Friday, March 02, 2007

The Utility Law Teacher

Tom's thoughts on teaching an "overload" struck a chord with me, and perhaps with others who routinely teach a pack of useful courses. We are the utility law teachers in the MoneyLaw game. We cover large section first year courses. At the same time, we teach high enrollment, meat 'n potatoes courses to meet the demand of students with chronic bar passage anxiety but no talent or interest in the subject. We teach Evidence, Secured Transactions, Business Organizations, Payment Systems and Tax. We grade mountains of exams. We do not teach seminars. We never get a course off.

Just like utility infielders in baseball, we rarely make the regular lineup of cool players, much less the All-Star team. We sit through hours of job talks on global aspects of hegemony, the distinction between norms and heuristics, complexity theory, and why all that matters to constitutional philosophy in emerging nations. When one of us tries to workshop a paper about debt or taxes or markets, our colleagues roll their eyes and clear their throats and nobody comes. Our deans know what we do only vaguely. They brag about the cool players as experts in "the philosophical and moral implications of family dynamism." They describe us as experts in 'business law' or 'tax.' We write articles that have code section numbers in the title, and student law review editors use them with glee for coasters. Our classes are analytically demanding, jargon laden and almost never evoke occasions to explore student feelings about diversity or anything else. We give real grades. We never win teacher of the year.

We have skill. We can stare down the fastball and take one to the head if necessary. We chair important law school committees, especially if "dirty work" needs to be done. We get the call when it's time to draft new tenure standards. We talk to students who simply want to know what it is like to practice law for money. We make no apologies for capitalism. We close our door and in complete confidence explain to an All Star colleague with the two course load what a junk bond is, the difference between tax and book, or the effect of the automatic stay. We stay in shape. We read advance sheets to keep up, because our law changes every day. Each semester, we teach and think about something new.

Utility law teachers take heart. We know the franchise is nothing without us. We put the law in law school.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We never win teacher of the year."

But see, e.g., Kirk Stark, tax, UCLA, University Distinguished Teaching Award, 2003; Paul Caron, tax, University of Cincinnati, Goldman Prize for Teaching Excellence, 2003; Karen Brown, tax, George Washington University, Stanley V. Kinyon Award for excellence in teaching (University of Minnesota), 1997.

3/02/2007 10:51 AM  
Blogger Tom W. Bell said...

What a moving paean! I'm all choked up. (Especially since *I* certainly never win teacher of the year.)

3/02/2007 12:23 PM  
Blogger Marie T. Reilly said...

Anonymous, forgive the hyperbole. I am in awe of the forementioned. Tom, I certainly can't rule out other factors in my case, but I suspect that the intrinsic low entertainment value of the material impacts the probability of snagging such an honor. Perhaps we should differentiate as the Motion Picture Academy Does: Best Teacher in code course . . .

3/02/2007 12:54 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

I am not sure when this grin will leave my face. How about:

1. Making up missed classes.
2. Not making daily visits to the dean to ask or one favor or another.
3. Not striving to achieve the smallest teaching load possible.

3/02/2007 3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aren't there lots of overlapping categories here?

1) Those who teach "bread and butter" classes.
2) Those who teach business law, tax, and related subjects.
3) Those who are not seen as making a scholarly impact.
4) Thos who do not write more theoretical works.

It seems to me that you could have any combination of the 4 above categories, and that they don't necessarily go together. Or at least that's my experience; is that unusual?

3/05/2007 7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually is so possible to be a utility law teacher and think capitalism sucks.

3/07/2007 12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For several of us, Prof. Reilly, you make a world of difference. You are our teacher of the year and we are grateful every single day that you are a part of this critical point in our education. Thank you for the gift you give us.

3/07/2007 12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen, Anonymous, about teacher of the year . . . three cheers for Reilly, hurray! I will never forget, "Did Reilly win the case? Of course she did!" You make us proud to be smart and make learning the law fun, and you are a role model for strong women wearing all the hats (wife, mother, lawyer).

3/20/2007 6:21 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The first law teacher, utility or regular, who starts teaching law from the "street" side of the fence, will break the mold, and set a first for law school excellence. When law students finally come to understand the law from the con artist's perspective, they will finally be ready and fit for the real world, once they graduate.

--Jack Payne

7/20/2007 11:31 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Err, when I was in law school, the "utility" teachers always were the ones who won teacher of the year.

I kind of thought that no one else had a shot at it. Live and learn.

4/15/2008 8:58 AM  

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