Ideas from the Front
Despite the Time Commitment, Adjunct Professors Love the Lectern
Posted Feb 1, 2004 7:24 AM CDT
By Jill Schachner Chanen
There are many reasons Joseph Condo looks back fondly on his days as a student at Rutgers School of Law in Camden, N.J., but none ranks higher than his professors. Their skilled presentations of the law and the intense classroom debates they sparked made him aspire to the lectern, too.
Last year he fulfilled that dream, joining the thousands of practicing lawyers who teach each year at law schools as adjunct professors. “It’s because I’ve always enjoyed the academic environment as a student that I thought it would be more enjoyable as a professor. I found that to be true so far,” says Condo, a patent lawyer at Woodcock Washburn in Philadelphia now teaching patent law at his New Jersey alma mater. Ask lawyers why they choose to sacrifice hours of personal time for the sake of teaching and the answer is easy. It’s a genuine labor of love, they say. But the emphasis is definitely on labor.
Condo, who had no prior teaching experience, spends an average of six hours each week preparing for his three-hour, once-a-week class. His 30-minute commute on the train each way, once reserved for napping, now has become sacred preparation time. “This year I’ve spent a lot of time reading cases and figuring out what needs to be presented. I am hoping that it will get easier as time goes on.”
While the learning-to-teach curve eventually softens, the time requirements do not, says Nancy Hablutzel, who has taught at Chicago-Kent College of Law as an adjunct for 22 years. She still spends at least an hour a day researching new case law. “I am amazed at how many practitioners think that they can always go teach if practice becomes tiring. They do not have a clue as to what’s actually involved.”
Hablutzel believes many aspiring adjuncts don’t understand the process of teaching. “If I were queen, no one would ever teach without a good course in educational psychology and the psychology of learning, as well as a course in test design,” she says.
Slammed With Exams
Then there are things like final exams. condo was dreading the notion of writing one for the first time, not to mention having to wade into piles of blue books.
The mere mention of final exams makes Sheldon Krantz groan. Krantz, a corporate and white-collar criminal defense lawyer at Piper Rudnick in Washington, D.C., says grading finals makes him question why he continues to teach. He has taught both white-collar criminal law and ethics at American University, Washington College of Law for the last 12 years.
But Krantz, a former dean of the University of San Diego law school and a Boston University law professor, just can’t shake the teaching bug. “Because I was a former law school professor and dean, I saw the real advantage of having a practitioner in the classroom, particularly in an area like white-collar crime.”
Clayton Parr of Parr Waddoups Brown Gee & Loveless in Salt Lake City justifies his hours teaching mining law at the University of Utah as part of a lawyer’s obligation to community service. “Others may be reading the paper on Sunday mornings. I am preparing for class. But it is like any other community service. You have to cut into your personal time and make it up on nights or weekends. I do not consider it a big sacrifice,” he says, “but my family might.”
Many say teaching brings unexpected benefits. Parr says teaching his weekly class has honed his public speaking skills, something he would not have been able to do through his natural resources practice. And Hablutzel says teaching helps her establish relationships with the next generation of disability lawyers. “When I have good students,” she says, “I am able to recommend them for positions after they graduate.”
Although the glamor of teaching has yet to wear off on Condo, he already knows one mistake he will not repeat next year: “I took the Monday night time slot, and I missed Monday Night Football.”