Friday, June 29, 2007

The Rookie

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

RookieLet's see.  I am walking down a long hallway in the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.  I am wearing a lanyard with a name tag hanging from it.  Lots of people want to give me advice.  Everybody seems young.  Is this a dream?  Am I forever cursed to relive the Faculty Recruitment Conference in my dreams the way I do the "unstudied-for exam?"

NO!  It's the AALS Workshop for New Law Teachers.  And I am The Rookie. 

I started this post last evening before the first sessions, and now have participated in the first "small group" session and heard the after-dinner talks, the highlight of which was an inspirational (or aspirational) speech by David Hall, former dean and provost, and now I think simply faculty member, of the law school at Northeastern University.  More, perhaps, on that later, because there was a lot to chew on.  (Teaser:  I found it aspirational or inspirational, but how do such meta-appeals fit within the empirical/positive/economic viewpoint that dominate the meat of current legal study?  That is, is there a disconnect between the "soul of a teacher" and the mind of a social scientist?  As I said, more later.)

There is an interesting mix of experience levels here.  Some of us have spent a fair amount of time in the classroom.  Some, particularly those who are making the classic jump from the de rigeur two years' big firm experience, have none at all.  And, I think, we hear the usual tension between learning about an upcoming experience and simply experiencing the upcoming experience.  Learning is like chicken soup - it can't be bad - but nothing substitutes for that first time you stand in front of a class and have the moment when you just lose it ("uh....uh....hmm....[inner thought: who am I and what I am doing standing here in front of seventy people who are looking at me?"]).

I have a dear friend and former partner by the name of Fred Woodworth.  Fred is now retired from the Dykema Gossett law firm.  Fred was a mid-level partner, just coming into his own as a rainmaker when I joined the firm in 1979.  He is also one of the funniest people I have ever met.  (Fred's Rolladex was also legendary.)  Fred was one of my mentors, and was the relationship partner with the U.S. subsidiary of an mega-European oil company.  I may have mentioned before that I spent the first eighteen months of my career writing briefs and oppositions for this client in the Office of Hearings and Appeals of the Department of Energy under the Mandatory Petroleum Allocation Regulations.  One of our big cases was called the "Highway Oil" matter.  Fred was the supervising partner, and I was the first year worker bee associate.  I will never forget (since I remember all of my failures down to the last detail, and it takes up a lot of storage in my rapidly diminishing memory) being called down to a small conference room where Fred, as gently as anybody could in those circumstances, told me that the first draft that I had written and sent to him and the client concurrently not only sucked but had sent the client into an absolute rage.  This kind of experiential learning cannot be taught.

Having said that, I just finished a ninety minute session on learning theory and teaching techniques.  It was, in my mind, worth the price of admission, and I'm a tough old critic.

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