Alexi Freeman (Denver) & Katie Steefel (Denver), The Pledge for the Public Good: A Student-Led Initiative to Incorporate Morality and Justice in Every Classroom, 22 Wash. & Lee J. C.R. & Soc. Just. 49-106 (2016):
"The first thing I lost in law school was the reason I came." This is the disheartening reality for countless law students. While legal education has made great strides towards diversifying its offerings and expanding its focus over time, the struggle to maintain one's vision and identity, especially if such things connect to the public interest, remains challenging. Some notable exceptions exist, but overall, law schools often still underserve those who are public interest focused and fail to graduate many students who devote themselves to serving the public good.
While the climate at our school is supportive and embracing of public interest, and efforts to do even more are on the rise, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law (Denver Law) is no exception. To move any law school to "the other side" that only a few are privileged to be a part of, large-scale, long-term transformation is needed to connect public interest to all aspects of culture and curriculum. The consumers of legal education—the students—can play a major role in jumpstarting this transformation. At Denver Law, the Chancellor's Scholars did just that with the creation of the Pledge for the Public Good.
This Article will first share the research and literature of many scholars who have documented and studied how ingrained and widespread this disenchantment and disengagement with public interest law has been in legal education. Then, in Part II, we will discuss the Pledge for the Public Good, which aims to elevate and embed this idea of serving the public good within all classes. In Part III, we will share how we were able to "pass" the Pledge, including identifying five key elements to success. ...
Law professors have a tremendous power—the power to shape the minds of future lawyers. The Pledge requests that law professors use that power to demonstrate how students can use their legal expertise in any area to help people.
Textually, the Pledge is quite simple. It states:
I, _, pledge that I am dedicated to fostering consciousness of the public good in my students and to helping my students develop their professional identities from day one in law school. To fulfill this dedication, I pledge to help them understand the moral dimensions and social context of the law.
I pledge for the _ school year to engage in at least one of the following four options:
(1) Public Interest Lecture
(2) Case Connection
(3) Practitioner Guest Speaker
(4) Other Tactic to Lift Up the Public Good
The Pledge explains how professors can engage in each of the strategies. The first option of the Pledge is to dedicate at least one-half of one class period or give an additional optional lecture relating the class to an area of public good. For example, the professor can share about his/her own personal pro bono work or discuss a particular topic within the course that relates to the larger social context or to the public good. It encourages faculty to open students' eyes to how the subject relates to serving the public good by explicitly making the connection through a lecture.
Second, the professor can make case connections. For two to six cases the professor already uses in class, the professor incorporates a discussion concerning the social context of the cases and/or how the law therein relates to the greater social good. Professors can lead the discussion by asking how the parties received representation (e.g., discussion of a public defender or pro bono counsel, access to justice issues); asking what motivations a party may have for embarking on a particular act (e.g., class consciousness); and/or discussing the social context at the time the case was decided, among other ideas. This option focuses on expanding the context of the often-criticized appellate case method of learning the law.
The third option of the Pledge centers on a practitioner guest lecturer. The professor can dedicate at least one-half of one class period to hosting a practitioner guest speaker to talk about the pro bono, public good, or public interest work he or she has done in the field.
The final option of the Pledge is a catch all, allowing the use of another tactic to lift up the public good. We encourage professors to intentionally call attention to and/or connect how the subject matter of the course relates to the public good in any way they see fit. ...
The Pledge for the Public Good moves us one step closer towards the goal of embedding public good values throughout legal education. For the Chancellor's Scholars and the countless students, faculty members, and supporters dedicated to public good ideals at Denver Law, the Pledge offers tangible changes in some classes and makes a statement symbolically. The Pledge is part of our larger long-term vision for change, pursuing incremental over time, starting with something not too divisive or complex, and hopefully building upon the success.
The Pledge is an example of what can happen when students take charge of their education, develop robust and well-researched proposals, and push an entire legal community-students and faculty alike-to respect and respond to their ideas. We need more of this at every law school and this is why we share this story. Whether you choose to start small and build incrementally like this effort, or "go big" right from the beginning, students can make law school more of what they aspire it to be. Be sure to tell others about your ideas, your successes, and your failures, too. Blogs, law review articles, Facebook posts. Let us start a wave of student-driven efforts that embrace and elevate the public good, and expose all students to the idea that public interest is a core value of legal education and of the lawyering profession. This is our pledge. What's yours?