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Friday, February 08, 2013

A Conversation with Judges

This week the University of Kentucky College of Law kicked off its brand-spanking-new speakers series, the Judicial Conversation Series.  Throughout the semester members of the Kentucky Supreme Court are visiting the law school.  They spend one hour in a regular class session, teaching a substantive topic to the class.  Then they conduct a one-hour "open forum" for students and the law school community, where students can ask them whatever is one their mind.

If one visit is any indication, the Judicial Conversation Series is a smashing success.  I'm told that the Justice really enjoyed teaching the Criminal Procedure class, the professor enjoyed the interaction, and we had about 30-40 students attend the Open Forum with the Justice (it helped that we gave the students pizza!  As the old saying goes, "if you give them pizza, they will come."  Or something like that.)

We have all but one member of the Court scheduled to visit the school this semester.  In future years we plan on focusing on other courts.  

But as the person who largely put this series together, this led me to think:  do other schools have a similar speaking series?  What do other schools do to increase the level of interaction between Judges, students, and the law school community?  Are there any best practices to consider or other aspects of the visit that we should think about?  

Inquiring minds (me!) want to know...any and all comments are welcome!

Posted by Josh Douglas on February 8, 2013 at 11:25 AM | Permalink


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Hi Michael,

The first Justice to visit covered a Kentucky Supreme Court case that he authored. I would expect other Justices will either do the same, or provide a glimpse of the decision making process for the kinds of cases that the class covers. But really it's up to the Justice and professor to coordinate.

I see several pedagogical benefits here. First, the Justice can help to provide some behind-the-scenes insights on the particular case or cases the students are studying. A professor can impart knowledge and help students develop analytical reasoning skills; a Justice can help students learn how the decision came about and what sorts of arguments were persuasive. Second, a Justice can give students pointers on what types of arguments in general are persuasive. Finally, a Justice can provide some "real-world" experience that is often lacking in the classroom setting. I would not support a class entirely taught in this way, but I think there's a real learning benefit for one class out of the semester. But ultimately, the success of the classroom visit depends on the Justice and professor figuring out what works best for that substance.


Posted by: Josh Douglas | Feb 10, 2013 6:18:34 PM


Thanks for the post. A student of mine last week knew about the program at UK and asked whether NKU-Chase had plans to do the same. I'd be more interested in the substance of what the judge does in class, and what the pedagogical benefit is. If the judge is just going to go over the same material the professor would have anyway, why is it better to have the judge do it? Or is the idea that the judge will focus on Kentucky law -- so, if the topic is search incident to arrest, the judge would discuss how that issue is addressed in Kentucky? If so, I'm still not certain what the pedagogical benefit would be, since we're trying to develop the students' reasoning skills rather than filling their heads with doctrine.

Posted by: Michael J.Z. Mannheimer | Feb 9, 2013 11:21:23 PM

Emily: The way I did it this year was that I asked my colleagues which of them would like to have a Justice visit their class. I then sent that list to the Justices, and each of them chose which class they wanted to visit. We then scheduled their visit around their schedule and that class meeting. The professor and the Justice work together to structure the class.

I think this series has a lot of benefits: it exposes students to the Justices and makes what they do more "real," it enhances the law school's reputation, and it has obvious pedagogical benefits. But I'd love ideas on how we can take this to the "next level."


Posted by: Josh Douglas | Feb 8, 2013 6:24:19 PM

Hi Josh--that sounds like a great program. How do you decide what class the visiting judge will teach?--is it up to the judge? Does the judge assign the reading for that day, too? I run a program at Pace where we place students in externships with federal judges, but I am always interested in thinking about opportunities to bring the judges to the law school campus.

Posted by: Emily Waldman | Feb 8, 2013 3:33:14 PM

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