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June 21, 2018 Articles

Adjunct Anecdotes

By Julia B. Meister

Your professional accomplishments and reputation motivate a local law school to request your assistance as an adjunct professor. What should you expect if you agree?

Generously Estimate the Time Commitment
Some in private practice may underestimate the amount of time they’ll need to devote to teaching a class, even as an adjunct faculty member. My practice includes litigation, and it was important for me to ensure that deadlines and last-minute hearings did not interfere with class preparation and one evening a week of classroom time—and vice versa. Supportive colleagues, particularly my amazing longtime legal assistant, helped me stay organized and to devote the time I needed to teaching while continuing to serve our firm’s clients. As I most recently taught one evening a week, I reserved for preparation and student questions one evening a week, a few hours over each weekend, and the entire afternoon of the day I taught. I enjoyed working with my students so much that none of this preparation or class time felt like any form of sacrifice. (This, despite the fact that adjunct work does not pay highly. Pay was not my motivation for agreeing to teach as an adjunct; it never entered into my decision.) The experience of imparting substantive knowledge to and sharing my practical experiences with my students also reminded me of how much I enjoy my practice, substantively, and how much I enjoy helping my clients. It was a “win-win.”

Enjoy Your Professional Work with Millennials
To be sure, if you’re teaching (or managing) budding lawyers these days, you are interacting with millennials. Even for those who are parents and friends of millennials, the generational differences have been described as daunting and deserving of focus and study in the modern workplace. Spending time with millennials as an adjunct increased understanding and fostered respect in me, a self-described “Gen Xer.” Lauren Stiller Rikleen wrote for the ABA that millennials are a productive generation deserving of appreciation and emphasizes their heightened problem-solving skills: “Millennials . . . have always been encouraged to ask questions and may have relied on a supportive network to help solve problems in the past.” “Millennials: What Other Generations Say about You,” 39 L. Prac. Mag., May/June 2013. For my adjunct teaching experience, this translated into a curious class with high expectations of me and each other. My students were not afraid to ask questions, either in class or outside of class, and demonstrated a collaborative approach, as a class, to mastering the material. Indeed, the class collectively submitted questions to me in advance of a review session I scheduled prior to the final exam—the list of questions being a product of their studying and organizing material together.

Keep Your Own Knowledge and Skills Sharp
Another ABA commentator made this observation about adjunct teaching for active practitioners:

By teaching a course in a subject area in which you practice you will learn your area of law in a different and more comprehensive way. When you prepare for a class, you must identify the source of doctrines that you may previously have taken as “obvious.” As you review material for the class, you will learn that some of what you have taken as “black letter law” is absolutely wrong.

David Lander, “Part Time, But Fully Loaded: Being an Adjunct Law Prof: Lessons and Rewards,” 14 Bus. L. Today, July/Aug. 2005.

This was also my experience, and I know my practice and my clients benefited.

Learn the Ropes by Asking Questions
The administrators at the law school where I most recently served as an adjunct professor were always available for my questions and were gracious in providing the support I needed. They enthusiastically supported and helped to facilitate my ideas, such as bringing in a local judge and another outside speaker to provide additional perspective on the material we covered. Experienced colleagues at my own firm and other local firms also served as sounding boards for me.

Prepare to Be Impressed and Inspired
It came as no surprise, but it did delight me to watch my students master the material and ask questions that challenged me and each other. Even better was listening to them argue point and counterpoint on the topics we covered in class. I look forward to seeing my students succeed in their practices in the years to come and will remain grateful to them and to the law school for this experience.

Julia B. Meister most recently served as an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. She is a partner in the Litigation, Private Client and Health and Life Sciences groups at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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