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5 Law Tchr. 1 (1997-1998)

handle is hein.journals/lawteaer5 and id is 1 raw text is: THE LAW


Institute for Law School Teaching

Past imperfect
Personal statements can renew motivation, improve learning

I can see now that as I read even these words they have
a much different tone than those of my personal statement.
Words such as compartmentalize, organize, function, and
efficient would never have been used to describe my life, yet
they seem quite appropriate
now. . ..I learned early in my  Effective use of ti
first-year training that emotions                of
or feelings for the people     prompts law     teach
involved in the cases would be     backgrounds in
only a hindrance and take my              instructio
focus away from spotting the


issue and applying the relevant
rule. Thus the people I was reading about took on a two-
dimensional nature because they didn't seem real - I had
no emotion for them. It is this emotion that I long for that I
need to make me whole.
By David Dominguez
Students submit as part of their law school application a
personal statement that explores life-changing events,
describes the influence of key people, and explains
why the applicant wants to become a lawyer. With the
admission decision hanging in the balance, applicants craft
their words very carefully. Indeed, the essay represents many
hours of self-study, revealing priorities and personal goals.
Yet for all of its potential value toward sustaining academic
discipline and improving legal pedagogy, it is used by the
admissions committee principally to verify writing ability and
to promote diversity in the entering class. Having served its
purpose, it is filed away.
Revisited effectively by the law teacher, a student's
personal statement can be an excellent motivational tool and
a powerful educational resource. In the former capacity, it
keeps the student mindful of original ideals; in the latter role,
it prompts the law teacher to turn diverse life backgrounds
into a new source of instructional material.
Reading through my personal statement for the first time
[in three years] left me feeling both empty and complete. The
emptiness Ifelt was for the person I was before law school,
the idealistic individual who wanted to make a
difference. . ..Looking back my first reflection was that law
school robs or strips people of these goals. The whole first

year of law school Ifelt beat down, confused, and lost.
You have probably wondered, as I have, what more we can
do to help second- and third-year law students, often
appearing jaded and cynical, to reclaim the initial excitement
they felt for legal study.
personal statement         Where is a match to reignite
fire in the belly?
rs to turn diverse life       On the first day of class, I
) a new source of           ask students what factors
contribute to the optimal
learning experience. Students
are quick to cite natural
intelligence as a key factor, but they soon add that discipline
and motivation are just as important. Being smart is a big
plus, they say, but no more so than the will to excel and good
study habits. Pressing on, I ask whether there was a time
when they were convinced that becoming lawyers mattered
so much that they were prepared to give unrelenting
commitment to legal education. As they ponder that
question, I tell them the answer is yes and that I can prove
it in their own words.
Puzzled looks turn to surprise and then sheepishness as I
inform the class that I have reviewed each of their personal
statements and have with me a copy of their essays. I read
excerpts, many of which speak eloquently to the denial of
justice and the need to press forward in the struggle for
equality. I recite from their papers the pervasive theme that
the study of law will benefit not only themselves but their
people, their family and friends. I remind them of the zeal
they once had to make a positive difference in race and
gender relations, to stop the shaming of the poor and
outcast, to lend an ear to the unpopular voice.
Continued on page 2
Cruising the electronic classroom....   .....4
Melding technology and learning    .........6
Moot points for clinicians .        .............10
Skills labs: The practitioner as professor. 12

Fall 1997

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