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Legal Docket: Law and service

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WORLD Radio - Legal Docket: Law and service

Law schools implement a rule from the American Bar Association to instill professionalism in new lawyers


The American Bar Association's annual meeting Monday, Aug. 7 Associated Press/Photo by David Zalubowski

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Monday morning, September 11th and you’re listening to The World and Everything in It from WORLD Radio. Good morning! I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

First, some pretty cool news if you’re a longtime listener you may know we do tout this program as among the Top 100 News programs in the Apple Podcasts platform, which is no small accomplishment when you consider there are well over 2-million podcasts on Apple, with an estimated 6-thousand added each day.

The news is we’re starting to crack the Top 50!

But speaking of how many podcasts there are, it’s important to be able to rise above the noise.

So two requests: Would you take a moment and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, if that’s where you listen? That’s one. Two, if you find this program valuable, would you share it with a friend? Maybe someone you work with, a neighbor, a friend at church, your pastor? We used to do this all the time, encourage actually setting it up on someone’s phone. Of course, that was when podcasts were a little mysterious. But encourage a friend to listen for a week and that’s usually what it takes to make the habit stick.

REICHARD: I’m glad you mentioned that. I’d kind of gotten out of the habit of sharing The World and Everything in It with people I meet, and then invite them to rate and review.

Apple doesn’t share exactly how the ratings work, but we do know that ratings and reviews do indicate depth of passion among the listener base, and that’s got to matter.

But more than that, I think it’s just a nice thing to do to share The World and Everything in It with a friend. It’s totally free. And when you find something you like that gives you a daily dose of news and features from a Christian worldview, you’re doing a kindness to share it with others. So, yes, I hope you’ll make it a project to introduce this program to a friend.

EICHER: Well, let’s get to it. It’s time for Legal Docket.

Classes are underway in law schools across the nation. Professors are busy training and educating future lawyers.

REICHARD: In the United States, approximately 200 law schools have national accreditation. And the American Bar Association is the organization that sets the standards for national accreditation.

Recently, the ABA put a new standard in place: Law schools must provide substantial opportunities for students to develop a professional identity.

EICHER: This seems like it could be a great opportunity for Christian law schools, in particular, to emphasize the role of lawyer as servant.

REICHARD: It does. Technically, the rule took effect last academic year, but only for planning purposes. This academic year, law schools must implement it.

Today, legal correspondent Jenny Rough joins us to talk about forming a professional identity and what it means.

Good morning, Jenny!

JENNY ROUGH: Good morning!

Well, law school takes three years when enrolled full-time. And the education happens almost exclusively in the classroom. Unlike medical school where students do clinical work and residency. In other words, hands-on experience before obtaining their medical license.

This new rule encourages law schools to give students more exposure to training outside the classroom. And although there’s no specific curriculum, some law schools have already been doing this.

JERRY ORGAN: When we were founded, we were founded with the idea of helping students integrate faith and reason, right?

Jerry Organ is a law professor and the co-director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

ORGAN: So we weren't using the phrase professional identity, professional identity formation, but we were certainly adjacent to that space when we got started. And then as educating lawyers.

REICHARD: Organ summarizes the ABA requirement this way:

ORGAN: That there should be multiple opportunities over the course of three years of law school for students to reflect on, to experience and reflect on, kind of what it means to be a lawyer, the values of the profession, wellbeing practices.

And we will note here that a second rule also requires schools to provide opportunities for students to learn about bias, cross-cultural competence, and racism.

But today, we want to emphasize professional identity. Organ says forming that is especially suited to graduate-school programs. More so than college which has a different purpose, more about discovery.

ORGAN: Discovery in terms of areas of knowledge I'm exploring, and discovery in terms of developing independence, developing initiative, ownership over one's learning and one's life, right?

EICHER: But that changes with graduate school.

ORGAN: Law school and medical school and nursing school, for that matter they’re about serving others. They're about developing a specialized knowledge base and a specialized set of skills that are directed toward serving others. So part of professional school really is a shift from a kind of a self-focus to now acquiring knowledge, acquiring skills. I'm going to shift from being a student absorbing information to a lawyer who's now serving others.

Lawyers have a profound responsibility to clients, the system of justice, and the rule of law. And professional identity formation is the process of how that all develops.

ORGAN: Other-focused, because I'm now going to be serving the client and the client's interest. And my obligation to the client overrides my self-interest. That's the nature of the professional bargain we make as lawyers.

ROUGH: This takes me back to my first-year, Civil Pleading and Procedure class. It was like it was yesterday!

Now this is a course that centers on pretty much nothing else but a big, fat rule book. Lots of memorization about dry procedural rules. How to file a lawsuit, how to respond to one … that kind of stuff.

But my professor, Professor Perrin, drilled it into our heads that the number one complaint of clients is that their lawyers don’t call them back. He told us repeatedly: Return your clients’ phone calls!

ORGAN: That's a great example. That's an example where while that professor was teaching you the rules, that professor was also trying to imbue for you an important aspect of what it means to be a lawyer.

St. Thomas offers a one-week intensive called Serving Clients Well that drills home the same point.

ORGAN: Everybody has to interview a client and send in some information and response. And then we gather the data. So it's shockingly consistent that if you want to be a successful lawyer with happy clients, just communicate with them. And if you want to be an unsuccessful lawyer with dissatisfied clients, ignore them.

REICHARD: Organ says law schools can find opportunities like that all over the place.

ORGAN: It can happen in a lawyering skills course where you get to do your oral argument, which is a time when you're in role.

As in, in the role of a lawyer. Being “in role” are those rare instances in school that can be so critical.

ORGAN: Medical education is a good 15 years ahead of us. And what they have identified is that the richest opportunities for reflecting on learning about professional identity arise in what are called authentic professional experiences, right? When you're a law student making that oral argument, or when you're clerking at the law firm in the summer with the legal aid office, or at the county attorney's office, those externship experiences tend to be in role.

Law schools can take those situations and purposefully support professional identity formation.

ORGAN: Students go away for their summer work experience or volunteer experience, and they come back to school.

For most students, it’s right back into the classroom. They put their summer experience behind them. But St. Thomas has implemented a faculty-student mentoring program. One-on-one meetings where students can reflect and talk through their summer work experience. What they learned. Was it a good fit?

ORGAN: Maybe you thought you wanted to do criminal law, but you were in the prosecutor's office and it wasn't what you thought it was, and now you need to kind of shift focus. Well, let's talk about what that would look like. So to me, that's a rich opportunity to harvest low hanging fruit. All you need to do is create a space where you can help them reflect on that and talk through that a little bit.

EICHER: In another one of his classes called Moral Reasoning for Lawyers, Organ teaches the 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell, considered one of the Court’s worst decisions of all time. It allowed state-enforced sterilization.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the opinion.

ORGAN: And there's a whole bunch of significantly offensive language. He's writing about this woman who's in the—it's the state home for the epileptic and feeble-minded.

He based his decision on the premise that the women there were unintelligent.

ORGAN: And the opinion is written from a very economic, you know, the state needs to be able to save money. If we have profligate women in these homes who are going to have children, then they're going to be a drain on the state resources. And so we have to allow sterilization.

Organ opens the class with a straight-forward approach. Typical of most law schools.

ORGAN: Let's break down this case. Let's understand the facts. Let's look at the issue. Let's look at the court's analysis. But I don't talk about the language at all, right? I just talk about the case.

Then, he stops. And pivots the discussion.

ORGAN: What would you want to talk about that we haven't talked about?

This gives students chance to see the clients as real people, human beings who need to be treated with dignity.

ORGAN: If you emphasize all the thinking stuff, and you don't talk about the human side of it at all, some people who have a stronger orientation toward empathy or humanity are going to feel like this is not a good fit for them.

ROUGH: Here’s another part of forming a professional identity: helping students recognize what new skills they need to develop in response to what’s happening in the world.

Like alternative dispute resolution. Learning negotiation, mediation, and arbitration skills educates students that there are other ways to solve problems besides litigation.

ORGAN: That's a form of formation. When I was in law school all of the cases were A sues B, A sues B. You solve problems by suing people. And they don't have names, they just have letters, right?

Or how about this skill: artificial intelligence.

ORGAN: Two years ago, people didn't have to think about AI and what they needed to learn about AI to be of service to their clients. Now, I think lawyers have to be thinking about AI, right? They can't put their heads in the sand and say, well, that's not, I'm not gonna worry about that. It's a new technology that's going to shape a lot of different aspects of how we serve clients.

Whether law schools are aware of it or not, they’ve been communicating messages to students about professional identity all along. And because law school is so competitive, that message can default to the importance of top grades and landing a job at a big firm with high pay.

ORGAN: Students come to law school with a strong commitment to public service and to some extent it gets beaten out of them, or it erodes. And they get drawn toward these other things.

Big prestigious firms can be a valuable experience. But Organ recalled a recent conversation with two women who had both graduated number one in their law school class. They were both married, had children, and didn’t necessarily want to follow the wide, beaten path their law schools pushed.

ORGAN: And so you had this tension between some people institutionally suggesting, normatively you can pursue this. And so you should. And these two women believing that God had a different plan for them.

Overall, Organ sees the new rule as a way to keep students focused on their purpose and values.

ORGAN: We're always shaping people. We just have tended not to be very thoughtful about it. And what this new movement is really talking about is trying to help us as law professors and people involved in legal education be more intentional about what it is we want to be communicating to our students about what it means to be a lawyer.

That’s this week’s Legal Docket. I’m Jenny Rough.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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