Sunday, March 29, 2015

Meet the LWI Professional Status Committee: David Austin

David Austin LWI LogoThe Legal Writing Institute, the world's largest membership organization for persons concerned with legal writing and its teaching, has established a new Professional Status Committee to examine the national employment situation for professors who teach legal writing.  Read more about the committee by clicking here.  The new committee will serve as a resource for LWI members who are facing specific employment or professional development issues. The committee will also gather information about professional status issues and challenges that will help the LWI Board respond appropriately to various challenges and situations.
The seven members of the new Professional Status Committee are:
  • David W. Austin (California Western School of Law, San Diego)
  • Mary Bowman, Co-Chair (Seattle University School of Law)
  • Olympia Duhart (Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center, Fort Lauderdale, Florida) 
  • Lucy Jewel (University of Tennessee College of Law, Knoxville)
  • Kristen Tiscione, Co-Chair (Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C.)
  • Melissa Weresh (Drake University Law School, Des Moines, Iowa)
  • Cliff Zimmerman (Northwestern University School of Law, Chicago, Illinois)

Each day this week we are profiling one of the seven members of the committee.

David W. Austin  is a Legal Writing Professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego, California.  He received his B.A. from the European Division of the University of Maryland and his J.D. from The John Marshall Law School in Chicago where he also later taught legal writing as an adjunct professor.  In addition to large firm private practice in Chicago, he served as a law clerk to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Hawai'i.
Before his career in the law, Mr. Austin worked for the Italian Ministry of Health and with non-governmental organization in Italy and other European countries. He was elected to the board of the European Council of AIDS Service Organizations and served as a representative for Southern Europe from 1991 to 1994. In 1996, he was a visiting Research Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health.
David is married to a legal writing professor at another law school.
Here is the statement that David shared with the Legal Writing Listserve to introduce himself as a member of the new Professional Status Committee: 
I love teaching Legal Skills for many of the same reasons that made me love it as a student.  I love the smaller class size because it gives us an opportunity to know our students in ways that would be difficult in a large lecture class.  I love the satisfaction that comes from teaching students practical skills that they will remember and apply for the remainder of their professional careers, independent of the actual area of legal practice they enter.  I love that we are in the front lines of the debate regarding the direction legal education should be taking. 
What I don’t love is the fact that we remain exceedingly vulnerable in light of decreases in student applications, shrinking revenue, and the tenuous protections afforded under a system that, for most of us, is separate and unequal. I know that Legal Writing professors work very hard and that the current market will require us to work even harder:  more of our students are entering law school less prepared for the challenges that they will encounter there.  Many administrators and doctrinal colleagues will assume that the burden is on us, Legal Writing professors, to bring these students up to speed.  The additional burdens we will be asked to carry will not often be accompanied by offers of additional assistance or compensation.  We will be asked to do more for less. 
For those of us who lack the kind of job security that tenure provides, speaking out in favor of our students and for ourselves may often come at a cost.  At California Western School of Law, the Legal Writing professors start with a two-year contract that can be renewed for another two years.  We are then eligible for consideration for five-year, presumptively renewable contracts like the one that currently governs my employment.  We cannot vote on faculty hires, nor can we vote on the dean.  That means that, at the moment, we cannot directly influence outcomes that might lead to improved status within the institution.  These issues are currently being debated, but the outcomes remain uncertain. 
I’m glad that LWI is taking the initiative to create a new Committee that will focus on Professional Status.  With so much at stake, and with so few protections, we can all benefit from a platform that will help add volume to our many voices.

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