I’m thrilled to have joined Seton Hall Law’s faculty full-time in January 2019 after 11 years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. My hope is that my background will provide a unique opportunity for students to learn not only about the key statutes and case law relating to the various classes I teach, but also to gain insight into life as a practicing lawyer.
AN INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR THOMAS HEALY
Many students know from the first day of college they want to attend law school as soon as they graduate. But for others, the decision comes later. They might not decide on law school until they’ve tried another career. They might want to save money and gain work experience before returning to school. Or they might simply need a break from the rigors of studying. Whatever the case, older students often have a different perspective on going to law school and a different experience once they arrive. In this Q&A, Seton Hall Professor Thomas Healy talks about his own unconventional path to law school and the pros and cons of being an older student.
I encourage my law students to notice what successful law students do and to adopt these behaviors. Savvy learners realize that professors want you to succeed. Professors use a class syllabus and class policies to guide you toward success. Early on in each course, note the professor’s office hours and best contact method. Why? The professor is inviting you to engage with the material outside of class time—take advantage of this invitation.
In 1992 the New Jersey Supreme Court decided State in re M.T.S. (609 A.2d 1266 (N.J. 1992)), a case about the meaning of the term “force” in New Jersey’s sexual assault statute. As soon as the court published its opinion, scholars predicted that the decision was bound for the casebooks, and they were right. It is a great teaching case, and it is also an important early defense of the principle of affirmative consent, a way of thinking about sexual assault that has gained considerable traction in recent years. A generation of law students has now been introduced to sexual assault law through In re M.T.S.
But there’s something else about M.T.S. that’s striking and important, something that has less to do with sexual assault and much to do with the talents of law students.
A reminder for all of us fortunate enough to have work to do.
Continue to be grateful for the work. It will always be your safe harbor against the heartbreaks and sorrows of this life. Keep in mind that you do it not so much for your own sake but on behalf of the countless people and constituencies, most still nameless and unknown to you, who nonetheless are waiting for you to use your emerging expertise to make their lives better. And you will.
These are uncertain times for the promise of equal access to justice for all. Particularly now, it is important that we the lawyers show up to do what we can do: wield our unique expertise to be instigators, catalysts and defenders of the rule of law, the power of reason and the promise of mercy.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to lecture at a law school in Jérémie, Haiti. Seton Hall Law has a special partnership with this school in Haiti. One of Haiti’s ongoing problems is that its legal system, particularly at the local level, often functions poorly because of lack of resources and corruption. As the law school in Jérémie began to produce graduates who attained positions as judges and local political leaders, the situation in that city, though still very difficult, began to improve. Good lawyers, trained to live out core values of justice and respect for the rule of law, support good communities.
I share this story because it shows the unique value of a law school invested in giving back to its community.
While the majority of law students come to law school directly from college, there are a significant number who come from the workplace. If you are someone who started working after graduating from college and are now considering going to law school, you may be nervous about whether it’s a problem that you don’t really remember everything you learned in college. And you may be wondering what you can or should do to prepare for law school.
The answer is—pretty much nothing. Your college experience, whatever it was and whenever it took place, will not hold you back. And your work experience is an asset, not a liability.
It seems appropriate to title this post with questions because questions are the heart of the so-called “Socratic method,” which is the distinguishing characteristic of law school instruction. Or at least it used to be.