What Has Changed the Most in Legal Education Since You Became a Law Professor?

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[Editor’s Note: This month, we asked a few veteran faculty members to share their reflections on what has changed the most in legal education since they became law professors.  This post is the first in the series.]

I became a law professor in 1970, my first year on the Georgetown law faculty. I believe that one of the most changed aspects of legal education in the past forty-one years is the care and feeding of law students. By that, I refer to the remarkable proliferation of in-house extra-curricular activities. Innumerable law societies shedding light on the various interests of students and weekly opportunities to hear great speakers are but the tip of the iceberg. Not to be overlooked is the availability of frequent free lunches at these noon events. So much for the “feeding.” As to the “care,” the heightened interaction between faculty and students represents a fundamental change in legal education. I do not believe that I ever spoke to one of my professors outside of class. Contrast this with the expectations of today’s students. To conclude, I almost wish I were a law student now instead of then.

What I Wish I Had Known When I Started Law School, Part I

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Editors’ Note: As each new 1L class begins its legal education, our thoughts often turn back to our own first few weeks of law school.  This post begins a new series on “What I Wish I Had Known When I Started Law School.”

I went to law school for all the wrong reasons. When I started in Georgetown’s part-time, evening division, I had been doing real estate development for four or five years. I was a client before I was a law student. I became quite annoyed that my attorneys seemed to be patronizing me. They spoke a language that was foreign to me. I decided to go to law school to find out what the mystique was all about and, hopefully, to emerge as a better developer.

About six weeks into law school, I realized that I was “turned on” by my studies. I told myself that I knew that I had played a lot as an undergraduate at Penn, but I had never before been intellectually excited by school. I told myself to slow down and enjoy the journey. I did just that and it changed my life. After law school, I gave up my real estate business and clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, after which I joined the Georgetown Law faculty. I came to believe that the journey through law school was one of the best parts of my life.

Appreciating Our Professors: Thomas O’Toole

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It was over in the twinkling of an eye. The entire event took, at most, ten seconds, but in that incredibly brief time I learned that the study of law was the right thing for me. The time was mid-September, 1963. The place was the old Georgetown University Law Center at 5th and E Streets, N.W. The room was shaped like a bowling alley. One hundred and twenty-five part-time evening students were shoehorned into that room. At precisely 5:45 P.M., Professor Thomas O’Toole entered the room from the back. It was the only way in and out of the room in which Constitutional law was being taught. Professor O’Toole took one step, paused, and from the back of the room, spoke in a loud, clear voice, “Mr. Chase, why was the Court in Euclid concerned about the scope of the town’s zoning plan?” Before Mr. Chase could answer, the Professor took another step into the room, paused, and said, “Mr. Kossow, why did I ask that question ?”

A few seconds later, after I had choked on an answer that included the words “comprehensive plan,” the Professor walked to the front of the class and said, “Mr. Hubbard, do you agree with Mr. Kossow’s answer?”

Forty-five years later, I remember verbatim the incident. Professor O’Toole, in ten seconds, changed the direction of my life.