When my son was young, he was fascinated by cooking. Alton Brown was still doing his cooking show, and he adored the chemistry element of food, a scientific approach to cuisine. It didn’t hurt that he also had a peculiar palate for a kid, preferring the French preparation of snails and organ meets to hot dogs.
Whenever Dr. SJ cooked something interesting, which was fairly regularly, my son would be her sous chef, learning how to cook from someone who knew. It was a paradigm: someone with skill and knowledge would teach someone with passion and interest, but who had yet to become accomplished.
What happened to this paradigm?
At the Puddle, a few recent posts have struck me as scary. It’s unclear whether they would be better characterized as crazy or stupid, or maybe just a reflection of a shift where the basic paradigm was turned on its head, but it was plainly wrong. In the most recent post, a new lawyer, Sybil Dunlop posts A New Lawyer’s Guide to Teaching a CLE.
I’m teaching a CLE with a colleague today, and I’m excited about both the topic and the presentation. Teaching a CLE, however, can be a lot of work. I have heard more senior attorneys wonder if the non-billable work (creating the materials, the powerpoint, and the presentation) is worth it. Will the CLE help their reputation? Their business? I have no idea, but I can speak first hand to benefits new attorneys can reap when they jump into the CLE-teaching arena.Look, ma! I’m teaching a CLE!!! It’s not that she has no concerns, curiously raised by “more senior attorneys,” but none of those concerns have anything to do with the paradigm.
Are you working on an excessive force case? Now is the time to sign up to teach a qualified immunity CLE. This method has the advantage of honing your skills in a necessary area as well as motivating you to create the best possible CLE materials (they can double as case research).There was once a time when a lawyer, burdened by humility, would think (and perhaps even say aloud if asked) that they were not yet qualified to teach other lawyers to do something that barely knew anything about. There was a shameless quality to the hubris of assuming that they could teach before they achieved any mastery, a reputation for expertise. What could they tell another lawyer when they were first testing their own ability to survive the crucible of court?
Gone. There is no reflection, no concern whatsoever, about whether the least knowledgeable person in the room would be the one standing in the front doing all the talking. Of course, given the opportunity to manufacture a bio as a teacher of other lawyers, qualifications be damned, it’s good for the n00b, Dunlop explains. And isn’t that the most important thing about teaching?
Similarly, Randall Ryder at the Puddle wrote a post a while back about how not to impress your law school professor, which related that he was an adjunct instructor at a local law school. Given the many, and sound, concerns about the relevance of law school to practice, many have put adjuncts on a pedestal, actual experienced practicing lawyers who can share what they’ve learned rather than just the obtuse theory that scholars adore. Cool, right?
But then, Ryder posted his reflections on his experience at the conclusion of his first year of practice. Huh? So you were a law school adjunct when only months before you were still paying tuition and praying for a decent grade? This is the experienced, practicing lawyer that upon whom students rely, with all of twelve minutes in the trenches?
Ryder’s pontifications caused me to think about another Puddle regular, Josh Camson, whose plan was to live-blog his first year of practice. It was an interesting concept provided it was presented as a window to his journey, but instead it quickly turned into punditry, Camson telling others what to do and how to do it, even though he had yet to figure out whether he would be successful or a spectacular flop in full, public view.
Camson explained the other day that he no longer takes telephone calls from clients, using the Alexis Neely method that sent her into bankruptcy. Important lawyers, apparently, are too busy to take calls from clients, and instead schedule times to return calls at their convenience, thus showing clients who is more important. Camson told of how this freed up his time in his new practice:
When we first opened our firm, we got a thrill every time the phone rang. But now that we’ve built up our client base, the phone rings a lot. Of course it’s not just clients. It’s opposing counsel, officers, and so forth. But the phone rings constantly.How wonderful that he has so many clients who think so well of him that they are thrilled to await his return call when he finds the time. Being a criminal defense lawyer, Camson’s rocket-like success is inspiring, especially when compared to another new lawyer whose career crashed and burned when he took on a murder case as his first jury trial. Camson would never do anything that insane, that unethical, that disgraceful, which is why his experiences are worthy of attention.
Even after 30 years of practicing criminal defense, I take client’s telephone calls if possible. If I’m next to the phone, I pick it up myself. The people calling are the people who have entrusted me with their lives, and I consider it an honor and duty to defend them. I’ve never been so special, so important, that I can’t answer a phone. But then, I’ve never gone bankrupt either, so what do I know?
In a couple of weeks, I’m off to Memphis to do a CLE for the Arkansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. I’m never satisfied with the CLEs I teach, always thinking I could have been more interesting, and at the same time, failed to cover as much ground as I hoped. Even though I try to limit my presentation to a very narrow slice of law, I feel constrained to not tell the fun anecdotes that make things interesting for fear that I will leave something important out. Too many years, too many experiences, too many problems seen and too many answers learned can do that to a lawyer.
It strikes me that lawyers with 5, 10, 20 years experience feel the same way I do. On the other hand, I can’t imagine how a first year lawyer feels giving a CLE, where everyone In the room knows more than they do. And yet, there is neither shame nor humility in taking the podium.