As lawyers, we teach all the time. Legal practice requires that we learn, analyze, teach and persuade. We teach juries, judges, clients, adverse parties, and colleagues. A good lawyer is a good teacher. If you enjoy the teaching part of practice, pursue teaching opportunities, whether as an adjunct professor of law or a regular on the CLE circuit, and you will become a better lawyer.
Teaching will press you to add breadth and depth to your expertise, get up-to-speed on current developments in your field, expand your network in a meaningful way, improve your public and improvisational speaking skills, bolster your professional reputation, and improve your confidence.
Add breadth and depth to your expertise
In practice we respond to client problems. In so doing we cobble together experience through earning expertise in dozens of minor issues within a practice area. Rarely are we required to sit back and familiarize ourselves with the entire taxonomy of our subject. Accordingly, by relying entirely on client problems for our education, we are not likely to fully appreciate the greater context of our subject matter until we’ve been in practice for a long time.
Teaching remedies this myopia because it requires mastery of the entire subject, not just the particulars. An effective teacher must be able to plainly and clearly articulate complex concepts to students who have little to no background knowledge of the particular subject matter. To do this, you must introduce and orient students to the big picture and help them navigate core concepts.
Get and stay up-to-speed on developments in your field
Teaching also provides motivation to keep your pulse on developments in your field. Although we all know that it is important to stay current on the shifting legal landscape affecting our practice, it is hard to prioritize those efforts unless and until a client problem requires such diligence. Teaching offers a reason to remain vigilant and a professional outlet to share what you know with others.
Improve your public and improvisational skills
Teaching will polish your public speaking skills. As you teach, you will hone your ability to deliver prepared remarks while maintaining the interest and gauging the comprehension of your audience. This will serve you well when communicating in practice, whether to clients, colleagues, juries, judges or others.
You will also need to field questions, some of which you will be able to answer and others which will stump you. Learning to handle the latter with grace, candor and confidence is an important skill for practitioners and educators. And I would much prefer to get stumped by a student than by a judge, a client or opposing counsel during a negotiation. Allow students to help you find the gaps in your knowledge, and save yourself some professional stress!
Bolster your professional reputation
Teachers are seen as experts. Whether you are teaching a CLE to other lawyers or a law school class to upper-level law students, if you are the teacher, you are in the expert role. All lawyers can benefit by creating and holding spaces in which they are the expert. Teaching is a natural place to do this. Even if the first time you teach feel like a novice and a farce, take the leap, prepare carefully and then occupy that expert space with confidence. Put yourself out there as an expert and learn as you go. Use teaching to build your expertise and your professional reputation.
Expand your network in a meaningful way
Teaching also presents an opportunity to expand your professional network. Whether you teach a CLE or a law school course, the students have self-selected to take your course. They are interested in learning what you know and they have opted to learn it from you. In a CLE, members of your audience are potential sources of referrals. They may also be future clients, collaborators, colleagues, or adverse parties. In a law school course, your students will soon be joining the legal community; that is, they will soon be your professional peers. They may soon be colleagues, clients, adverse parties, or sources of referrals.
Take a long view when considering how to interact with the people who take your course and seize the opportunity that teaching provides to expand your professional network in a meaningful way.
Improve your confidence
In light of the benefits I outlined above, it is easy to see how teaching will improve your aplomb. As you learn to teach your subject area, you will begin to master it. As you successfully articulate complex concepts and field tough questions, your presentation skills will improve. As you establish yourself as great educator and expert, demand for your services will grow. As a result, your confidence will improve and you will be a better lawyer.