Tuesday, July 4, 2017
With a Fourth of July post, I was inclined to write something patriotic and connected with our great nation and to law schools generally. As an unabashed and unapologetic fan of the Hamilton: An American Musical, a couple of analogies from this brilliant production seemed appropriate to convey my thoughts on law school and leaving a legacy.
First, I think most of us who are fortunate enough to serve as law professors recognize the great gift we have to pursue our passion and to be part of educating the next generation of people who understand the rule of law and have the skills to protect the rights of individuals and groups. This is especially needed for those who are marginalized or under represented and thus less likely to be able to enforce their rights without the help of our legal system. This is an incredible legacy in America, set in motion by some our nation's founders.
Like John Adams defending British soldiers and Alexander Hamilton defending Loyalists after the war, lawyers (and law professors) do not need to compromise their own views to embrace the ideals they seek to uphold. We can vigorously maintain our personal views, while defending the rights of others to have their views. As law professors, I think we generally do value and defend the rights of others who have differing views, but I also think we can do a better job ensuring that is the case (and that others know it).
To be effective, law professors must be engaged with their work, with their institution, and their students. This means, to me, engaging in scholarship, in some way, and sharing that work with the world. As Alexander Hamilton tells Aaron Burr in The Room Where It Happens:
“When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game. But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game. Oh, you get love for it. You get hate for it. You get nothing if you…Wait for it, wait for it, wait!”
We need to part of the program. We need to engage and share our ideas. This doesn't mean being overtly political, and it doesn't necessarily mean being abrasive. But we must be invested in what we do, and we must be invested in how we do it. The passive teacher and scholar will likely have passive students, and we need to be educating lawyers to get in, get dirty, and keep learning. We can't just tell them. To some degree we have to be the ones to show them how.
Second, as law professors who are committed to their profession, I think we need to be thinking about who we want to be as professors, including our desires for our legacy, early in our careers. We need to think about what we want to be like as tenured professors before were are tenured. And we need to think about where we hope to get as professionals, as teachers, and as scholars. I think a lot faculty members (law and otherwise) get to a point where they aren't sure what it will mean to move on or how, and that makes it hard to stay engaged or focused because you don't have an idea of the end game. And that is linked, in part, to feeling like their legacy is incomplete. That is understandable.
Alexander Hamilton says, in the song, The World Was Wide Enough Legacy:
"What is a legacy? It's planting seeds in a garden you never get to see."
And it's true. We rarely, if ever, will get to see our legacy, but we can know what we are trying to grow. We each create our own legacy by the seeds we choose to plant. And as professors, we plant those seeds in our students. They go out and hopefully grow and flourish. And as part of a profession, those seeds are spread wider than just our students, as those new lawyers go out and interact with and work to protect others. We must think carefully about what we are teaching about the profession that we helping to shape, whether or not we ever see it fully grown. The world evolves and so must we, so that the seeds we plant, our legacy, is one that is worthy of this great, though greatly flawed, nation that got its start 241 years ago.
As we celebrate the Fourth of July, let us celebrate the past while at the same time we think about the future. This goes for both our teaching and for our nation overall. Wishing you a happy and safe Fourth.