam question involving Nashville. I assured her that the scenario was just my imagination and that I had not spoiled anything she was planning to watch on DVR once finals were over).
  4. People I Know.  Even if I have the scenario, it is hard to come up with the multitude of character names needed for a three-hour exam. I tend to return again and again to the names of people I know. Most of my exams include character names inspired by my childhood neighbors, elementary school classmates, and law school friends. (I finally admitted this to my law school friends and the conversation quickly turned to how much worse it is to take a law school exam than to write or grade it. I did not try to win that fight).  My civil procedure exam typically includes a character named after my own civ pro professor.
  5. People My Students Know. Finally, another source of character names is people that my students know: their own law professors. I would never use my colleagues’ names in a scandalous scenario, but rather in a (mildly) funny scenario that the students will appreciate. For example, a multiple choice question on my civil procedure exam described my students’ contracts professor suing me for breach of contract.

In truth, reading dozens of exams involving these characters does not make the month of December “fun” (or make it feel like the “vacation” that my mom thinks I get at this time each year).  But it helps a little.

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.


Letter to Kelly

Out of the blue, I got an email from a student at my university who I had never met.  She said that her best friend is graduating from college this month and will start law school in the fall.  As a graduation present, she is collecting letters with advice for her friend and she asked me to write one.  So I sent her the following letter, except that I changed the names.

I invite readers to add your thoughts and other resources to share in a comment below as this link will be provided to Kelly.  What would you add or change in this advice?


Dear Kelly,

Your friend Lee obviously cares about you a lot.  She asked me (and others) to write a letter to you with advice about law school.  So here goes.

Studying law and using your legal training may be both exhilarating and daunting.  I believe deeply that lawyers generally play an invaluable role in our society.  We often help people solve difficult problems, promote justice, and make relationships and institutions function properly.  The letter and spirit of the law are the foundation of our society.

On the other hand, lawyers deserve some of the criticism we receive.  We are part of an adversarial legal system that too often perpetuates unproductive conflict, is inefficient, helps the “haves” to come out ahead, and disempowers people.

So my first piece of advice is to keep focused on your goals and how you can best achieve them.  Pay attention to the effects of the law and your work.  Many law graduates practice law in a wide variety of contexts – and some do all sorts of other things.  Commit yourself to doing some good things that law-trained people do.

I imagine that you have seen a lot of TV shows and movies portraying lawyers and perhaps even law school life.  I think that they generally distort reality a lot.  What’s called the “hidden” law school curriculum also creates misimpressions by focusing so much on appellate cases.  Although it’s important to understand the logic of appellate case analysis and the legal doctrine you will read, these cases represent only a small fraction of what most lawyers actually deal with in their work.  Appellate case analysis reflects significant hindsight bias and over-emphasis of the role of law as opposed to facts, interests, and emotions.  In practice, lawyers experience cases prospectively with large amounts of these elements, which often dwarf any uncertainty about the applicable law.

So I suggest that you develop a healthy skepticism about these images and do what you can to learn how legal practice really works.  I think that you will be a lot happier and more effective if you have realistic expectations.

As you proceed through law school and a career after graduation, you will become initiated in a tribe with a new language and customs.  This can produce a great sense of belonging and power as you learn how to use the law.  It is easy to forget how (what I facetiously call) “normal people” view the world.  You still are a normal person – don’t forget what that feels like.  Balance your work with a healthy home life so that normalcy is a regular part of your life.

Law school probably will be a lot different from your undergraduate experience.  I believe that most law school faculty really care a lot about their students and work hard to help students learn what’s important.  Unfortunately, the system of legal education in the US has been rightly criticized for too often doing a poor job of preparing students to practice law.

So don’t simply assume that you will be adequately prepared if you just “check all the boxes” you need to graduate.  Don’t give in to the temptation to do as little work as necessary to get an acceptable grade.

Instead, get the full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by taking the initiative to carefully plan your curricular and extra-curricular activities.

Be prepared to continue learning throughout your career.  Law is constantly changing with new statutes, court opinions, and procedures.  Expectations about lawyers may change.  Rapidly-evolving technology probably will change legal practice.  Be on the lookout for these and other changes and prepare yourself to deal with them.

Generally try to see the world through others’ eyes.  This is not only a good thing to do as a human being, but it is very important to be an effective professional.  If you practice law, you will probably feel frustrated at times with some of your clients and people on the other side of litigation and/or transactions.  The better you understand their perspectives and empathize with their concerns, the more you can avoid unnecessary conflict and effectively represent your clients.

Take good care of yourself.  Law school and legal practice are extremely stressful.  Law students and lawyers often abuse alcohol and other drugs and suffer from mental health problems.  If you are having problems, don’t stuff them.  Get help.  And if you see colleagues having problems, try to help them get help.

For more detailed advice, I encourage you to read my former colleague, Steve Easton’s, article, My Last Lecture: Unsolicited Advice for Future and Current Lawyers, and my sequel, My Last Lecture: More Unsolicited Advice for Future and Current Lawyers, as well as my article, Escaping From Lawyers’ Prison of Fear.  This is probably a lot more to read than Lee had in mind.  But you will need to get used to doing a lot of reading – and this is easier than most of what you will read in law school.

In closing, I wish you great satisfaction in law school and wherever you go in life.


John Lande

Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus

University of Missouri School of Law

Discussion of Restricting Use of Laptops in Class

I recently cross-posted “Are You Ready to Apply Unequivocal Research Findings That Students’ Use of Laptops in Class Reduces Learning” here and on the Indisputably blog.

There it stimulated a series of comments by faculty and students.  If you are interested, take a look, starting with a comment by Alyson Carrel, Northwestern’s assistant dean for law and technology.

I would love to hear others’ experiences and views about this.  Feel free to share your thoughts in a comment here or on the Indisputably blog.

Are You Ready to Apply Unequivocal Research Findings That Students’ Use of Laptops in Class Reduces Learning?

University of Michigan Education Professor Susan Dynarski wrote a compelling article in the New York Times, Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting.

She cites research finding that when students use laptops in class, they not only reduce their own learning, but they also reduce the learning of nearby students.

The whole article is worth reading.  Here are some excerpts:

“[A] growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures.  They also tend to earn worse grades.  The research is unequivocal:  Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them.

. . .

“In a series of experiments at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture.  Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not.

. . .

“The strongest argument against allowing [students to choose whether to use a laptop in class] is that one student’s use of a laptop harms the learning of students around them.  In a series of lab experiments, researchers at York University and McMaster University in Canada tested the effect of laptops on students who weren’t using them. Some students were told to perform small tasks on their laptops unrelated to the lecture, like looking up movie times.  As expected, these students retained less of the lecture material.  But what is really interesting is that the learning of students seated near the laptop users was also negatively affected.

. . .

“I ban electronics in my own classes.  I do make one major exception.  Students with learning disabilities may use electronics in order to participate in class.  This does reveal that any student using electronics has a learning disability.  That is a loss of privacy for those students, which also occurs when they are given more time to complete a test.  Those negatives must be weighed against the learning losses of other students when laptops are used in class.”

Given the “unequivocal” findings described in the article, you may want to generally ban laptops in your classes.  While you are at it, you might also prohibit use of cell phones, which may be even more distracting.  Students are likely to readily accept restrictions on their use of electronic devices in class if this is a normal practice of a substantial proportion of faculty in the school.  If you are ready to start restricting use of electronics in your classes, you might encourage like-minded colleagues at your school to do so too.

In my classes, I made exceptions if students told me in advance that they had a specific reason they needed to check their cell phones (such as one student whose wife was about to give birth).  I also allowed students to use electronics to refer to role-play instructions during simulations so that they didn’t have to print them out.  Students should get accommodations for disabilities through the normal procedures.

Not Beyond Politics: What the Al Franken Revelation Can Teach Us About Teaching Justice

The past few days–let’s be honest, the past year–I’ve grappled with how to teach my law students about eradicating misogyny and sexual misconduct without politicizing my clinic, classroom, or law school.  The hard truth is that perhaps I cannot escape the “politicization” of our legal system.  The law, and justice, are after all built on a democratic system that relies on elections and appointments to assign power and mete out justice. I’ve become more open in the classroom, the clinic space, and all my student interactions about both my outrage and my optimism.  Like many, I remain outraged–and frankly, anxiety-ridden–about last year’s executive office results (I still can’t type certain words like “President” and “T#u#p” in the same sentence).  Still, I harbor optimism and pride about the political mobilization it has triggered.  One connection, I believe, is the wave of victims speaking out about sexual misconduct inflicted on them by powerful men.  Can we as law professors use these news bites as teaching material? Absolutely. Sexual misconduct is almost always criminal conduct, and its impact on the victims is wildly misunderstood. Beginning to understand it better is an obligation of our legal system, so we can devise better legal responses.  Only then can we heal as a nation of laws and of humans, incidentally and systematically.  Over on Prof. Carolyn Grose’s blog, she gives a law student the voice she deserves to discuss Al Franken and its impact on her and the law. It inspired me: http://profgrose.com/having-the-courage-to-love-like-grown-ups-thoughts-from-a-former-franken-staffer/





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