An Interview with Professor Jack Kircher

[Editor’s Note: This blog is the third in a series of interviews with faculty and staff at the Law School.]

A member of the Law School faculty since 1970, Professor Kircher teaches torts, insurance, products liability, and seminars in advanced issues on torts. He received the Marquette University Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence in 1986 and the Marquette Law Review Editors’ Award in 1988. In 1993 he received the American Bar Association Tort and Insurance Practice Section’s Robert B. McKay Award for distinction in the teaching of torts and insurance law. Before coming to the Law School, he practiced law and subsequently was Research Director of the Defense Research Institute. He has chaired the Wisconsin Judicial Council and the Wisconsin Supreme Court Board of Bar Examiners. He is coauthor of Punitive Damages: Law and Practice. Professor Kircher is a member of the Editorial Board of the Defense Law Journal, and was Editor of the Federation of Defense & Corporate Counsel Quarterly.

Question:  How did you first become interested in insurance and tort law, and what do you find most intriguing about those areas of law?

My interest in the two subjects started in law school, most probably because they were taught by my favorite professor, Jim Ghiardi. It developed in my first three years after law school due to my work in a defense firm that handled cases in those two areas. It developed further and faster thereafter when Jim asked me to join him as his second-in-command at a legal think tank, the Defense Research Institute, that concentrated its work in those two areas. Also the two subjects are interesting to me because the law constantly changes. In fact, by the time I left the Law School the Wisconsin Supreme Court had changed about 25 percent of what I learned in first-year Torts. I would expect that most of the law I learned in my other courses has remained nearly the same.

Question:  What is your favorite case to teach?

Palsgraf v. Long Island R. Co., 248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99 (1928), is my favorite case to teach. It comes upon the 1Ls early in their study of negligence and presents the students with two different views of the issue of “duty” in the majority opinion of Cardozo and the dissent of Andrews — the first time they encounter such conflict in one case. After discussing the merits of those views, the students then learn that Wisconsin follows the Andrews dissent as to the issue of duty. The case is considered again when we reach the subject of legal cause with both jurists conflicting again, albeit in dicta. It also serves as an introduction to Cardozo, whose opinions we explore in other areas of negligence law.

Question:  How has teaching law stayed the same or changed over the years?

Someone once said, possibly me, that the more things change the more they stay the same. I do not believe that teaching law has changed all that much. What has changed considerably are the means available to teach. Now we have PowerPoint, online ability to find and read cases, statutes, and other pertinent information. Students are now able to bring laptop computers into the classroom.

Question:  How would you recommend studying for class?

My answer to this question relates directly to my answer to the previous question. Technology makes it more difficult for law students to put the concepts they study in their own words. They are able to find that which they study (cases, statutes, etc.) online, highlight that which they think is important, and move on. They are able to use “highlighter” pens to mark up their casebooks. “Briefs” of what they study are seldom used. Before the technology developed they were forced to “brief” the materials in their own words.

Question:  You are both a professor at the Law School and also a Marquette Law alum. What makes being a Marquette lawyer special?

What makes a “Marquette Lawyer” special is that we concentrate on the practical in our teaching. As a result, our graduates hit the ground running when they enter practice. We discuss theory with students, but do not make that our emphasis.

Question:  I’m sure you have many memories about teaching at the Law School. What is one memory you’d like to share?

Actually my most vivid memory was from my time as a law student. I was taking a course called “Bills and Notes” from the beloved Prof. Ray J. Aiken. I suspect the course would be called “Negotiable Instruments” or something similar today. Prof. Aiken and I got into an argument about some matter just as class ended. Prof. Aiken then said “Mr. Kircher, if you don’t think I’m correct, go to the library and look up this case.” He then gave me a citation. I went and looked up the case, and it had absolutely nothing to do with our argued point. I went to his office with the book with the case in hand. I dumped it on his desk and said “what the Hell has this got to do with what we argued about.” His response was to say that he probably gave me the wrong cite. He then went on for over an hour telling me why he thought the case I found was so important and significant. Later I left his office and could not remember the subject of our initial argument.

Question:  What is the best piece of advice you can give to newly minted lawyers?

My advice to the “newly minted lawyer” would be to remain flexible. When I was a law student I wanted to be a litigator. If someone told me I would later teach law, I would have suggested that they take a breath test. But when I was young I was able and willing to try new things. Here I am today!

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