“Professionalism education and awareness is becoming an important component of the law school experience. Being aware of the importance of professional conduct can help students create the best possible impression on employers and colleagues,” says legal methods
Professor Mary Ann Robinson
. Working on an article about how law schools teach professionalism with fellow legal methods Professor Allison Donahue Kehner
, Professor Robinson understands how important it is to instill a sense of professionalism in law students.
Robinson came to Widener Law’s Delaware campus in 2004, serving for two years as an adjunct faculty member and teaching legal methods to extended division students in the evenings. She had previously discovered a love of teaching while teaching part-time for a paralegal program. She came to Widener in part because she felt that the school had an excellent legal writing program. “The faculty members design the program collaboratively and are constantly reviewing and revising the curriculum and assignments to adapt to our students’ needs and to changes in legal practice,” she says proudly. In 2006, she became a full-time member of the legal methods faculty.
Professor Robinson now teaches in the areas of legal writing, research, and legal methods. While most students understand the importance of writing and research without much prompting, she notes that the meaning of teaching legal methods is a little less clear, saying, “The concept of teaching “legal method” is unfamiliar to many people. Legal method is basically the process for analyzing the law. This process includes identifying and extracting rules from court decisions, understanding how those rules are structured, and learning how to apply those rules to a specific fact situation.”
Teaching students how to analyze, read, and write about the law is only the beginning, however. “My goals are to help students acquire the skills they need to be successful students of the law while they are in law school, while they are studying for and taking the bar exam, and while they are practicing law,” says Professor Robinson, adding, “I hope my students come to realize that they will be law students for the rest of their lives, constantly learning and growing in their understanding of the law.” Achieving that goal involves more than just teaching her students to analyze, research, and write about the law, however.
Together with Professor Kehner, Professor Robinson has “developed a series of short filmed vignettes to be used to foster a discussion with law students about concepts of professionalism. The vignettes are intended to be used to help our students realize that their careers as lawyers commence in law school, and that they must begin to adopt and emulate standards of professionalism in law school that they will carry with them when they become legal professionals.” The issue of professionalism and how to teach it also drives her research interests. “Despite the clear trend among law schools to increase the focus on students’ identities as professionals, there is no comprehensive source that identifies various approaches to teaching professionalism,” she says. She hopes to rectify that problem, however; “We are working on a survey to identify the tools and techniques currently in use to teach professionalism in law schools. We also plan to evaluate the acceptance and success of these tools and techniques. Our goal is to review the current status of professionalism education and generate a synthesized report that will help legal educators develop successful programs.”