Statement of Teaching Philosophy
I bring a very pragmatic and holistic approach to teaching, which reflects both the emphasis on critical thinking in my upbringing and the character of my Jesuit legal education. Students should consider how the subject matter of a lecture fits in the context of their education and in the context of their personal or professional goals. Doing so encourages them to understand not only the topic, but also why the topic matters.
In keeping with the context-driven nature of my approach to instruction, I am a proponent of the "plain language" movement in legal writing. Plain language legal drafting de-mystifies stylized language and terms of art and discourages use of "magic words" in legal writing. When students write legal documents in primarily plain language, if it is necessary to use a termo of art, the deliberate shift to stylized language highlights the purposes of terms of art. Drafting memoranda in an ordinary voice motivates students toward necessary precision in their language and focuses their attention on the content of their writing. The pragmatic approach fosters a student's confidence in her ability, argument and comprehension of her own work.
As a Writing Advisor at the John Marshall Law School, I worked with students trained in IRAC, as well as students taught the Neuman Paradigm for Structuring Proof. As an exercise to breed familiarity with the structures of legal writing, I encouraged students to examine both methods of formulating arguments. In discussions over how to use signals, students explored why we use signals at all in legal citation and considered what proper citations add to their credibility and reputations as young attorneys.The class also discussed whether string citing signaled extensive research or merely demonstrated a lazy approach to research. Education in the mechanics of the legal profession can seem petty and didactic until it is presented with an emphasis on how it facilitates clear communication in the professional world of being a lawyer; what the student's writing conveys is not only the argument of the document, but also the attorney's analytical abilities and the value of her thought.
When teaching legal topics to nonlaw students, I also adopt a conversational style. Through a variety of sources about the cases in the topic, the class learns not only how the Court reached its decision, but what the Court was doing in the broader social context. In covering criminal law topics, for instance, my students read excerpts from scholarly texts in sociology, politics and philosophy, as well as biographies of prisoners, like Gideon Wainwright, whose cases changed the criminal process. We also discuss news media coverage of sensational trials and popular media presentations of trials and conviction to contrast both with not only the holdings of the cases, but also the judicial system's image of itself.
In one significant way, the law is like a good book: you can find something new every time you read it. A fact can always be researched; a citation rule can always be checked, but the value of doing either must be learned.