TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, July 10, 2017

Lessons From Hamilton On Leaving A Legacy As A Law Professor Through Our Scholarship ('Skin In The Game') And Our Students ('Planting Seeds In A Garden You Never Get To See')

Hamilton 3Business Law Prof Blog:  Lessons on Teaching Law and Creating a Legacy from Hamilton: An American Musical, by Joshua Fershee (West Virginia):

As an unabashed and unapologetic fan of the Hamilton: An American Musical, a couple of analogies from this brilliant production seemed appropriate to convey my thoughts on law school and leaving a legacy. ...

To be effective, law professors must be engaged with their work, with their institution, and their students. This means, to me, engaging in scholarship, in some way, and sharing that work with the world.  As Alexander Hamilton tells Aaron Burr in The Room Where It Happens: 

When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game. But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game. Oh, you get love for it. You get hate for it. You get nothing if you … Wait for it, wait for it, wait!

We need to part of the program. We need to engage and share our ideas. This doesn't mean being overtly political, and it doesn't necessarily mean being abrasive. But we must be invested in what we do, and we must be invested in how we do it. The passive teacher and scholar will likely have passive students, and we need to be educating lawyers to get in, get dirty, and keep learning.  We can't just tell them. To some degree we have to be the ones to show them how.

Second, as law professors who are committed to their profession, I think we need to be thinking about who we want to be as professors, including our desires for our legacy, early in our careers.  We need to think about what we want to be like as tenured professors before were are tenured.  And we need to think about where we hope to get as professionals, as teachers, and as scholars.  I think a lot faculty members (law and otherwise) get to a point where they aren't sure what it will mean to move on or how, and that makes it hard to stay engaged or focused because you don't have an idea of the end game. And that is linked, in part, to feeling like their legacy is incomplete.  That is understandable.   

Alexander Hamilton says, in The World Was Wide Enough:

What is a legacy? It's planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.

And it's true. We rarely, if ever, will get to see our legacy, but we can know what we are trying to grow. We each create our own legacy by the seeds we choose to plant.  And as professors, we plant those seeds in our students.  They go out and hopefully grow and flourish. And as part of a profession, those seeds are spread wider than just our students, as those new lawyers go out and interact with and work to protect others.  We must think carefully about what we are teaching about the profession that we helping to shape, whether or not we ever see it fully grown.  The world evolves and so must we, so that the seeds we plant, our legacy, is one that is worthy of this great, though greatly flawed, nation that got its start 241 years ago.

For more on my obsession with interest in Hamilton, see here and:

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I would say to "get in, get dirty" means for law profs to have substantially practiced law before they try to teach law students how to be lawyers.

Posted by: Actual Lawyer | Jul 10, 2017 8:37:57 PM