Professor Kingsfield may not be viewed as today's "model" law professor.

Professor Kingsfield may not be viewed as today’s “model” law professor.

In the category of “you never know where a good idea may come from,” I point you toward the review of a book on what makes a great law professor.

The review was pointed out to me by a very wise person, and she thought I’d be intrigued by the concept. She was right, just as I am intrigued by the location of the review: In the Teachers College Record, “a journal of research, analysis, and commentary in the field of education. It has been published continuously since 1900 by Teachers College, Columbia University.”

At TCR, they concern themselves with all kinds of teaching, even that dispensed at law schools. So always keep your eye peeled.

(And if you missed my recent coverage of a great article about law school, head over here to read it.)

what-the-best-law-teachers-do book cover

The new book is aptly titled What the Best Law Teachers Do, and the review is written by Marjorie Heins, “a former ACLU lawyer, the founding director of the Free Expression Policy Project, and the author, most recently, of Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge (NYU Press, 2013). She has been a visiting professor at both the law school and undergraduate levels. She currently teaches ‘Censorship in American Culture and Law’ at New York University.”

Here is how she opens her review:

“In popular imagination, the typical law teacher is the notorious Professor Charles Kingsfield, immortalized in the novel, The Paper Chase. Imperious, tyrannical, and a master practitioner of the Socratic method in its most rigorous form, Kingsfield aims to intimidate if not terrorize. But in one famous scene, the old codger turns out to be human: he shows approval, if not respect, to a student who has the temerity to talk back to him.”

Marjorie Heins

Marjorie Heins

“Well, we can say goodbye to the era of Kingsfield and to the joys of combat in the law school classroom. As the stories told and teachers celebrated in What the Best Law Teachers Do make plain, today’s model law professor is a nurturer, not a tyrant: loved, lovable, and passionately devoted to helping every student not only to understand the material but to enjoy it, to become a better person, and to embark on a future as a dedicated servant of the law.”

“The 26 law teachers highlighted in this book are indeed paragons. If I am sounding just a bit cynical, it is not because I don’t respect the amazing talents and commitment that these 26 evidently possess, or the impressive results they achieve: students uniformly rising to the challenge, inspired by affection and respect to work hard so as not to disappoint their charismatic teachers’ expectations. Instead, I remain skeptical because I suspect that there might still be room in the academy, if not exactly for pedagogues of the Kingsfield variety, then at least for professors who are not particularly student-friendly, are not interested in inviting them to lunch or hearing about their personal troubles, but are simply brilliant lecturers, inspiring scholars, or, indeed, skilled practitioners of the dread Socratic method.”

Read the complete review here.

Is your own favorite law professor described in the new volume? (or at least someone who shares the same sensibilities?) You may have to get your hands on the book to find out.

Do you agree with the description of what makes an ideal law professor? Does that match your own experience?