Sunday, September 4, 2011

Play Nice

As you may know, I'm a proponent of approaching law school as "practicing" law ... preparing for the professional practice by doing each day in law school many of the things laywers ought to be doing.  Example: attend every class.  There are hundreds of excuses ... even reasons for missing a class now and then.  But how many excuses or reasons stand up to the scrutiny of a client or a judge when a lawyer blows off a deposition or fails to show up for the second day of trial?  (Answer: zero.)

Now here's a real-life example.  In law school, students ought to be encouraged to learn to solve problems through dialogue, discussion, and respectful negotiation.   As Academic Support Professionals, many of us are the "go-to" folks for students who have "issues" with other students, faculty, or administrators.  That role doubles when we have dual capacities (like also serving as Dean of Students) as part of our responsibilities.

When students approach the office in tears, or in a heated rage, explaining how they have been wronged, think about how to counsel them with the "practice" idea in mind.  Law school can be a wonderful training ground for civil behavior under stress ... or the opposite.

Consider an order recently made by United States District Judge Sam Sparks in the case of Morris v. Coker.  "You are invited," wrote Judge Sparks, "to a kindergarten party on ... September 1, 2011 ... in courtroom 2 of the United States Courthouse, 200 W. Eighth Street, Austin, Texas."  His Honor includes a list of exciting topics to be addressed at the party, including, "How to telephone and communicate with a lawyer ... How to enter into reasonable agreements about deposition dates ... [and] an advanced seminar on not wasting the time of a busy federal judge and his staff because you are unable to practice law at the level of a first-year law student."  Later in the order, the Court encourages the invitees to bring their toothbrushes.  (Read the Court Order here.) 

According to Above  the Law, a web site for lawyers and law students, Judge Sparks is "...a colorful judge with a robust sense of humor, as well as a low tolerance for lawyer shenanigans and quarrels." 

Judge Sparks has campaigned for civility for years.  Another example of his impatience with purile behavior is his order of April 25, 2007, which includes several rhymed couplets.  Excerpts:

   Babies learn to walk by scooting and falling;
   These lawyers practice law by simply mauling
   Each other and the judge, but this must end soon
   (Maybe facing off with six-shooters at noon?)
   ... There will be a hearing with pablum to eat,
   And a very cool cell where you can meet
   And work out your infantile problem with the deposition.

(Read the whole "poem" here.)   Law school is a great place to learn to deal with difficulties.  After three years of practicing this skill, lawyers ought to be able to live up to the expectations of (even) Judge Sparks!  (djt)

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