As Chair of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Professional Responsibility, I recently wrote this note in our PR Section Newsletter, which you can download here. The newsletter, organized by Professor Ben Edwards, is packed full of information about the Section, new scholarship in PR, and other helpful items. Enjoy!
I hope this newsletter finds you safe and well amidst a season of closings and cancellations brought on by COVID-19. As I write this note, we are on week 10 of quarantine here in our home, where my partner is trying to operate his law firm and our middle-school- and high-school-aged children have been teaching themselves cello and calculus, among other things. I imagine all of you, like me, moved your classes online in March and became a much-needed support system for our students who are facing unprecedented challenges. We count ourselves lucky because, so far, we have remained healthy but I am mindful that this may not be the case for many of you. It is strange times, indeed. Thank you for taking a moment in all of the coronavirus chaos to read this. I have to admit, I’ve been procrastinating about writing to all of you because I have struggled to know exactly what to say in my capacity as the Chair of the Section on Professional Responsibility at a time of such loss and uncertainty.
Many of us would have soon been gathering at UCLA Law School for the 9th International Legal Ethics Conference (“ILEC”). I attended my first ILEC in 2008, held in Australia, which planted seeds for my return a decade later as a Fulbright scholar in Melbourne last year. At the second ILEC I attended, held at Stanford Law School, I met Deborah Rhode and other leaders in our field, connections that have helped me navigate my academic career through tenure and rising to lead our Section as Chair now. Soon after, at a law review symposium on legal ethics, I met Russ Pearce who would go on to invite me to join his casebook along with Bruce Green and Laurel Terry, all of whom have been generous mentors to me, and those writing-relationships have expanded over the years to include our co-authors Lonnie Brown, Peter Joy, Sung Hui Kim, and Ellen Murphy. (I still have an email that Laurel wrote me when she was Section Chair offering helpful comments on a draft I had posted at the Legal Ethics Forum, even though she didn’t even know me at the time!) Countless collaborations and friendships have been sparked by interacting with so many of you at conferences and symposia and meetings. We’ve spoken together on panels, shared conversations over coffee or wine, taken long walks, traveled to new cities and countries, cared for each other’s kids, traded edits and revisions, critiqued each other’s work, and more. If I had enough space, I would name every single one of you…but you all know who you are. And my point here isn’t just to keep name dropping.
I share all of this, because in the midst of coronavirus-life I frequently find myself wondering, would I be who I am today but for all of these interactions with so many of you? Would I have been able to successfully navigate the tenure stream? Would I have written certain articles or books? Would I have made a lateral move to Houston that came not only with a promotion, but also warmer weather and love. (One thing coronavirus hasn’t canceled is the plan to marry Wallace Jefferson on July 4, though of course now it will be without guests. But look out for the new name!) I’m not sure that the answer to any of these questions is yes.
And, what about those of us who haven’t met yet? We know what coronavirus canceled. What about those not-yet-known introductions and interactions that would be happening if we could be together? A hallmark of our Section on Professional Responsibility is its inclusiveness, and I know I’m not the only one of us who feels this way. How can we be inclusive when gatherings of more than 10 are banned in many parts of the country and best practices require that we remain six feet apart, wearing mask?
I do know that eventually we will return to a world where scholars can regularly gather to share ideas, but I fear that time is much further off than any of us would like. How can we make sure to continue these organic connections and collaborations that are at the heart of so much of what we do as scholars and writers and teachers? And, for the newer professors and Section members among us, how can the rest of us create environments similar to that conference/symposium/meeting setting where networking and mentoring and friendships can develop?
FaceTime and Zoom can do a lot to keep us connected, but where I find these tool coming up especially short is sparking those initial, unformed connections in the first place. We are going to have to be much more intentional about reaching out to offer help and—importantly—to ask for help. To that end, I encourage you to seek a mentor or volunteer to be a mentor through the PR Section’s Judith Maute Mentoring and Outreach Committee. It’s easy – just email one of the committee members: Sung Hui Kim at email@example.com; Veronica Root Martinez at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Paula Schaefer at email@example.com
AALS tells us they still are planning for an in-person meeting in San Francisco January 2021, and I sure hope that we can travel by then but I am also cautiously aware that may not be the case and we may find ourselves Zooming in. Either way, we have a terrific program planned: “Legal and Judicial Ethics in a Post-#MeToo World.” Jaime Santos, a founder of Law Clerks for Workplace Accountability and co-host of the acclaimed Strict Scrutiny podcast will be a panelist, along with speakers selected from a call for papers. There will also be a works-in-progress panel. You can read more about both in the newsletter. We also are tentatively planning for a panel on the pedagogy of teaching professional responsibility. I requested a slot for this long before COVID-19 pushed us all to Zoom teaching, and this program feels even more important in this brave new world we find ourselves. In whatever form the Annual Meeting occurs, I look forward to coming together early next year.
I want to thank all of our Section leaders for their work, especially during a time that is not going how any of us planned. You can find all of their names and roles at the end of the newsletter, and a special thanks to Ben Edwards who is Chair of the Newsletter Committee and the reason why you are reading this now.
I’ll conclude with one of my favorite quotes, which I find myself saying a lot these days. It is from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “Live the questions now.” It’s really all we can do at this moment. I hope that whatever life looks like for you during coronavirus season, that you keep living and inspiring those around you to do the same.
Renee Knake (soon to be Jefferson)
Joanne and Larry Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics
University of Houston Law Center