The transition that the law students make over the course of one semester is visible. The look of awe and discomfort when presented with a claim during the first week of class is replaced by confidence when they draft their own claims at the end of the semester. To their professor, Vineet Kohli, that is the most gratifying moment of teaching.
For over a year now, Kohli, assistant patent counsel at Merck & Co., Inc., has taught a course on drafting patent claims as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University School of Law. To him, the task of reassuring the law students when they first enter his class is the greatest challenge of teaching. "Claim drafting instills a great deal of fear," says Kohli. "I know this is a foreign practice. I know this is a tough practice. The first challenge is to allay those fears and to demystify this whole concept of claim drafting. Second, is to help your students to become comfortable with the concepts of claim drafting so that they are able to draft claims."
Enhancing Legal Education
Many law schools hire adjunct law professors like Kohli. Unlike professors with permanent positions at the law school, adjuncts typically hold jobs outside the law school, carry a lighter teaching load, and do not have the administrative or research responsibilities of permanent faculty. By offering to teach their specialized knowledge, typically for a nominal fee, adjunct professors significantly contribute to the law school experience of students.
"Having practicing attorneys teaching in our classrooms enriches our law school. Adjunct professors are a wonderful resource because they bring real-world, day-to-day experience with them and can speak about their involvement in current legal issues. That practical knowledge of lawyering is invaluable," says Linda Ammons, dean of the Widener University School of Law.
"Adjunct professors also afford the law school the opportunity to offer some subjects that might not otherwise be a part of the curriculum, if a particular specialty is not reflected in our full-time faculty. For example, our Delaware campus has been grateful to adjunct faculty members who have helped us offer courses in patent law," says Ammons. "It also presents opportunities for students to build relationships with working attorneys that could be helpful as they enter the professional world of networking, and it holds the potential for mentoring relationships too."
The students and law schools are not the only ones who stand to benefit from adjunct teaching. Kohli, for instance, has found teaching to be beneficial to his practice at Merck, particularly by enhancing his management skills. "Addressing the concerns and questions of students helps you to manage that diverse body," says Kohli. "Not all students come from the same background. You identify the issues they may have, listen to those issues, and respond accordingly."
Teaching, which Kohli views as similar to litigating, has also helped him address his own apprehension of public speaking. "Litigating a case—whether it is criminal or civil—is just a form of teaching," says Kohli, who handles biotechnology patent prosecution at Merck. "You need to prepare your presentation and convey it in a succinct manner to an audience regardless of whether it is a class, patent examiner, or jury."
Kohli sees his presence in the classroom as also indicative of ethnic diversity that is beneficial for his students to experience. "I would like them to take away that I do represent diversity to a large extent," says Kohli, who is of Indian heritage. "My presence at the school reflects both Merck's and the school's commitment to diversity and that yes, there are other practices such as patent law where you have diverse members of the bar and I am one of them." To Kohli, his presence is also representative of Seton Hall's commitment to "diversity of thought"—enabling the students to learn from patent professors who have practiced in a setting other than the law firm.
With several relatives who served as educators, including a grandfather who was a college dean in India, Kohli considers his work at Seton Hall to be an opportunity "to reach back into that generous gene pool and follow in their path" and as conveyed by Kohli, he has done so with much encouragement from his employer. "The Office of General Counsel at Merck has always encouraged us to share our skills with the outside world," says Kohli. "Our general counsel and patent counsel have encouraged me to participate in seminars on intellectual property practice as well as to teach at Seton when the offer came along."
In addition, Kohli's coworkers in Merck's Patent Department have supported him by offering to teach the class in his absence. Kohli's wife, who is a patent attorney at another corporation, has also stood in for him.
It was at the suggestion of her supervisor that Melanye K. Johnson, senior counsel in the Trademark and Copyright Group at DuPont Company, took on the task of teaching as an adjunct professor. For many years, the course in trademarks and unfair trade practices at Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Del. had been taught by a tenured professor who had previously handled trademark matters at DuPont. Johnson jumped at the opportunity. "Getting an adjunct position is not easy. It is very competitive. Those types of opportunities you don't turn down," says Johnson, who acknowledges that she had some trepidation about the manner in which students would receive her. "I had concerns because I am African American and a female and I know there are particular challenges. I was pleasantly surprised. I think that my background as a litigator helped me gain control over the class."
Twice a week from January through May 2006, Johnson taught the evening course. With classes ending as late as 9:50 p.m., and holidays spent reviewing textbooks, Johnson found the warnings she had received were accurate. "Everybody universally says the first time is going to be challenging. I still enjoyed it quite a bit," says Johnson, who appreciated the support she received from Widener administrators as well as co-workers and a DuPont alum who had previously taught the class. The latter answered Johnson's many questions and even made his office available to her to prepare for class. "I wanted to make the most of the opportunity and I wanted the students to have the best experience I could give them. I was very cognizant of how I came across and my level of preparedness," says Johnson, who prepared for class four nights a week in addition to the two nights on which she taught. "I worked 24/7."
Throughout her teaching experience, Johnson viewed her efforts as helping to change perceptions of minority attorneys and professors. "In general, the presence of minorities and women in the academy could be better, and so I was very aware of that. Not only my presence in the classroom, but my teaching methods as well helped to break down one more barrier, even though I am not a tenure-track professor," says Johnson. "Hopefully, doing an excellent job at teaching will change some people's minds or change perspectives if they haven't had the benefit of being exposed."
Like Kohli, Johnson says that her practice at DuPont also benefited from the preparation she put into teaching the course. "It helped me to keep more abreast of the current developments in the law. When you are an in-house attorney, sometimes the focus is more on the business," says Johnson. "I became much more diligent about reading the electronic BNA1 notices and legal magazines."
Becoming an Adjunct Professor
Like other law schools, the administrators at Widener, where Johnson teaches, look for certain qualities in its adjunct professors. "We want people who have been successful in the practice area in which they are teaching and are prominent in the field. We want people who are dedicated to teaching, are willing to put substantive material in front of the students, and are willing to put in the time it takes to be effective in the classroom," says Ammons, who notes that Widener's law school attracts many enthusiastic adjunct professors and rarely needs to recruit. Ammons suggests that practitioners interested in becoming adjunct professors should pitch curriculum ideas to law schools and advise the schools on how they would approach teaching a class at the university. However, even before these efforts are made, Ammons suggests attorneys "work at making a name for yourself and build on the success in your field."
Having indeed made a name for herself, Sharon Zealey, now senior counsel at The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, long taught a course that she wishes she had taken while a student at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. However, her mentor, Nathaniel Jones, a retired judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, did not begin to teach the course called "Problems in Civil Rights Litigation" until after Zealey had graduated. Nevertheless, when Judge Jones was called away to teach a course in New York, he tapped Zealey to teach his class.
"I, of course, jumped at the opportunity. Judge Jones' schedule became busier and busier and seven years later, I was still teaching the class," says Zealey. "I thoroughly enjoyed it. We began with slave jurisprudence, which evolved over time, and we came full circle to contemporary civil rights."
Zealey, a former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio—the first woman and first African American to hold the position—believes that her busy schedule while a litigation partner at Blank Rome LLP presented a challenge at times. "I'm a trial attorney, so occasionally my schedule would get in the way. I tried to preserve time in my schedule to not only teach, but also to prepare for the class as well," says Zealey, whose final exam for the course was a 20-page paper that she had to grade in an abbreviated time period. Still, teaching has been helpful to her busy practice.
"It has kept me really sharp and up-to-date on civil rights issues because we discussed not only the landmark cases, but also cases that are on the cutting edge of civil rights law. I invited students to bring in articles on cases of first impression, so that we could debate them freely," says Zealey, who also serves on the Ohio Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
To teach her course, Zealey often has borrowed from the voluminous civil rights library of Judge Jones, who is counsel to Blank Rome, and who previously served as national general counsel of the NAACP. Three of the attorneys in the firm's Cincinnati office have taught law courses at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. Additionally, Zealey was a student of one of her partners.
"The attorneys at Blank Rome in Cincinnati have a strong commitment and connection to the University of Cincinnati," says Zealey, who in 1997 received the law school's Nicholas Longworth III Alumni Achievement Award for Distinguished Public Service. With her continued contact with the law school, Zealey has been able to witness efforts at improving diversity at the law school. "When I attended, the only African American law professor took a sabbatical and never returned. Diversity is a struggle at any law school, but I'm pleased to say that the University of Cincinnati has a history of working at it," says Zealey, who served on the Decanal Search Committee that tapped the law school's current dean, Louis D. Bilionis. "He's already proving to be an outstanding dean and is very committed to diversity," adds Zealey. Currently, several members of the law school's faculty as well as its assistant dean and director of the school's Center for Professional Development are minorities.
Connecting with Students
Zealey's commitment and connection to the University of Cincinnati College of Law also includes maintaining contact with her students. "I saw one of my students yesterday. He went into practice with his father. I've actually referred some clients to him," Zealey reports.
Similarly, Korry Greene, who teaches a course on trial tactics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, has had the privilege of observing one former student argue a motion in a local court. "He did a great job. I felt pretty good; however, it was not because of what I had done but because the court's and the client's expectations were met," says Greene, a litigation partner at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC. "You get students who are really willing and who want to know how to try cases and that is rewarding. It was also rewarding knowing that attorney had done a good job for his client."
Having previously taught American and Russian History to high school juniors and seniors, Korry Greene was a natural when he began to teach as an adjunct professor four years ago. "It gives me an opportunity to work with young people," says Greene, who sees added responsibility in teaching the course. "Teaching trial tactics is much different from teaching torts and contracts. The student's courtroom prowess will be a direct reflection of the professor. If you are lousy as a trial lawyer, they will ask: 'Who taught you trial tactics?' "
One of the challenges of teaching as an adjunct professor is "getting students motivated," says Greene. "Some students think you should hand it to them on a platter. With trial tactics, it only comes from doing. You have to submerse yourself in the water."
Teaching as an adjunct professor has been helpful to Greene's practice and proven to be a learning experience. "In one of the course exercises, a student cross-examined an accountant. He asked extremely good questions that I now employ," says Greene. "You can always learn from your students and that makes teaching a good thing." Also Greene finds that clients are impressed to learn that he teaches the very skills for which they are hiring him.
According to Greene, he incorporates real-life practice into his teaching and hopes to instill a strong sense of professionalism in his students. "Be good trial lawyers. You represent each of your clients with the greatest vehemence and diligence as any other," says Greene, who explains to students the importance of what he terms "the $500 case—that case means a lot to that party or they wouldn't pursue it. That is the mantle of a good lawyer-regardless of the situation, you always give 100-plus percent," says Greene.
Inspiring Others to Teach
Greene feels that the opportunity for minorities to teach is one that all law schools should offer and one that other minority attorneys should consider as a means of enhancing the law school experience and profession in general. "It is not so much for the purpose of creating a comfort zone for minority students. Rather, it is for 'exposure to people who are not like me.' If you don't see minorities in these positions, you are never going to believe that we as minorities have something to offer," says Greene, who is proud to have inspired a friend and fellow African American attorney to teach a business law course at the University of Pittsburg School of Law. "He probably thought if Korry can do it, I can do it."
Jennifer Borum Bechet is a freelance writer based in Upper Marlboro, Md.
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From the November/December 2006 issue of Diversity & The Bar®