I know many law professors make an effort to highlight role models for our students, and to emphasize a diversity of legal luminaries during class. In this post I offer a few reflections on why I find it useful to do so, and share excerpts from my slides highlighting diverse role models that come up naturally in a 1L Legislation and Regulation course (I teach the Manning & Stephenson book but they may well fit in elsewhere).
Why highlight diverse role models?
I personally find that highlighting diverse role models in leg-reg is a great way to inspire students from all backgrounds. At the same time, it humanizes and motivates very abstract questions—deepening and accelerating our “substantive” learning. And as an added bonus, taking a small amount of class time to focus on leaders in the law helps show students there are leaders in the law who put service to the profession and preservation of the rule of law above other interests. I worry a lot that if I emphasize politicized decisions and jurists more than apoliticized ones, I will fail to communicate to students how many lawyers and jurists strive to put the rule of law first, and so fail to inculcate rule of law values.
Moreover, knowing a little bit about legal luminaries is part of what marks a person as an “insider” in legal circles, able to join in the conversation at receptions or events. My students who grew up around lawyers or who majored in adjacent subjects may already know well who Thurgood Marshall is, but I have found that a plurality of students do not. It is a tremendous responsibility to begin to introduce students to such greats of the law, and thereby help bring them “into” the profession.
With all this in mind, I try to take just a few minutes in class (fewer than five) to discuss legal luminaries as they come up in our reading or discussion. I find that there are many organic opportunities to do this. When we read an opinion Justice Marshall authored, I can simply ask as part of a cold call “who is the judge,” and then “who are they” to introduce a brief slide explaining. Nothing in depth, just enough to introduce them and whet the appetite for students who may wish to learn more.
In case helpful to other professors incorporating brief introductions about diverse role models into their leg-reg or admin law classes, I’m attaching to this blog post several slide excerpts I work in at various points in class. These are keyed to and will be most helpful for those teaching Legislation and Regulation from the Manning & Stephenson book, but I hope they might be helpful to others teaching leg-reg or admin law as well (they are pretty admin heavy). My selection of a handful of people to spotlight has been organic, not scientific: just people who fit very naturally into the course reading progression or lecture who have done inspirational things, and who might help at least a few of my students see that they, too, “belong” in the law, regardless of their background. Of course, if anyone builds on or improves these slides, I would welcome feedback!
Matthew B. Lawrence is an Associate Professor at Emory Law. Follow him on Twitter here.