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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Practicing while Teaching

Douglas Berman had a neat post the other day at Sentencing Law & Policy about an appeal he’s handling before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In the post Berman commented, “I suppose I am ... taking to heart Neal Katyal's terrifically interesting Harvard Law Review comment encouraging the legal academy to go practice.”

Professor Berman’s comment resonated with me, as I just picked up my first Ninth Circuit appeal as a CJA attorney. I couldn’t be more excited. I practiced criminal law as a public defender for eleven years prior to teaching, and I promised myself that I would not go too long without a client and case for which I was fully responsible. And after two years of teaching, I was feeling a little isolated from the practice that motivated me to teach and write about criminal law in the first place. Thankfully, my Dean and faculty colleagues seem very supportive, so long as I balance my responsibilities appropriately.

The undertaking has me considering some questions, though. I recall that as a law student I really appreciated when professors were willing to venture outside of the ivory tower and get their hands dirty. But, does the tremendous commitment of real-world practice ultimately compliment or distract from the primary work of a law professor? Especially a junior, pre-tenure professor? Does the answer depend on the professor's areas of teaching and scholarship? And, is the answer affected by the claim that "doctrinalism is dead?"

Posted by Brooks Holland on June 10, 2007 at 06:42 PM in Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink


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Gonzaga Law Professor Brooks Holland over at Prawfsblawg has an interesting June 10, 2007 posting about teaching and practice. He describes himself as a tenured track professor who is excited about taking one criminal case. What I find most interesting [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 11, 2007 12:07:44 AM


I tend to think that law schools should have a heavy bias towards professors who have practice experience. Writing law review articles about fancy interdisciplinary and theoretical topics is fun, to be sure, but if professors move their focus away from teaching that's directly relevant to law practice, then why should going to law school be a requirement before entering law practice?

Posted by: Stuart Buck | Jun 11, 2007 1:47:05 PM

Since I've been teaching, I've always had at least one appellate matter in which I've been actively involved (often more than one). I liked practicing so much that it was impossible to give it up entirely. It's also nice to do something that gives immediate gratification when most of my professional life involves writing articles that take at least a year from conception to publication. And I have found that practice helps my teaching and scholarship. Appellate cases are quite manageable in terms of time and flexibility -- I certainly couldn't do trial-level work. The trick for me is to work on those cases that raise interesting issues in which I have some expertise and that are closely related to my teaching and scholarship. I did this as an untenured professor, too. While it obviously took time that I could have been using to write more scholarship, I think it made my scholarship better (even my less doctrinal scholarship, just by stimulating thoughts), and I don't think this job would be tolerable for me if I couldn't do some practice.

Posted by: Sam Bagenstos | Jun 11, 2007 12:06:20 PM

Mitchell Rubinstein, a practicing attorney and adjunct law professor at St. John's Law School and New York Law School, offers some thoughtful feedback at the Adjunct Law Professors Blog: http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/adjunctprofs.

Posted by: Brooks | Jun 11, 2007 12:29:43 AM

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