A Teaching Faculty

by Mike Bombace

As previously noted, two of our current first-year students will be periodically blogging about their experiences at W&L Law. Today, like Jessica’s post earlier this week, Mike Bombace takes on the subject of just what it means to learn the law from a true teaching faculty.

I hope you enjoyed my last post. My posts will build on each other, so if you haven’t had a chance to read it, be sure to check it out. Many of you probably read every flyer, website, and even other blogs for law schools. And rightfully so. Choosing a law school is a tough decision, and you want to make sure you are making a fully informed choice. Last year I did the same, and, in so doing, I came across a number of schools that championed the openness of their faculty. However, I found only a few could live up to that claim. However, I am proud to say that W&L does not so much live up to that claim as embody it. At our law school, faculty accessibility is absolutely central to the school’s educational identity. In many ways, it is what a W&L Law education is all about. It is why a lot of us came here, and, undoubtedly why a lot of our professors teach here.

As you likely know from your research, there are a million different approaches to law school. It seems like no two law schools educate their students in quite the same way. At W&L, the approach is a more personal one. It is a pedagogical orientation built upon relationships, individual attention and the very real idea that learning should not (or, perhaps more precisely, can not) be confined to just the classroom. It is one of the things that makes our law school truly different. And, of course, this only further reinforces the strong sense of community that is so pervasive out our law school. This is a law school with a very real and tangible identity, and, for me, this sense of place is the direct result of the fact that so many students and professors are actively engaged in the life of the law school. In some ways, given our small size (about 400 students) and location (Lexington has about 7,000 residents), a sense of community is inevitable. However, there is a difference between a sense of community and this sense of community. For me, the feel of our campus is uniquely W&L. It is an expression of not only our size and location, but also our school’s values and orientation.

But what does all this mean for your time as a student at W&L Law? Well, it means a few things. One, your professors will really know their material. At our law school, you will have the opportunity to learn from some of the brightest legal minds in the country. My Contracts professor is the preeminent authority on the application of contract law to video games. Think user license agreements, terms of service, etc. And trust me, it makes for some lively discussion. It is a subject about which he is incredibly passionate, and his enthusiasm is infectious. Not only does he know the law of contracts broadly, but he also knows how these principles apply to his specialty. And the same can be said for all of my professors. They absolutely know their stuff.

Admittedly, the above point seems like a bit of a given and something you should expect from every law school professor. At W&L, the difference is more in the quality and character of the instruction you receive. Professors here can really teach. With professors, there is a often gap between expertise in a field (either by practice or scholarship) and ability to instruct. Being the foremost authority on a given subject does not necessarily mean that person is the best at explaining it to other people. At W&L, you will learn from people who are working at the forefront of their respective areas of scholarship, and who can really make the material come to life. Every one of my professors excels at this.

On paper, law school has the potential to be a little boring. The material is difficult, tedious and oftentimes confusing. Consequently, it is incredibly important to have professors who can help you make sense of it all and truly capture your interest. I am consistently impressed by how my professors are able to animate subjects that seemingly defy easy animation. How do they manage to tease out comments and discussion from students? Well, I would argue, this ability is a result of their genuine commitment to their students. They care. They care about whether or not we are getting it. They are care about whether or not we are engaged. They care about how we are experiencing their course but also law school. While it’s a little difficult to articulate, there is a feeling that comes with living and learning in this kind of environment. It’s the feeling of being supported. Law school is hard, but at W&L, you are definitely not on your own.

And law school (or at the very least, this law school) is not just about what happens in the classroom. In some ways, it’s as much about what happens outside the classroom. And my professors also excel at this more individualized form of instruction. I have personally stayed after class or stopped by during office hours many times. While initially this all felt a little different, over time it has come to feel fairly regular and familiar. It’s kind of  what students do here. After all, the fact that you can actually have this kind of contact with your professors is one of the reasons why many of us came to W&L in the first place.

Of course, once you’re in an environment, it becomes the norm, and you begin to think that this is just how things are. Maybe everywhere. After all, this is the only law school I’ve ever really known. For me, being able to stop by a professor’s office or speak with her after class is, much like casebooks or outlining, just part of law school. I won’t say this kind of contact is something you ever take for granted, but, at W&L, it is something that feels fairly commonplace. It’s hard to imagine this law school any other way. However, a recent visit by one of my friends from high school reminded me of our faculty’s exceptional qualities.

This friend came with me to two classes, Contracts and Torts, and he really enjoyed the experience. He even stayed after my Torts class to listen to other students ask questions. When everyone else had cleared out, he stayed to ask some of his own. I came back almost an hour later to find him. He was still there talking with the professor. He could have easily just left and went on his way.  Rather, he stayed. And the professor was happy to speak with him. And this is someone who isn’t even a student here. As you might imagine, he left with a great impression of W&L, and of the faculty in particular. And because of these classes and his interactions with my professor, he is now even more excited about law school.

In some ways, my experience is unique. I am someone who came to W&L Law looking for faculty contact. I never hesitate to stop by an office, send a funny legal cartoon, or talk about relevant personal stuff. I frequently see professors running the same trails I do, cycling by, dining next to me at a local restaurant, or attending one of our many social events. Nevertheless, there is also something fairly universal about these encounters. They are something every W&L student can experience. If you are someone who has found such relationships meaningful in your past academic experiences, you can absolutely find them at W&L Law. There is just a tremendous potential here for students who are looking to actively participate in their legal education.

I’ll finish with an idea I will bring up again:  W&L is not for everyone. If you want to experience all that law school can be and get what you want out of it, you won’t achieve much without excellent professors and staff.  If you don’t want to be engaged on a personal level, then W&L may not be the place for you. However, if you are looking for this kind of engagement, it is a great place to go to law school.

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