Rajiv: Please talk a little bit about what are you doing currently.
Sam: I am a professor at Temple University, where I teach law, anatomy, and forensics. This is my 47th year of teaching. I was also a litigation attorney for many years handling complicated medical matters. In addition to teaching, I am a national lecturer, teaching medicine to lawyers. I’ve taught over 500 continuing legal education courses around the country and my Into the Lab program was the recipient of an award for the best CLE program in the country. I have transitioned from being a trial attorney to serving as a neutral arbitrator and mediator with a dispute resolution service in Philadelphia. That’s my academic and professional background. However, I love to write and spend many hours pursuing this endeavor. I have written hundreds of articles, several medical and legal texts, and multiple supplements to those publications.
Wow. That’s a lot. Out of all the jobs that you have ever held, which one have you enjoyed the most?
I enjoyed practicing, but my passion is teaching. It is so satisfying working with students when they know little about the law. And by the end of the semester, they can argue forcibly about a legal concept. It is gratifying to mold a person’s thought process and see them gain an appreciation of an area of law or medicine.
How would you distinguish the life of a purveyor of education from a purveyor of practice?
A litigation attorney’s life is very hectic and unpredictable. In Philadelphia, a matter goes on the trial list, and you must be ready on half an hour’s notice to try the case. While trial work was enjoyable, it was very chaotic. I love teaching because you can craft your course presentation months in advance, and no one is looking over your shoulder objecting to how you explain something. Litigation’s hectic aspect is the distinguishing factor.
I’d love to hear any of your war stories if you have something that you want to tell us about your teaching experience or even practice experience.
I started teaching one year after law school. In the beginning, I was younger than some students in my classes. A strange experience that occurred early in my academic career is when one of the students in my class was a high school classmate. But what made me feel old was when a student came up to me and said, “My mom says hi.” She was a former student. So, I had gone through two generations. It’s also interesting to have cases against students that I taught in law school. That’s a gratifying feeling.
If a young law student or a lawyer asked how to get into the profession of teaching, what would be your advice to them?
I became an educator by accident. I was just out of law school, and a lawyer I worked for said, “I can’t make my contracts course tonight. Will you go teach the class?” So, I did and fell in love with it. Over the years, I have taught more than 25,000 students and countless lawyers, judges, and insurance professionals. I also served as chair of the legal studies department at Temple University for 25 years. My advice to somebody who wants to become involved with teaching is to publish. The key to getting a teaching position is publication. It really is “publish or perish” in an academic environment and a person who has written articles has an advantage in securing a teaching position.
When you say “publish,” what kinds of publications do you think help? Publications for a lawyer can range anywhere from practical, legal advice like we have in The Practical Lawyer to comment pieces in newspapers of general circulation to highly academic peer review journals.
Law firms and academic institutions love people who have written law review articles. However, law reviews are not the only important publication outlet. A practice or professional journal is just as important to show your diversity and understanding of a topic. The idea is to demonstrate that you have mastered an issue and can explain it to others in a logical format. After all, a practicing lawyer must possess two skills—writing and advocacy. These talents are on display when you write an article. So yes, law review is the key, but professional and practical journals are also important.
Even for those who do not wish to teach, how do we improve our writing and our oral advocacy?
Practice makes perfect. Writing eloquently or writing as an advocate are acquired skills. When I graduated from high school, I found writing a chore. I now enjoy the process and attribute that transformation to practice. Most colleges and law schools now recognize the importance of writing. This skill is incorporated into most curriculums. Law schools force students to practice writing during their first-year legal writing courses. The two law school classes I teach require multiple written research papers over the semester. Even when I teach an undergraduate course, I require the students to turn in multiple papers. Writing is an essential skill that must be mastered, and it is important to have someone continually provide feedback about your writing abilities. And with repetition, it becomes easier and more comfortable.
How about oral advocacy? What are your pointers for oral advocacy, whether it’s at the trial level or the appellate level?
I owe my success to preparation. I also learn from my mistakes and use these experiences to improve my work. For instance, I never teach a course the same way twice. I’m constantly refining and making it better. I am also a firm believer in demonstrative evidence. Today’s generation receives their information visually. My peers learned by reading. Information delivery systems have changed to accommodate this new reality. Trial attorneys need to convey evidence through visual representations. This type of presentation resonates so much better with factfinders. I incorporate the same principles when I teach law or anatomy. I spend a great deal of time creating animations, graphics, illustrations, and videos to convey the materials in an educational but exciting format. I call this “edutainment.” A person wants to be educated and entertained at the same time. The same is true in a courtroom. Counsel needs to engage the jury by showing visual representations of the evidence as you tell a story. This helps you engage the audience or factfinder and tell a narrative they’ll follow.
CLICK HERE to read the full article, which was originally published in ALI CLE’s The Practical Lawyer.