Back To School

 

by Mark A. Dubois

A great philosopher has said that an unexamined life is not worth living. Yet its often hard (if not impossible) when we are involved in the day to day battles of a busy trial practice to step back and take a moment to look at the “why” as well as the “what” of our professional lives. It was such a thought that led me, during the summer of 2001, to take “of counsel” status at the firm where I was working and to join the full time faculty of the University of Connecticut Law School, an institution from which I had graduated 24 years before. And my first semester as an academic has been a true education, both for my students and myself.

Of course, there was the usual adjustment when one moves from the private sector to the public. My office is about the size of the supply closet at my old firm (though not quite as well appointed). My income is considerably less than I used to pay in taxes, and I am still getting used to the idea that most of the rules that I have to follow every day are set by the folks who lock the doors, turn the heat on and off, process the mail, run the computer system, open and close the library, and provide the myriad other functions and support without which no institution could function. Its not that I can't adapt to having my cheese moved. I have no cheese.

The students are another matter. If you think jury work is hard, imagine two 20 person juries peopled by extremely bright young people, most of whom were born at about the time you graduated from law school, and for whom work on computers and surfing the internet are as natural and effortless an enterprise as brushing their teeth or combing their hair. Now imagine that twice a week you have to get up before that jury, and teach them to read, interpret and analyze the law, research difficult legal questions, and write memos and briefs in a form and style that they find only slightly less foreign than Sanskrit. Imagine that the jury can (and often will) challenge you on everything that you say, and are ready to argue any point that you try to make which calls into question assumptions and ideas that they hold to be self evident to anyone but a fossil such as yourself. And, when the whole enterprise is over, the jury (quite like trial practice) gets to fill out critiques of your skills and abilities which go to the Dean, who decides if you will be given the opportunity to subject yourself to this whole enterprise the next year.

Why would anyone do this? Well, for starters, imagine immersing yourself again in the law, and exploring the underlying questions of how our society makes rules and governs itself. Imagine sharing with those bright juries their first exposure to rule based reasoning, how judges decide cases, and how societal values shape moral choices. Imagine the joy of being there when the light finally clicks on, and your charges begin to synthesize the disparate elements of legal rules, case facts and civil procedure into a cohesive and persuasive writing. These are pleasures so great that, if they wanted me to pay for the experience of teaching here, I would gladly do so.

On top of all that, I have attended and participated in wonderful discussions about topics as disparate as the viability of the death penalty as anything other than revenge, the purpose of the business judgment rule, the history of slavery and the appropriateness of reparations to Africa, relativism and rationalism as concepts necessary to understand Islamic fundamentalism, race based preferences n law school admissions, and the hermeneutics of judging. I think that it is fair to say that in the last six months that I have examined law and lawyering more thoroughly and with more pleasure than in the many years since I left the academic and joined the “real world.”

In addition to my normal courseload, I am now working with two talented and passionate adjunct professors on a trial advocacy competition that they were successful in getting accredited this year, and I am designing an advanced legal writing course which will explore the concept of legal writing in the context of how judges really analyze and decide cases. On top of all that, as I write this I have just received nearly 40 briefs from my first year students, and I will spend the next two weeks trying to figure out how to separate the best from the truly superb. I am working as long and as hard as I ever did in practice. Yet my wife commented the other day (after I spent the whole weekend reading and grading a set of memos on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion) that she has never seen me smile so much.

Will I do this for the rest of my career? Who Knows? I have been approved for appointment to the trial court bench, and if the Governor calls, I'm probably going to answer. However, if in five or ten years I find myself right where I am today, I hope that I will continue to feel that I am giving as much to this profession as I have been lucky enough to receive. I understand that I was given a privilege that few share when I received my license to practice law. Being able to share the wisdom of my experience with a class of young charges who still believe that the law has the answers to society's problems is an even greater gift.

Mark A. Dubois, of The Reardon Law Firm in Hartford, Connecticut was certified in Civil Trial Advocacy in June of 1995. He has recently joined the full time faculty of the University of Connecticut Law School.