The recent amendments to ABA Standard 303(b) (development of a professional identity) & (c) (education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism) did not require major adjustments to our programming at Baylor Law. Still, a 303 Committee was appointed to ensure and document our compliance. With a mission to “train lawyers who are able to practice law with competence, serve with compassion, and provide effective and ethical leadership,” we have long been dedicated to the notion that our job does not end with teaching basic concepts of law and legal analysis. With a tradition of incorporating a significant amount of practical skills training, the concept of professionalism is baked into the DNA of a Baylor Law education. With that said, we recognized eight years ago that we needed to be more intentional in our professional development training. In 2014, we created our Professional Development Program and our Leadership Development Program to be more intentional in preparing students for the modern challenges of being a member of our time-honored profession.
The 303 Committee’s review of our curriculum and programming confirmed numerous ways in which Baylor Law develops law students’ professionalism. But the Committee did not stop there. More can and should be done and we spent the summer exploring enhancements and additions to our programming. This post highlights one of those new programs. Beginning with the Fall 2022 entering class, all entering students will participate in a public deliberation workshop.
What is public deliberation and why should law students learn how to do it?
The public expects lawyers to be zealous advocates for their clients, but sometimes a lawyer’s conduct goes beyond zealous advocacy and crosses the line of civility. Not only does ill-mannered conduct reflect poorly on our profession, but it also contributes to the normalizing of disrespectful, uncivil, and polarizing reactions to viewpoints and statements with which a person does not agree.
Lawyers’ professional obligation extends beyond individual clients to our system of justice and to society. As stated in the preamble to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct: A Lawyer’s Responsibility, “[a] lawyer is a representative of the clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having a special responsibility for the quality of justice.” Since the beginning of this nation, lawyers have recognized that their special status comes with a professional responsibility to address pressing issues facing society. A lawyer’s legal education and training provide the opportunity to be change agents and difference makers not only for their clients but also in their communities and across the nation. These professional obligations and opportunities for influence call for lawyers to model civil discourse and to be able to facilitate deliberation in a calm and respectful manner.
This workshop teaches our students a different way to approach advocacy – one that helps them embody professionalism, model civility, and advocate more effectively.
“Deliberation involves the best parts of dialogue (conversational) and debate (argument) to offer an experience where participants can learn from one another by talking through different perspectives and approaches to local and global issues and working together to come up with community action steps.”BAYLOR PUBLIC DELIBERATION INITIATIVE
We want this experience to occur early in law school so they recognize that civility and professionalism are not antithetical to zealously representing a client. We also hope the experience will inspire and enable students to approach some of the most potentially heated issues debated in the public square (e.g. race, religion and its role in society, sexual orientation, gun rights or gun control, among others) with a desire to build community through shared values, solve problems and build a better tomorrow.
Public Deliberation Workshop Required for Entering Students
Beginning with the Fall 2022 quarter, each entering student at Baylor Law will be introduced to a model for civil discourse through a workshop developed in partnership with Baylor University’s Public Deliberation Initiative. Dr. Joshua Ritter, Director of the Public Deliberation Initiative, described the workshop as a “partnership for training law students as active deliberative citizens with democratic skillsets they can implement within their own communities and leadership.”
The 1 ½ hour workshop began with a video from the Dean to explain the importance of the effort and to give some context. After some initial remarks and instructions by Dr. Ritter, the law students were divided into groups of 10-12 and given an issue for discussion. Different topics can be used but it needs to be one that generally elicits a wide range of differing views. We used food insecurity for our first workshop.
Facilitating each group is a second- or third-year law student who participated in a 2- hour training session with Dr. Ritter. The facilitators keep the group on task while remaining neutral. The goal is not to change anyone’s mind on the particular issue, but simply for each participant to hear and to be heard on the issue.
Through this interactive exercise, we hope to demonstrate to students that individuals with diametrically opposed positions often share common values but they may prioritize those values differently. We also recognize the benefit to the law school environment. Creating a culture of respect for colleagues with different life experiences and perspectives will enrich our classrooms and programs.
Please contact us for more information on this program.