So, You Want To Teach?

So, You Want To Teach?

Many in-house counsel want to add the role of educator to their skills roster. Olga Mack and Troy Foster, a partner in the emerging growth practice group at Perkins Coie, recently taught Financial Statement Analysis for Lawyers at the University of Berkeley School of Law. The experience of teaching at Berkeley’s School of Law was tremendously rewarding and a source of both personal and professional growth for Foster and Mack. Below, they share their top 9 tips and inspirations for success.

Educate Yourself

Numerous books are available about teaching benefits and methods. Teaching Law for Adjuncts is a book that many adjunct professors recommend. A few other books are recommended as well: What the Best Law Teachers DoStudent Learning Outcomes and Law School Assessment: A Practical Guide to Measuring Institutional Effectiveness, and Strategies and Techniques of Law School Teaching: A Primer for New (And Not So New) Professors.

Build Your Academic Network

Trying to find a non-legal job is a new experience for most seasoned outside counsel. Start small: lunchtime talks or panels offer an excellent opportunity to join the academic community at an educational institution. Many student groups are eager to have an industry speaker share their experiences and interact with students. After proving yourself as a speaker and educator within the community, you may be invited to teach.

Find the Right Opportunity

Teaching options are endless and are often flexible enough for attorneys to balance with legal practice. Many practicing in-house, law firm, and government attorneys teach semester-long classes, brief courses, and seminars. These opportunities are available at law schools, business schools, colleges, and other institutions, both on- and off- line. Usually, one’s alma mater provides an excellent starting point for the educational inquiry.

Online or Offline

Teaching online may give in-house counsel the flexibility they need to embark on this journey. Both online and offline teaching have their virtues and vices. Online teaching is more accessible and has a higher likelihood of reaching the hearts and minds of a wider audience. Offline teaching usually leads to more personal connections and hands-on experience. If you do choose to teach online, watch other online lecturers, and practice your lessons ahead of time to make sure you develop an interactive and interesting style.

Choosing a Topic

Consider teaching a topic you know well and are passionate about. Teaching is a time-consuming pursuit that includes class preparation, lesson planning, and grading, in addition to actual classroom teaching time. Eager students will often seek you out for follow-up outside your normal classroom and office hours. Building on a topic you already know and love will ultimately make the time you spend preparing and teaching more enjoyable. And of course, your passion for the subject matter will shine through, giving your students a more satisfying and engaging learning experience.

Perfecting Your Style

How you teach will be at least partially dictated by what you teach. There are many ways to enhance the typical classroom experience for your students. Going beyond lectures will engage your students and allow them to apply your lessons in practice. However, it’s important to factor in how well any add-ons will mesh with your subject matter. In determining whether your class should include guest speakers, books, articles, videos, mock negotiations, mock arguments, field trips, or other add-ons, consider the subject matter you want to teach and the objective for your class. For other ideas on how great teachers communicate difficult concepts to students, check out the free online educational resources from Kahn Academy.

Know Your Students

When developing your class, it is important to consider the student. If you teach at a law school, consider whether your class is appropriate for LLM students. These students are often not as familiar with the US legal system or as fluent in English as traditional JD students. If you are teaching a first-year class, by contrast, your students may be less familiar with many basic concepts that practitioners take for granted. If you teach outside of law school, it may be a good idea to include an overview of basic legal principles and the legal system. It’s important to view the topic from the perspective of someone without your legal training and experience.

Intrinsic Versus Financial Rewards

Many teachers decide to teach because they enjoy it. As an adjunct professor, if you are compensated at all, it will normally be a relatively nominal remuneration, and certainly less than what you would typically make practicing law. Most adjunct professors make their own copies and provide their own gifts to guest speakers. For our recent class, which commenced at 8:30am, we went the extra mile of providing donuts to help “energize” the class! Many adjuncts joke that they “lose money” in the process. If you choose to embark on a teaching journey, know that you should not be in it for the money.

Imitation Is the Best Form of Flattery

One of the best ways to become an amazing teacher is to observe professors and adjunct professors who have excellent teaching reputations. Seek out professors who have been teaching for a while and truly care about teaching. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask them for strategies — if they are truly passionate about teaching, they will be open to share their craft. Visiting their classrooms to see them in action is also a useful way to explore potential teaching strategies for your own class.

We want to know which topics would you most want to teach about? Do you have additional questions about teaching? Tweet us with your questions and thoughts!

This article was originally published by Above the Law.

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