Sunday, July 16, 2017
“Come see me in my office when we get back,” Mr. Becker said to me at my first lunch with him. “I’ve got some work for you.”
“Yes, sir.” I was thrilled because I had been hunting these invitations. I’d been with that century-old firm for just a week, chomping at the bit for a chance to prove myself anew after a long rookie year of discouragement and failure.
I’d fled my first Big Law firm when they and I came to the clear, mutual, finally explicit realization that we were a bad fit. I thought they’d hired me under false pretenses then followed through with poor management. They thought I was immature, out of my depth, and not worth their investment. We both may have been right, but for sure I wanted to be in a courtroom and out in the world. For sure, they weren’t letting me out of my office or the Federal Register.
So I was on the market again too soon. I put on a brave face and some false confidence to convince other firms that it made perfect sense for me to be seeking a new job eighteen months out of law school at the ripe old age of twenty-five.
A couple of firms bought my ruse, and one, Watkins & Eager in my home state of Mississippi, welcomed me warmly. They taught me how to be a lawyer. At the interview, I told them I most wanted to litigate and hadn’t even been able to attend a single deposition since I passed the bar, much less take one. Rebecca Wiggs, a partner in the firm, laughed at me, “What are you doing this afternoon? I can make your dreams come true.”
They also explained - to my undying relief - that they had no billable hour quotas and hadn’t since 1895. “Do the work on your desk. Everything else will take care of itself.” The associates did the work for clients and the cases, not for their own desperate billable hour salvation. That just seemed right.
Thus it was that my new firm hired me to do exactly what I declared that I wanted to do. Now I had to do it, but that brave face and false confidence were rooted in the brutally real pain of being asked to leave my first job. That’s not how careers are supposed to start, even if I had already been sending out resumes for months.
My new office overlooked the governor’s mansion in Jackson, and it was next door to Mr. Goodman, the grandson of the firm’s founder, our chief, who was then in his seventies. The family firm had over sixty lawyers, and I was the newest and youngest.
He and Mr. Becker, the patriarchs, took me to lunch. These were Southern gentlemen lawyers of a fading era: genteel, unfailingly polite, honest, practical, charming, ambitious, erudite, attentive, and calm. They were progressive in their ways. Mr. Goodman’s aunt had been one of the first women admitted to the Mississippi Bar. (I found her penciled notes around a paragraph I needed in the firm library one day, in a reporter from the Thirties that still smelled like her cigarette smoke.)
Mr. Becker had been with the firm nearly as long as Mr. Goodman, and he’d been one of Mississippi’s preeminent trial lawyers for forty years before he called me in for my new matter. His office was a gallery, and half the art was his own work. He’d taken up folk painting in his sixties, but he’d been a collector for far longer. I’d heard tales that the firm had been alarmed at the furniture he’d had shipped back from Europe to decorate at the firm’s expense. My wife and I have an original Becker on our wall to this day. He painted it after giving us a tour of his grand gallery of a house with more Spanish wine that we realized we were drinking until he ushered out to prepare for a dinner party.
Ultimately, I would spend long hours with Mr. Becker over those years in the firm. I tried my very first case with him, which we lost. He might have expected that result in advance, which might be why he made me first chair, but that’s a story for another day. That first visit to his office is the one I remember best.
He handed me a file and told me about the case. It was a medical malpractice case, and we represented the doctor. He had a summary judgment hearing coming up and wanted me to argue it.
Honestly, my young professional dream was coming true. But don’t forget that brave face, false confidence, and painful failure. “Mr. Becker, I’m happy to handle this, but I feel like I should tell you that I haven’t done this before, in case you need someone who knows what they’re doing.”
He was already looking at another letter or his calendar and glanced up at me with a little irritation. “Go do it, lad.”
With that vote of confidence, I wandered out into the hallway with my first hearing in my hands. Rule 56 rushed back into my mind: no genuine issue of material fact, entitled to judgment as a matter of law. I knew I’d need to learn the standards for professional liability in Mississippi, and I knew where to research and how to write my argument. I knew the theory, the procedure, and the stakes. I had a gilded brain educated at fine institutions. But I was beating back panic about appearing alone in court for the first time.
I stood in the hall, a little dazed. Then Ms. Wiggs walked by, she who couldn’t wait to send me to her depositions. “Hey, Jeff, how are you doing? Getting settled in?”
“Yes. Thanks. But Becker just have me a summary judgment motion, and I don’t know where the courthouse is.”
She laughed at me again and glanced at her watch. “Do you have time for a walk?”
“Let’s go.” She didn’t literally take my hand, but nearly. We walked the five or six blocks to the Hinds County Courthouse. She greeted the bailiffs and deputies and introduced me. She pointed at the clerk’s office and asked me who had my case. I told her the judge, and she pointed me up the stairs. She pushed open the door to the empty courtroom, walked around the bar to counsels’ table on the left, and put her hands on the back of the first chair.
“You sit here.” She pointed at the lectern in the well. “When it’s your turn, you stand there.”
It was a beautiful, generous act of mercy.
I don’t remember what came of the hearing or the case. I remember having tunnel vision. I was keenly aware of a judge and an opponent. I’m sure I argued from my notes on a legal pad, but that’s about it. Probably there were clerks and bailiffs, other parties and clients, but my brain couldn’t process them. No one came to see my debut, but that’s probably for the best. I did just fine and didn’t act, look, or feel too stupid, after it was over.
Whatever the outcome, those conversations gave me more applied legal education than I ever had in a single day.
“Go do it, lad.” Becker gave me a shot of encouragement, a dose of professional confidence, a reminder of humility, and a proper dose of fear. He trusted me with his work.
“You sit here.” Wiggs gave me the great gift of orientation. I could focus on my argument and my preparation without worrying about literally being lost or looking like an outright fool. She told me that she always tried to visit a new courtroom and watch a new judge before having to argue there. It’s basic, brilliant, wise lawyering.
Like many of our students now, I graduated with great credentials and deep knowledge of the law but without the practical ability to do much with it. Watkins & Eager taught me how to be a lawyer, by inviting me to practice law.
I carry these lessons with me in clinical teaching. It was excellent pedagogy. An empowering supervising attorney trusted me with an assignment that he knew I could handle, even if I didn’t, and it was non-directive to an extreme. Another empowering attorney caught me in the fall and helped me prepare and understand my role, always instilling wisdom and knowledge, answering my questions, without taking the work away from me. With grace and generosity, she prepared me to be a better lawyer the next day and the next day after that, without embarrassment or condescension.
They taught me how to practice. They also taught me how to teach rookie professionals how to practice. They trusted and taught me then, like I trust and teach my clinical students now. From Jackson to Los Angeles, those fundamental lawyer lessons ring true. These are great outlines for experiential learning: Sit here. Stand there. Go do it.
Saturday, July 15, 2017
Christine M. Scartz: An Open Letter to My Recently-Graduated Students As they Study for the Bar Exam
A guest post from Prof. Christine M. Scartz of the University of Georgia:
An Open Letter to My Recently-Graduated Students As they Study for the Bar Exam
Dear Clinic Alumni in the Class of 2017,
Heartfelt congratulations to you! As my own father told me when I graduated, no matter where you go from here, no one can ever take away from you the great accomplishment of earning your J.D. degree.
Your sights are set on new goals now - passing the Bar exam and launching your careers. As the summer days speed by, you may have several questions on your mind. Will you be able to absorb all of the knowledge required to pass the Bar? And if the knowledge goes in, will you be able to get it all out in a coherent fashion on the exam? Perhaps most importantly of all you may be asking yourself, if I pass the exam and choose to practice law, am I ready to be a lawyer?
As your former clinic professor, I have the answer to that last, important question. You are ready. You will find your way to a practice where you will use your head and your heart to help all sorts of folks through all sorts of difficult times. You will be bright lights of compassionate lawyering, whether you take up the mantle of social justice work, or take on the responsibilities of representing corporate clients with global-scale expectations.
I am absolutely confident in my answer. I watched you master unfamiliar law, combine it with your clients’ stories, and advocate effectively in front of veteran judges. I observed you build relationships with clients wholly different from yourselves, and treat pro se opposing parties with respect and dignity. I witnessed the growth of your self-assurance in your interviewing, negotiation and courtroom skills, as well as the deepening of your conviction in the rightness of your choice of profession.
I am confident in my answer for some perhaps counterintuitive reasons as well. I stood with you when you figuratively stamped your feet in frustration, and when you literally shed tears of sadness and anger. I observed you make mistakes, and drown in disappointment. I witnessed your hurt when your generosity was rebuffed by clients, and your hard work was rejected by judges. Then, I saw you rebound with renewed energy for doing better. You are ready.
My confidence in my answer also comes from having seen you participate in thoughtful discussions of case law, literature, and documentaries. I listened to you offer thoughts and opinions on difficult subjects that were sometimes inseparable from your personal histories and current realities. I witnessed you display sympathy, empathy and understanding to your classmates, people who may have been strangers to you a few weeks previously, and some of whom you will never cross paths with again.
Finally, I know you are ready because even as you were my students, so too were you my teachers. Some of you were in the first class I taught upon my return to clinical teaching. To you I say thank you for your patience, kindness and enthusiasm as my excitement about our work often led me to lurch about disjointedly in the classroom and the clinic office. Some of you were kind enough to “repeat” the clinic for a second semester. To you I say thank you for the gift of your time, which helped me believe in myself as a professor and in the value of our collaborative efforts. To all of you I say thank you for your questions, suggestions, innovative ideas, and especially your honest criticisms, as these helped move the clinic work forward as well as deepen my commitment to academic pursuits that will benefit the students and clients who come through the clinic door in semesters to come.
You are ready to be lawyers. I cannot wait to see where you go from here.
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Clinical Faculty Position
The Ohio State University, Michael E. Moritz College of Law
Description: The Moritz College of Law invites applications for the position of Assistant Clinical Professor of Law in its Entrepreneurial Business Law Clinic (EBLC), to start in late 2017. The EBLC professor has primary responsibility for directing and teaching the Entrepreneurial Business Law Clinic, which provides third-year law students with the opportunity to learn lawyering skills by representing entrepreneurs and their start-up businesses. EBLC students typically work with clients on all phases of starting a business, including client intake, entity formation, legal business planning, and contract drafting (including employment and independent contractor contracts). When relevant for the client, students also learn how to protect the intellectual property of a business. The EBLC’s clinical professor will have several areas of responsibility, including 1) supervising law students who represent clients under the Ohio Supreme Court's student practice rule 2) classroom teaching of lawyering skills, 3) engaging with the local and regional entrepreneurial community, and 4) participating in the life and governance of the College of Law.
We will consider all applicants; however, we prefer candidates with significant experience in representing entrepreneurs and early-stage companies. Candidates also should have an excellent academic record that demonstrates potential for clinical teaching and preparation of clinical educational materials. Candidates should be admitted to the Ohio Bar or eligible for admission in Ohio. The starting salary range will be $78,000 - $81,000 for a 12-month contract; full University fringe benefits are provided as well. The ideal starting date will be November 15, or as soon thereafter as possible. The successful candidate will begin teaching in January 2018.
Application Instructions: A resume, references, and cover letter should be submitted to Professor Paul Rose, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, 55 West 12th Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210. Send e-mail applications to email@example.com. Applications will be reviewed immediately and will be accepted until the position is filled; preference will be given to applications received before September 1st.
The Ohio State University is committed to establishing a culturally and intellectually diverse environment, encouraging all members of our learning community to reach their full potential. The Ohio State University is an equal opportunity employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability status, or protected veteran status.
About Columbus: The Ohio State University campus is located in Columbus, the capital city of Ohio. Columbus is the center of a rapidly growing and diverse metropolitan area with a population of over 1.5 million. The area offers a wide range of very affordable housing, many cultural and recreational opportunities, excellent schools, and a strong economy based on government as well as service, transportation, and technology industries (see http://columbusregion.com/). Columbus and its many suburbs have consistently been rated as one of the Top U.S. places for quality of life. Additional information about the Columbus area is available at http://www.columbus.org.
Call for Panelists
Innovations in Teaching Access to Justice Across the Law School Curriculum
2018 AALS Annual Meeting – Open Source Program
Friday, January 5, 2018, 8:30 – 10:15 a.m.
We invite applications to speak on a panel about how law school faculty can innovate in the classroom to create future attorneys who are concerned about access to justice and playing a role in solving the access to justice crisis. Each panelist will speak about a recent experiment incorporating access to justice into the law school curriculum. We hope to identify an additional panelist who has (or will in the Fall 2017 semester) integrated access to justice concepts in a first-year or core law school course.
The program will begin with a roundtable discussion of each panelist’s recent efforts to highlight and incorporate access to justice in their own classrooms. The program will continue with a facilitated discussion that will allow audience members to share and develop their own classroom experiments, including ideas to incorporate access to justice in core and first-year courses. The planned panelists are Anna Carpenter (Tulsa), Lauren Sudeall Lucas (Georgia State), Victor Quintanilla (Indiana), and Colleen Shanahan (Temple).
To be considered as a panelist, please email a short (1-2 paragraph) statement of interest and description of your recent or upcoming effort to teach access to justice in the classroom to Colleen Shanahan (firstname.lastname@example.org) by September 1.
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Clinical Professor Sarah Sherman-Stokes was recently featured in the Washington Post offering her opinion on the devastating impact of new policies on immigration judges. The Trump Administration's stance on undocumented individuals has led to an explosion in the number of cases. Immigration judges already carry exceedingly large dockets, nearly three times the amount of district court judges trying civil cases. These judges are now losing critical training conferences essential to ensuring fair trials for noncitizens.
The full piece is available here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/immigration-judges-were-always-overworked-now-theyll-be-untrained-too/2017/07/11/e71bb1fa-4c93-11e7-a186-60c031eab644_story.html?utm_term=.348ef2c965ee
Thursday, July 6, 2017
From the organizers:
2017 Northwest Clinical Law Conference
On behalf of the NWCLC 2017 Planning Committee, we are pleased to provide details regarding the 2017 Northwest Clinical Law Conference, to be heldat Sleeping Lady.
Our theme this year will be "From Competence to Social Justice: The Role of Legal Clinics in Forming Professional Identity and Values." Below are a request for proposals with additional details regarding the theme and our call for presenters. Please note that we are also seeking proposals from clinic administrators in hopes of having a separate conference track for administrative professionals who wish to attend. Proposals can be sent to me (email@example.com) for distribution to the Planning Committee and are due by .
Also attached is a flyer with registration details. The registration and payment deadline is firstname.lastname@example.org).and your completed registration form and fees can be returned to Geri Sturgill (
We look forward to seeing your proposals and to a great conference later this year!
Saturday, July 1, 2017
If you are closely tracking the ongoing federal legislative efforts to repeal and replace the Accountable Care Act (ACA), you might find interesting my recent piece, U.S. Senate Unveils Health Care Bill Designed to Dismantle the ACA. A huge thanks to the Oxford Human Rights Hub for publishing my take on the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 and the formidable procedural and substantive obstacles the bill faces in the United States Senate. The Hub also published my post, How an ACA Repeal Would Devastate Appalachia, as part of a three-part series on American health care reform this Spring. I intend to continue to watch--and write about--federal legislative attempts to dismantle the ACA over the summer and will provide links to new posts as they as they go live on this blog site.