chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
June 21, 2018 Articles

Law and Teaching: A Primer

By Carla Varriale

“The thing I loved the most—and still love the most about teaching—is that you can connect with an individual or a group, and see that individual or group exceed their limits.”

—Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University Men’s Basketball Coach

Teaching and the practice of law are more alike than you might think. While they are ostensibly different careers, with different responsibilities, rewards, and challenges, they share some similarities. Both fields require intellectual ability, discipline, and an innate ability to connect with people. Both careers require rigorous preparation and the ability to harness your imagination and the imagination of your audience, whether your audience consists of clients, judges, pupils, or administrators. Lawyers are, by necessity, lifetime students who are required to keep abreast of developments and changes in the law. Good trial lawyers are natural educators, and the treasured mentoring relationship between partners and associates evokes many of the qualities that are considered teaching skills.

Teaching is a natural second (or, in my case, a concurrent) career to the practice of law. I enjoyed school and was a good student. When I was about to graduate from college, I was torn between pursuing a graduate degree in education, so that I could teach (and stay in school forever) and going to law school, so that I could go to court. It turns out that my career path led to both.

After college, while I was undecided about taking the LSAT or the GRE, I interviewed for a job at a judicially created organization that monitored the desegregation orders applied to the Boston public schools. The job had a little bit of exposure to the legal world and a little bit of exposure to the education world: It was a perfect and eye-opening first job. For one year after my college graduation, I had the opportunity to work with the city government, advocacy groups, and parents, and, most importantly, I had the opportunity to visit classrooms and to talk to teachers. After a year, I decided to go to law school because I felt inspired by the way that law could shape people’s lives for the better.

After years of practice and litigating countless cases, I was invited by a colleague (he had been an adversary’s expert on a case I had worked) to come to his class and to lecture on current cases involving sports law at a nascent sports management program at Columbia University. After being out of a classroom for more than a decade, I found it exciting and comforting to be “back” in school. The truth was that I had never left. The lecture went well. The students were engaged and some stayed after class to ask questions and offer opinions about what we had discussed and to ask me about my work. I felt energized and engaged too. No matter that I had already put in a full day at the office, I felt upbeat and excited about our discussions after class. As the program grew, the school asked me to teach a “Sports Law and Ethics” class to its graduate students: Ten years later, I am still teaching and my class has grown, as has my love of teaching and connecting with students. The nascent program is now internationally recognized, with students from around the world. I have also grown, in confidence, in satisfaction, and in personal and professional happiness. Now my one evening a week in the classroom is the one I look forward to the most. Even when the lesson is antitrust.

Perhaps you are like me and always enjoyed school and consider yourself a lifetime student. Perhaps you are intrigued by, but hesitant about, adding a teaching gig to your repertoire. Here’s why you should not be hesitant and some practical pointers to get started:

1. Investigate. There are a variety of programs that can offer you an opportunity to get in the classroom. Do not limit yourself to law schools; those positions are highly coveted and competitive. Consider local high schools, community colleges, continuing education programs. Cast a wide net and look at local schools’ websites or websites such as for opportunities.

2. Share. Your knowledge and expertise are unique; they are your “brand.” Use your expertise and your uniqueness. All lawyers have some area or areas of specialty; do not be shy about yours or touting your accomplishments as a lawyer. Develop your expertise by writing about topics of interest and that reinforce your specialty. Local bar associations, for example, offer opportunities to speak on your practice specialty or to develop or speak on panels or educational programs. This is a good way to get your toe in the water if you feel hesitant about whether you can teach—chances are, you can.

3. Create. You will need to create a syllabus. I initially used a syllabus that a colleague from another sports law program gave to me as a model. Over the years, I have tweaked it and added things and taken things out. I also received samples from other colleagues who were already teaching sports law classes and I borrowed from those as well. Some schools post a syllabus along with the course information online. Otherwise, you’ll need to write one (and select a textbook and other reading materials) to get started. Again, I received suggestions for a textbook (and some publishers were kind enough to send textbooks for me to review, along with teacher’s guides containing lesson suggestions). You will need a suitable syllabus, textbook, and supplementary reading materials to get started.

4. Innovate. Likewise, if you develop a syllabus and select an appropriate textbook, you may be able to persuade an institution to offer a class in your field . . . with you as the teacher. Make your own market!

5. Find community. One of my favorite parts of my teaching experience at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies is the wonderful community of friends, colleagues, and alumni I have met. I am in communication with many of my former students, some of whom went on to law school and other stellar careers in sports. I benefited enormously from the experience of meeting and working with other teachers and adjunct professors, some of whom I subsequently worked with as experts or even clients in my “other” job as a lawyer. Become a part of the school community and the rewards you experience as a teacher multiply exponentially, I promise.

6. Develop. My school offers many training and professional development opportunities. I am grateful that my school has given me an opportunity to attend lectures and symposia with industry leaders, opportunities I might not otherwise have had if I was “just” a lawyer. The professional development also keeps me current and knowledgeable about my practice area.

7. Don’t focus on the money. I put that last because it is not about the money. Keep in mind you will not be doing it for the pay (it is modest), but the payoff is priceless.

Carla Varriale is a partner at Havkins Rosenfeld Ritzert and Varriale, LLP, in New York, New York.

Copyright © 2018, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).