Clinical Law Prof Blog

Editor: Jeffrey R. Baker
Pepperdine University
School of Law

Friday, September 4, 2015

How My Bathroom Renovation is Making Me into a Better Lawyer

We are on week six of a bathroom remodel that has all six in our household sharing a half-bath...while potty-training our two year old. Currently, there is no end in sight.

I know. First world problems. But still quite tiring.

The hold up is the tile. We are renovating a 1930’s bathroom, down to the studs, and building it back up again to look just like it did in the first place...minus the cracked tile, the toilet that runs all day, and the caking grout.

As it turns out, the jadeite green tile is pretty hard to find. It’s not as popular as it once was and after scouring home renovation blogs for months, I was able to find two places that still sell it after all these years: the local company that makes it, and the other company that buys it from the local company and sells it for twice as much online. It seemed so perfect! It was a home renovation miracle. How fantastic to find that I live within 30 miles of the source. Except that it hasn’t been fantastic.

What I’ve learned, is that making tile does not work like clockwork. Now on our fifth delay, we are still waiting for the last few boxes of green tile so that our (very patient) contractor can get started on this final phase. What I have also learned is that if you are the only source of said tile, you have no reason to hurry, or make things better, or apologize, or accommodate your customer’s suggested discount. You are not particularly worried about a bad Yelp review.

Where else is your customer going to go?

The answer is nowhere.  

As I was driving home from work last week, mulling over this frustrating situation, it occurred to me that it is not the inconvenience of being down to one bathroom that has been bothering me. The deeper issue is that I am not used to being without recourse.

Now that seemed worthy of reflection.

I am not accustomed to being powerless. If you inconvenience me, I can usually find a way to remedy the situation. And if not, I can find a subtle way to make you pay. Or apologize. Or wish you had acted differently. I’m a lawyer, after all. Now, I’m not a mean person, so usually I do so with a pleasant disposition, but we both leave knowing who’s boss. I’m not necessarily proud of this, but I don’t think I’m alone, particularly within our profession.

Over the past several years I have been increasingly interested in the connections between spiritual and professional formation. Spiritual formation includes the well-known practices of prayer and meditation, fasting, and the like, but there are also small, seemingly insignificant practices that help us to address larger issues in our lives. For example, in order to address impatience, one might seek out the longest line in the grocery store or choose to drive in the slow lane on the freeway. These practices help one to be more mindful of one’s shortcomings and seek out opportunities to practice the more virtuous response.

I think of them as little “catches’ to keep us from living life on auto-pilot.

This idea has lead me to think in new ways about my own professional formation. Just as I am asking my students to be intentional about who they are becoming in the legal profession, I want to be careful to ask the same of myself. I don’t know that I’m inspired enough to go seeking out inconvenience or powerlessness. I certainly will be taking a break before we remodel any other room in our house. But I do think there is value in leaning into these experiences as they arise and acknowledging them as professionally formative opportunities.

As I’ve reframed my own experience in this way, I’ve been surprised by the way that it has refreshed and awakened my empathy for my clients. Though I am fully aware that our struggles are in no way the same, I have found myself more attuned to their feelings of powerlessness and more patient with the ways that they respond to their particular stressors. Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself asking different kinds of questions and communicating in new, hope-infused ways. As I enter my twelfth year of teaching in my legal aid clinic, this kind of recharged empathy is a gift.

Not a bad tradeoff for a box of green tile.


September 4, 2015 in Religion, Teaching and Pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Clinical Law Prof Meet-Up in the Desert: May 6 at 8:30 p.m.

UPDATE:  We're meeting on the patio outside the Fireside Lounge at the Westin.  See you soon.


Friends, Writers, Readers,

The Clinical Law Prof Blog community will gather for an informal, not-hosted, meet up at the AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday night, May 6, somewhere in the Westin.   (Watch this space, the Facebook page and @ClinicalLawProf for the location TBD).

It is impossible to plan a gathering that does not conflict with other worthy gatherings at this mighty conference, but if you can, please save the time and join us for conversation, refreshments and pleasantries.  

April 28, 2015 in Conferences and Meetings, Food and Drink, Games, Music, Religion, Science, Sports, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Law as Vocation

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a vocation as "a strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work." This definition of vocation implies a calling to a particular field of work, a devotion to a cause or occupation that is more than just a job - a vocation is something that is, by definition, imbued with meaning and a higher purpose.

I have always thought of my career in law in its various incarnations as a vocation. As a lawyer, counselor, activist, and teacher, the connection between my daily work and what I see as one of the main purposes of my life (the pursuit of social justice) has been rich. But like anything else, the law is a tool that can be used to accomplish various ends - or, as Charles Hamilton Houston famously reflected, "A lawyer is a either a social engineer or a parasite on society."

One of the reasons I wanted to not just become a law professor, but to become a clinician specifically, is because of my view of law as a vocation. It seems to me that our society, rightly or not, presents the "parasite" model of lawyering much more prominently than the "social engineer" model. While both models of lawyering are extreme, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle, I think this false dichotomy of what it means to be a lawyer causes us to lose something much more subtle and valuable - the notion that law is an honorable profession, and that lawyering can and should be more than just a job.

I am also aware of the temptation in our society to both romanticize (John Grisham) and sensationalize (Law and Order) the practice of law. My reflection of law as vocation is meant to get at something a bit different. At its core, law is a healing profession. If law is a vocation, lawyers are not merely hired guns - we are problem solvers. Lawyers are counselors and advocates - we stand by and walk with our clients not just because the rules of professional conduct require us to, but because our vocation calls us to do so. This is what I have learned from my teachers, colleagues, and students over the course of my career, and is ultimately part of the vision of lawyering and legal education that I hope to contribute to.

April 24, 2014 in Clinic Students and Graduates, Community Organizing, Current Affairs, Religion, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)