Adjunct Professors Bring Unique Experiences to the Classroom
March 13, 2018
Going to law school in Washington, D.C., has many advantages – access to branches of government, hundreds of interesting externship opportunities, and being at a campus location that exposes you to top attorneys from D.C., regional, and international law firms and organizations. That exposure continues inside the classroom as students learn from our extended network of adjunct faculty who bring their day-to-day experience and drive, and share stories of current cases, law firm dynamics, and practicing internationally.
Of the law school’s hundreds of valued adjunct professors, many are alumni of the law school who enjoy teaching the next generation of attorneys. We asked alumni who are committed adjunct professors to talk about what it is like to teach at their alma mater, and what advice they give to their students who are preparing to embark upon their legal careers.
Elizabeth Abi-Mershed ’91
Deputy Secretary, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Organization of American States)
“AUWCL has established a special learning environment in terms of integrating attention to international law in the curriculum as well as in opportunities and activities within the law school community. For me, teaching provides a wonderful opportunity to reconsider law and its role in international justice, not just through academic preparation, but through the perspectives and experiences the students bring to the material.
I think the experience of practitioners helps to keep a focus on the key question of effective implementation – the difference that the law can and should make in practice. AUWCL is strong in experiential learning, and Washington, D.C. provides a broad range of opportunities.”
Peter Asaad ’01
Partner, Quarles & Brady LLP
“I enjoy the fact that the students I teach become my colleagues once they enter the practice of law. Together, we are building a relationship that does not start and end with each course that is taught, but instead it is a long term relationship that I have the pleasure of becoming a part of.
As a student attorney for the International Human Rights Law Clinic, I learned what it was like to represent an individual seeking asylum – an area of law where your client’s life and livelihood is at stake. I succeeded at getting my client asylum and that achievement stuck with me. It helped me understand that immigration law was the area of law I wanted to practice.
The top advice I can give to law students is to find the area of law where the facts are stimulating for you. The law does not exist in a vacuum. By feeling passion for the area of law and stimulation from the facts that the area of law presents, you can find the area of law where you can be happiest and most successful.”
Jennifer de Laurentiis ’92
Associate Director, Impact Litigation and the Kovler Project Against Torture, American University Washington College of Law
“I'm proud to be an AUWCL alum, so teaching here is particularly meaningful. This law school is deeply committed to its students and alumni.
Teaching at AUWCL involves ongoing personal and professional growth, where learning is a two-way street. Contributing with my colleagues and students to the fight against torture, in my case through the law school's Kovler Project Against Torture, holds profound meaning for me. The Project, which provides pivotal human rights research and analysis to the United Nations Committee against Torture regarding the UN Convention against Torture, engages students in experiential legal education on the torture prohibition and on essential professional skills for effective lawyering in international settings.
AUWCL students inspire me on many levels. They are bright, curious, engaged, professional, and determined to help shape the world in positive ways. Her advice to law students: Choose to cultivate your skills daily, both in and outside of academic and professional contexts. Build your professional identity and networks, gain practical experiences, and find your passions. Be open to new endeavors and embrace opportunities outside of your comfort zone. Learn from your mistakes, don’t fear them. There are myriad pathways to success, often with detours that impact you in constructive ways you couldn't have anticipated.”
Associate Director of Government Relations, Ocean Conservancy
“As an Adjunct, my students will become colleagues in my field in just a few short years. I remember how hard that transition was for me, and it feels like paying it forward to work with students as they are trying to figure out what their next professional step will be.
I ask myself what has been most useful for me in my work, and then I make sure those answers are part of what I'm teaching. Sometimes that means covering specific material that I have found useful, sometimes it means addressing the more practical stuff that I wish I had known as a 2L or 3L.”
Benjamin Nussdorf ’08
Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Oil and Gas Global Security and Supply, Office of Fossil Energy, Department of Energy
I love the level of intellectual curiosity, engagement, and perspective that the students at AUWCL bring. The school attracts people want to make an impact in their chosen field of law, both locally and globally.
I have tried to keep my teaching practical and current, using issues affecting my work on a regular basis. Discussing real-world scenarios and issues helps keep the students engaged and ready to contribute in a practical and useful manner when they enter the workforce.”
His advice to law students: “Write. Write more. Then write more after that. And then make sure to edit. There are few things more valuable in practice than eloquent, concise, and practical writing. Get all the feedback you possibly can. It will make you a better lawyer and a better asset in practice.”
Richard Pollak ’83
Partner, Finance Practice, Troutman Sanders LLP
“The daily practice of law is often very different from what my law students imagine it will be like. I try to convey to my students a sense of the types of issues that they may confront on a daily basis.
In every class I try to provide my students with real issues that I am currently addressing in my practice or that I have experienced at one time or another. Sometimes this means that I will project on the white board documents produced by lawyers at well-known law firms and ask my students to critique the work. It is valuable for them to see that as law students they can find issues with the work of experienced lawyers. It evens the playing field for them.”
Gilbert Rothenberg ’75
Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Tax Division, U.S. Department of Justice
“I like teaching at AUWCL because the law school places extraordinary importance on the quality of classroom instruction and emphasizes the role (both positive and negative) that government plays in our legal system. Teaching law enables me to help students understand how laws are made, how they are interpreted, and how they can be challenged in appropriate venues. Teaching also gives me the opportunity to demonstrate that there can be “passion” in any area of the law – even tax law.
The best advice in this regard is to master the skill of crafting, both in writing and orally, a position that is not only legally correct, but also logically sound. Students often don’t realize that logic alone can sometimes carry the day, since legislators cannot anticipate every eventuality.”
Arnette “Art” Steele ’09
Founder, Law Offices of Arnette Steele, PLLC
“I love teaching “Wills, Trusts, and Estates” because it’s one legal issue that we all have to deal with at some point, whether personally or with a friend or family member. Because estate planning is so personal, I incorporate real-life examples of why the cases we read in class end up in court and explain the practical and procedural aspects of administering an estate.”
Her advice to law students: “Never be afraid to challenge the norms and be confident – you have the tools to change the world!”