Appreciating Our Professors: Chuck Clausen

Although I had many teachers who played a significant role in my development as a lawyer, a judge, and now a law professor, Professor Chuck Clausen most profoundly impacted me. His love of teaching and his unwavering commitment to his students came across in everything he did.  Chuck believed in the goodness of all people and wanted to be sure that all of us demonstrated our own personal goodness in our legal careers. He was committed to the responsibility of lawyers to help others, particularly the poor, in every way that we could.

I was fortunate enough to have Chuck for a few classes and to have him as a faculty advisor on some moot court work that I did. What I loved about Chuck is that having a conversation with him was like speaking to a renaissance man. He was so knowledgeable and engaged in so many different areas of life and of the community that I always learned something new when I was around him. His enthusiasm for life was infectious.

Because of my deep admiration for him, we continued to have contact after graduation. He truly became one of my most trusted advisors.

In addition to talking about the law, we frequently would converse about life and the world.  We spent hours brainstorming on how we could help lawyers talk and think about the spiritual nature of their lives. While I was on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Chuck and I put together a “spiritual trip” for thirteen lawyers, judges, and the dean of our law school to spend some time with the poor in the Dominican Republic. During that adventure, we explored some of the deeper questions about our own personal roles as lawyers and the meaning of our lives. That trip changed my life. It played a role in leading me to the decision to leave the Supreme Court and to return to teaching and working with the poor and wounded in the community. None of that might have happened without Chuck’s deep influence on my life decisions.

My current teaching involves weaving clinical and substantive knowledge as well as real experiences into a pattern of legal and human education. In my restorative justice work, the students learn how to actually conduct victim/offender dialogues in crimes of severe violence, and listening circles with gangs, police, victims, neighbors, and faith communities in Milwaukee’s central city. However, we also talk about the capacity of the human spirit to forgive those who have done the unspeakable. We explore how people who are economically, culturally, racially, and in many other ways living in different worlds, can come together in facilitated dialogue and can transform their views of each other and begin to understand the depth of all of our humanness.

In my small claims mediation clinic, I have students successfully mediating three-quarters of the small claims pro se cases we handle on Monday mornings. But more importantly to me, the students participate in the profound experience of helping some people find their own way out of rage-filled situations and dilemmas. They learn how to shepherd people from moments of darkness into a moments of light with their help. Chuck is responsible for modeling that kind of care and teaching for me.

Chuck taught me that the biggest gift we can give each other is the gift of one’s presence and willingness to just listen.  Every day I work to have our future lawyers understand the importance of not only learning the technical aspects of the law, but how to contribute to the heart and soul of the legal profession. I am so very grateful to Professor Clausen for how much he influenced my personal journey as a lawyer, as a judge, and now as a teacher.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Mike McChrystal

    Amen. Chuck Clausen’s influence on my career and life has also been profound. As a mentor, teacher, and friend, Chuck’s impulse to share his magnificent talents, knowledge, insight, time, and even his physical labor showed the altruism which runs deep within him.

    Chuck Clausen was quite new to law teaching when Janine and I were his students, and his teaching load was awesome by current standards. In a given semester, he might have 160 first year students in a four credit property course and 140 second year students in a four credit commercial transactions course. He was also an assistant University legal counsel and the father of two young children. But Chuck always had time for students, in his office or his home or over beers in a Marquette tavern.

    Chuck’s powerful intellect and warm heart have helped many Marquette lawyers to discover their better selves.

  2. Gordon Hylton

    I only knew Chuck near the end of his academic career but I have never had a colleague that I more admired and respected. Teaching the ill-fated Lawyer in American Society course with him ranks as one of my best Marquette experiences. Chuck is a profound thinker, the possessor of a wonderful sense of humor, and, as Janine mentioned above, a real renaissance man of the law. I thought his presentation at the centennial symposis was the best of the lot. I regret that our current students have not had the benefit of having him as a teacher.

  3. Judge Maxine White

    Professor Clausen’s “ministry” continued beyond Marquette. He was one of my favorite law professors. He served as the executive director at the House of Peace during a very critical phase. His brand of leadership served as a renewal – a kind of catalyst for the transformative ministry that the House of Peace continues to provide to our community. As the newly installed president of the House of Peace Advisory Board I was truly blessed to have Professor Clausen’s friendship and guidance. As he frequently reminded us – the people we served deserved nothing less than our very best. Thank you Professor Geske for reminding us of this very very special person on the dawn of a new year.

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