Friday, March 10, 2017

Early 2017 stuff, or: How I briefly disappeared from the blogosphere and found some unexpected new happiness

It's early March. Okay, it's more like the early part of mid-March. I knew I'd been neglecting this blog a bit, but whoa.... Going over two months without a post is no way to run one of these things.

The only positive side of this neglect is the explanation. It's not some generic pablum about being "busy"; instead, it's more like: "I STARTED THIS COOL NEW THING!!"

The COOL NEW THING? Teaching. And, yes, that's kept me "busy."

I'm a lawyer during the day. You may recall that we don't talk about that much here. We still don't, but I'm reasonably accomplished at what I do, and so a while ago a colleague noted to me that a local law school was looking for an adjunct professor. "You should totally do this," she said. "It'll be something different, and you have a lot to offer the students in terms of real-world practice and courtroom experience."

I initially made "How dare you interrupt my cushy comfortable day-to-day existence with a challenge" noises that sounded a lot like, "Ummmmm. <pause> Ughhhhhhh. <pause> Really? <pause> Ahhhhh, shit. <pause> I mean maybe. <pause> I've taught seminars. And I definitely would have a handle on this course, which is basically 'how to do my day job.'" More grumbling noises followed.

She saw the crack in the armor: "Come onnnnnnn. It's all about giving back, you know."

She got me. In the grand scheme of things, life is really all about giving back. I've done lots of "giving back" work over the years. Coaching kids. Escorting patients at a women's health clinic past stupid protestors that were yelling hateful things. More recently, I've been volunteering with shelter dogs for a while now. It was time to focus again on people....

So I contacted the prof who was running the program. She liked my experience level -- not my law-school teaching experience level, mind you; that was non-existent. She liked my real-world experience level. I was in.

It started out as a lot of work. A lot of work. For me. The class has to prepare a brief and argue an appeal in front of a panel of mock "judges." The legal problem they were given is reasonably interesting, but it's complicated as hell. It's also in an area of law that I knew nothing about before I saw the problem. Nothing. That phrase is not hyperbole on my part. Nothing. Nada. Not a damn thing.

So a few weeks before the semester started, I had some time off from the day job and I dug into the assignment/problem. I mapped out all of its permutations, muttered profanities under my breath, and eventually "got" it -- "it" being the gist of the whole thing, in rather extreme detail. Dealing with, and explaining, extreme detail is part of my day-to-day practice of law. I wondered aloud how second and third-year law students would do with this sort of detail though....

And then I had a horrible memory: way back in law school I had a class like this and it was a bit of a nightmare. The prof did not give us a lot of guidance on the legal problem. Instead, he taught us the generics of how to brief and argue a case, but he left the legal intricacies of the actual assignment to us. That didn't work out so well for me. I got off on the wrong tangent and turned in a draft brief that, in hindsight, was awful, misguided and just plain wrong. The teaching assistant gave me a deservedly horrendous review and then she made suggestions to improve the final product. I followed those suggestions and did okay with the revisions, but I recall thinking to myself that I could have done so much better if only I hadn't gotten so far off track initially.

So I made a vow that no one in my class was going to get left that far behind.

One of the attractions of this course to an adjunct coming in from the real world is that the profs teaching the individual sections are given a load of freedom regarding how to convey the material. There's a pre-made syllabus that we are handed, and we get suggestions on what we might want to do each week, but the actual content is up to us. We aren't robots and we aren't treated like we are. It's cool that way. So I chose to teach the course the way I would have wanted to be taught it when I was in law school. It's not a legal-research course; it focuses on advocacy skills. Amidst trying to convey various written- and oral-advocacy skills, each week I have also tried to dig a little deeper into explaining the law related to the assignment, thereby honoring that "no one left behind" pledge. You can't advocate for something that you don't understand.

I think the plan is working. Everyone is at least in the neighborhood, legally speaking, in which he or she needs to be. Sure, some students demonstrate a little more complexity of thought and understanding than others regarding the assignment. I expect that. It's a mandatory course and everyone doesn't respond as gleefully as others to being compelled to a task.

But I'm totally digging watching the lights burn a little brighter in their young-lawyer brains. That whole "joy of giving back" thing? Yup. Yup. Yup.

But back to the "busy" part of the deal, and why I haven't been here at all.... Damnnnnnnn if all this teaching work didn't crush my free time early on in the semester. I mean... I have a day job for eff's sake. So ordinary work hours weren't going to be spent on teaching work. Weekends and nights were where I'd have to fit it all in. There were assignments each week, early on, that I had to evaluate and return with comments. It was rewarding, in that I'd get to fine-tune a lot of already good work. But the time crush was stressful at first. Those close to me might tell you I was a little wound up. They might even tell you I was a lot wound up. They might even have heard me say at one point that there was "no way in hell I can ever do this again because I have no free time at the moment."

I may have said that. I was lying. That was weeks ago. In the interim, I've gotten some great feedback that lets me know the "plan" seems to be working. All the students seem to have the basic legal understanding regarding the assignment that I wanted to make sure they had. Some are miles past "basic" in that regard, but everyone is up to speed. I'm pretty happy with that. I'm really happy with that.

The semester's not over. We are only at the halfway point. Drafts of their final assignment are due this week and, necessarily -- because life is like that -- some people are going to perform better on the actual task than others, but I like to think that no one is going to feel that horrible "lost" feeling that I did way back when. And that makes me feel really good.

So there's the story of my blog silence. Yeah, I've been busy. Not generically busy, but really specifically busy. I had no idea I was going to like this gig this much. Old dog. New tricks. Giving back. Good times.