Busting The Lawyer Stereotype: An Interview With Author Paula Franzese

Your book is a real tour de force, covering everything from how to understand casebooks and prepare for exams to making wise choices and handling rejection. What inspired you to write this book?
My students. My students, past and present, are shining lights. This book was written with immense gratitude to them for the privilege of having been their teacher.
You were named one of the “26 best law teachers” in the book What the Best Law Teachers Do and you’re a 10-time recipient of the Student Bar Association’s Professor of the Year Award. What traits or techniques do you think make great law teachers?
A good law teacher understands that teaching is a sacred trust. He or she appreciates the struggles of the learning process, and has the courage to respond to those with compassion and immense kindness. A good teacher knows that she is constantly modeling all sorts of behavior, both in and out of the classroom, and is mindful that by her words and actions, she is shaping her students’ perceptions of what it means to be a professional. A good teacher is committed constantly to the task of reinvention, learning more about the science and art of adult learning and memory and how best to incorporate that knowledge into a dynamic and meaningful classroom experience. A good teacher teaches that wisdom and compassion are indivisible, and that one cannot exist meaningfully without the other.
Employers focus heavily on grades and class ranks in hiring new employees. How has this emphasis hindered legal education? If you were hiring, what would you be looking in a new law grad?
I tell my students often, “You are not your grades.” No grade has the power to define one’s worth or promise. I counsel my students to create their own destinies by relentlessly seeking out ways to serve, whether in the form of internships, volunteer community outreach, research assistantships, and any other opportunity to help people in need. There is a force that meets good with good. The willingness to use one’s emerging expertise to give others hope is rewarded. Employers will look for that drive and initiative.
There is such negativity surrounding law school and the legal profession in general. Why is that, in your experience? How would you counter it?
The law is the most noble profession. Think of the great game changers throughout the course of history – Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Barbara Jordan, Sandra Day O’Connor – all were lawyers. We are the rule of reason’s last best hope, and there can be no justice without just lawyers. Sometimes, particularly in the media, lawyers are vilified precisely because of that tremendous power. A small few in our profession use the instrument of the law for less than worthy ends. But they are the exception and not the rule. The vast preponderance of attorneys are learned, high-minded, and committed to the task of providing exceedingly effective assistance of counsel.
If readers could come away with one takeaway from your book, what would it be?
Life will meet you at your level of expectation for it. A cynic will always find reasons to be jaded. A hopeful and compassionate person will always find reason for hope. Eventually, we all find what we are looking for, so we must take care with the search. We must decide what side of the fence we stand on. We can be collectors of grievances or counters of blessings. Decide to look for the good in others, because it is there. Each of us is better than the worst thing we’ve ever done. Each of us can return to our better instincts. Goethe got it right when he wrote, “Treat people as they are and you make them worse. Treat people as they could be and you help them to get there.”
Who was your biggest inspiration in becoming a lawyer? What drew you to him or her? What did you learn for that person?
My dad, Luigi Franzese. My dad, an Italian immigrant, had no more than a third-grade education, but he understood that education is the great equalizer and knowledge is power. My dad suffered mightily because he dared to speak truth to power as he endeavored to organize his fellow laborers in the pursuit of better working conditions. He was often put down and called all sorts of names. My dad taught me that we are not what we are called. We are what we answer to. He taught me that the work of social justice and the cause of progress advances not because of the shameful behavior of others but in spite of it.  He taught me to appreciate the promise of the law, as rendered in our great nation, because it is the study of justice. As such, it presents a most enduring foundation on which to build a life of significance. Without justice, there is no hope. As lawyers, we are uniquely situated to be givers of hope.  A good lawyer defies the push of the crowds and takes a stand for the underdog. A conversancy with the legal method allows one to be a game changer for social justice and a defender against the tyranny of the majority.
Law-school reform is a major issue these days, with experts recommending antidotes ranging from two-year programs to greater emphasis on experiential education. What types of reforms do you believe are needed to better prepare students for the practice of law?
Law school must provide, in addition to the doctrinal and theoretical predicates, many opportunities for experiential learning. Thankfully, the academy is increasingly incorporating meaningful in-class and out-of-class experiences for students to see and practice not just what the law is, but what it means.

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