Who Are You Inviting to Your Class This Semester?

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By Sophie Sparrow from University of New Hampshire School of Law

A colleague invites at least one practicing lawyer to speak in every course. As associate dean, she asked her colleagues to do the same. Why? Because practicing lawyers bring a fresh perspective. Students learn first-hand about how the course material applies in the real world. And when the guest conveys her excitement about practicing law, students are inspired and reminded why they went to law school.

I often invite an alumnus, an enthusiastic and experienced litigator, to speak to my Torts class. One year he brought his colleague from another firm, also an alumnus. Together they had successfully tried a sexual discrimination case against a national employer. In class, they showed trial exhibits, told great stories about tracking down witnesses, and spoke compassionately about their client. Nothing I had said or done in class had the same impact about the importance of gathering facts and treating clients with respect.

But best of all, these two lawyers really enjoyed what they did. Trying the case required them to spend weeks away from their families, working around the clock in a small rented house. They hadn’t known each other before working on the case, didn’t always agree, and were under incredible pressure, yet they clearly had a good time together. In the classroom they joked around, interrupted each other’s sentences, and got the whole class laughing.

Afterwards a number of students commented that they never thought that lawyers could have so much fun. They were surprised that the attorneys didn’t take themselves too seriously and loved their infectious enthusiasm. The students learned about not just what lawyers do, but who they could be. Many of my students were struggling to gain confidence at the beginning of their new chosen profession; in that class they realized that they could be successful without having to change who they were. I would love students to learn that message every semester.

Finding guests to speak is relatively easy. I ask former students and get names from our Alumni Director and colleagues. Depending on schedules and my teaching goals, guests may come for all or part of a class. They may be on a panel or alone. To prepare the students, I post information about the guest and sometimes ask students to read documents involving the guest’s practice. In class, students are asked to close their laptops and just listen. And every year, on students’ final course evaluations, some write that guests were the best part of the course.

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning