August 8, 2013
A new book names Professor Cary Bricker of McGeorge School of Law one of only 26 "best law teachers" in the United States. The book, "What the Best Law Teachers Do" (Harvard University Press, 2013), is the culmination of a four-year study that sought to identify extraordinary law teachers. The study details the attributes and practices of professors who have a significant, positive, and long-term effect on their students.
"What the Best Law Teachers Do" is authored by Professor Gerry Hess of Gonzaga University School of Law, Professor Sophie Sparrow of the University of New Hampshire School of Law, and Michael Hunter Schwartz, dean and professor of law at the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law. "The book describes how 26 amazingly dedicated and dazzlingly effective law teachers do their work," said Schwartz.
The book offers a positive perspective on legal education. "Like nearly every profession and all forms of higher education, legal education has plenty of room for improvement," explained Sparrow. "But legal education also includes these 26 teachers and plenty of others like them who are inspiring role models to their students, who consciously and carefully prepare their students to practice law, who devote themselves to helping their students grow as people and as future lawyers, and who mentor their students, helping them find jobs and make career choices, even long after the students have graduated."
Each chapter in "What the Best Law Teachers Do" focuses on a theme common to all of these outstanding law teachers: what personal qualities they share, how they relate to their students, what they expect of their students, how they prepare for class, how they teach, and how they provide feedback to their students and assess their students' learning.
"The teachers who are profiled in the book work at law schools that represent the full spectrum of "U.S. News and World Report" law school rankings, yet the core of who they are and what they do is quite similar," Hess said.
According to Hess, "All of the teachers we studied are regarded as being among the most rigorous professors at their law schools who have high expectations of every student, yet they also are known for their kindness to their students. They foster self-confidence in their students and inspire in them a belief that they are capable of great things. They get to know their students as people and manifest caring and respect for their students. These teachers model hard work, creativity, and humility."
As tuition at law schools continues to rise — despite a decline in the number of applications — and post-graduate jobs become increasingly competitive, receiving a high-quality education is paramount, according to Schwartz. "Law teachers represent the critical element in that equation."
The authors wanted to gain a deep understanding as to what makes extraordinary law teachers so effective. They therefore visited each of their 26 subjects at their law schools so they could observe classroom behavior and conduct lengthy interviews with the subjects and their deans, colleagues, students, and alumni. Most often, according to Sparrow, the authors left these visits feeling moved, inspired, and excited to make changes in their own teaching based on what they observed and heard.
Professor Bricker will present "Experiential Teaching in Podium and Skills Based Courses: Making Students Comfortable When Taking Them Out of Their Comfort Zones," on Friday, June 27, 2014, as part of the What the Best Law Teachers Do: Educators in Action conference at Northwestern Law in Chicago, Illinois.