Mercer Law Professor Patrick Longan says he teaches the meaning of professionalism by interviewing lawyers and judges before student audiences. ()
An innovative way of teaching professionalism to first-year law students, modeled on “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” has won Mercer University School of Law a national award from the American Bar Association.
Professor Patrick Longan said he came up with the idea of interviewing local lawyers and judges in front of a student audience from the popular Bravo television series.
“We discovered it’s not enough to teach law students what professionalism means through traditional classroom methods. You can get the information across, but not necessarily motivate or inspire them to live up to it,” said Longan, who started a required, one-semester professionalism course for first-years in 2004.
The ABA’s Standing Committee on Professionalism gave Mercer Law the E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award for the novel approach, which the judges said in the award letter goes beyond “standard practitioner testimonials.”
Mercer Law is one of two recipients of the ABA professionalism award this year, along with Vanderbilt University School of Law.
Longan said he invites a mix of lawyers and judges, “from Legal Aid lawyers to King & Spalding partners,” who are diverse in practices and experience as well as race, gender and age.
“I bring in people who can be good examples for the students. Through conversations with me, it lets them talk about what their lives in the profession are like,” Longan said. “We have found that it meant more coming from real lawyers and judges than just professors.”
Professionalism covers five areas, the professor said: competence; civility; fidelity to the client; fidelity to the law and the courts (which means, for example, that one cannot help clients commit a crime or fraud); and public service—both pro bono work and the regulation of the profession for the public.
Tomieka Daniel, a Macon legal aid lawyer, visits the class each year to talk about the legal needs of low-income people. Daniel works in the Macon office of the Georgia Legal Services Program, where six attorneys and three paralegals serve 23 counties. Longan said she tells the students what it feels like to have to turn people down.
“It makes it real for students to hear what kinds of needs are out there and how desperate people are for lawyers to help them,” he added.
Other lawyers that Longan has interviewed include Doc Schneider, a senior partner at King & Spalding; Laura Hogue, a criminal defense attorney in Macon at Hogue & Hogue (with her husband, Frank Hogue); Paula Frederick, the State Bar of Georgia’s general counsel; and A. James Elliott, a retired Alston & Bird partner who is now an associate dean at Emory University School of Law. Two big firm associates, Vernon Strickland of Holland & Knight and Brandon Veasey of Troutman Sanders, also have participated.
Each year, Longan invites retired Judge Lamar Sizemore Jr., who spent a decade serving on Bibb County Superior Court, to tell students what professionalism means for judges.
Longan started doing the interviews in 2009, and since then the program has grown. He said he invites about 14 lawyers and judges to participate each year.
The class meets twice weekly and students also meet in smaller weekly sections to wrestle with professionalism concerns taken from case studies and simulations.
Longan said he asks many of his guests how lawyers should handle unprofessionalism from opposing counsel or a judge. “Once the students learn that there are these situations, they are very concerned about how to handle it,” he said.
He said Sizemore always gives them a memorable piece of advice. First he tells the students that “they should always observe the formalities and conduct litigation under the rules.”
And then, Longan said, the former judge tells them that he keeps a list of lawyers in his head who behave unprofessionally.
“Although there have been fewer than five people on it in his whole career, he tells students that you can move up the list or you can move down the list—but you can never move off the list,” the professor said.
“That’s how we try and reinforce how important reputation is. You do not want to be on that list,” he added.
Longan has posted a number of the interviews on YouTube, but he said the live interviews are important because they give students a chance to ask questions and talk to the guests afterward.
“The students really have responded to this. It’s made it all very real to them—and given them some significant reassurance that what we are teaching them in the classroom about professionalism really is what is expected,” Longan said.
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