Excellence in a Professor: Paul Marcus| December 14, 2007
Professor Paul Marcus, appointed to the first Herbert V. Kelly, Sr., Professorship for Excellence in Teaching on Sept. 28, is happy to share the key to his success as a legal educator. "The best lesson I've learned over the years about teaching is to involve students," he said. The numerous ways he encourages students to learn and the enthusiasm he brings to his classes have earned him accolades from many quarters.
Marcus, now in his 33rd year of teaching, joined the William & Mary faculty in 1992 as the Hugh and Nollie Haynes Professor of Law. The Kelly Professorship, according to Dean Taylor Reveley, was created to recognize outstanding teachers such as Marcus and "to nurture the extraordinary teaching for which the Law School is known."
"Paul is a highly respected expert on criminal law who possesses an uncommon gift for teaching," Reveley said. "His thoughtful approach to legal education sparks student involvement. It is evident from his teaching evaluations that his work with students - both inside and outside the classroom - helps shape them as people and as lawyers. 'Mentor' is a word repeatedly used about him by both his current and former students and his faculty colleagues. We are deeply grateful to Herb Kelly for this professorship."
The Kelly Chair will be held for a two-year term by a member of the Law School faculty. Each recipient will have funds that can be used to generate a creative dialogue about legal education. Among Marcus's plans is a conference that will bring together members of the Law School community to talk about their shared educational values and goals. In addition, he will invite professors from law schools around the country to the Law School to share their insights about the ingredients for excellent teaching.
"It would be a great honor," said Marcus, "to receive this professorship in any case, but it is particularly an honor having known Herb Kelly and admired him so much." Kelly B.A. '41, B.C.L. '43, was the senior partner at Jones, Blechman, Woltz & Kelly in Newport News, Va., until his death earlier this year. His gift of $500,000 to the Law School enabled the creation of a professorship devoted to teaching. "He was very successful in private practice and used his wealth, his expertise, and his influence in good ways," noted Marcus. "He exemplified what it means to be a citizen lawyer."
Marcus remembers Kelly's visits to his classes and the many conversations they had over the years about lawyers' responsibilities and legal education. While Kelly appreciated the importance of faculty scholarship and service, said Marcus, he was keenly interested in "the educational component, whether inside the classroom or outside the classroom."
A number of people who Marcus has taught or have seen him teach were asked to share their thoughts about what makes Paul Marcus an outstanding teacher.
2L Erin D. McNeill said that what makes Marcus a standout in the classroom "is his genuine concern, kindness, and respect for his students." He treated her and other fledgling first-year law students in her criminal law class "as his colleagues, as though our opinions and analysis were novel and worthy of consideration. ... Even as we stumbled through a case analysis, he always found a way to pick up the conversation and made each individual's contribution count toward the overall class discussion."
Melissa Peters '01 remembered the "contagious excitement" that filled the classroom when he taught. "As a teacher, he is first and foremost fully engaged in what he is saying during the entire class. He is genuinely enthusiastic about criminal law ... His strong interpersonal skills help him to get students involved and talking during class, not just taking notes."
W&M Professor Laura Heymann observed the energy he brings to teaching: "I've had the opportunity to see Paul in action," she said, "and his enthusiasm - both for the material and for his students - fills the room. It's no wonder that, long after they graduate, students write or call Paul to let him know how they are doing and to share stories of their professional and personal success with him."
2L Latoya C. Asia said her criminal law class with Professor Marcus "never skipped a beat." He brought criminal law issues to life by bringing in news clippings and she recalled his "constant invitations" to attend lectures after class. He also, she said, "did a wonderful job with encouraging dialogue between students (by playing devil's advocate, of course!) and allowing students to take on his role and lead the class in discussion."
W&M Professor Jayne Barnard said Marcus is adept in the classroom at examining topics fairly and tackling difficult ones. "He unfailingly makes sure that all angles of an issue are explored - it's easy to emphasize one side of the arguments (prosecution or defense) but much harder to make sure that students, regardless of their perspectives, fully understand the other side's concerns - only by exploring and refuting all arguments can students become effective lawyers, and Paul does not play favorites." She added that "he's not afraid to confront the inevitable hard questions in criminal law - racial prejudice, over-reaction (on both the prosecution and defense side), how to ensure that the public is safe - even while trying to ensure that defendant's rights are honored."
W&M Professor Nancy Combs observed one of Marcus's classes and, among many aspects of the class she found notable, what impressed her most was the "tremendous breadth of Paul's knowledge." "Although the class was ostensibly focusing on the felony murder doctrine," she said, "Paul introduced sentencing issues and procedural considerations that immeasurably enhanced students' understanding of the doctrine in question."
3L Lindsey Vaala took Marcus for criminal law and is currently a student in his entertainment law litigation class. She said that Marcus encourages students to examine their beliefs and to think carefully about what constitutes justice. "He fine-tunes our reasoning skills and subtly motivates us to continue to ask questions after we leave W&M. Instead of simply teaching us principles, theories and rules of law, he asks if we agree with them. Are they right or just or fair? Should they be changed? How would you do it differently?"
Vaala and Asia are among students who Marcus invited to teach in the Literature and the Law Program that he created for the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail. The students select books that have justice as their theme and one evening a month during fall semester the students, 20 inmates, and Marcus come together at the jail for a discussion. "The inmates read the books, sometimes more than once," said Vaala, "and come to book club with pages of handwritten questions, thoughts, and comments. It has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my time in Williamsburg." Asia noted that while the program is just getting off the ground this semester, "what I have already gained from the experience is invaluable; expectations surpassed." Major Sherry Castellaw, assistant superintendant at the jail, said that Marcus, along with the students, "sparked an interest that is difficult to describe in the inmates who attend his classes. The waiting list to attend his program is a long one."
W&M Professor Dave Douglas characterized Marcus as "a very dedicated and passionate teacher who understands that some of the most important teaching takes place outside of the classroom. He continually goes the extra mile with his students, finding creative ways to develop both their understanding and interest in the material. Few law professors have enjoyed such rich success in teaching, scholarship, and public service as has Paul Marcus."
A. Mechele Dickerson, Fulbright & Jaworski Professor of Law and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Texas Law School, began her academic career at William & Mary. Marcus, said Dickerson, "is the epitome of excellence in teaching." She recalled that during her first year at William & Mary he suggested they sit in on each other's classes on an informal basis. "Paul's dedication to excellence in teaching was evident from the moment I entered his classroom. Watching Paul teach was one of the best pedagogical moments I had at William & Mary and it helped me become a better teacher. He engaged the students, he cajoled the students, he pushed students, but he never bullied students. It was clear watching him teach that the students thoroughly enjoyed his class."
Marcus has made an impression as a teacher outside the Law School as well.
Richard D. Fybel, associate justice of the California Court of Appeal and a classmate of Marcus's at UCLA Law School, recalled that Marcus was the first professor invited to teach a class to a group comprising the eight justices on the Court of Appeal and approximately 30 members of the bar. The class, Fybel noted, was "spectacular." "He had command of tough legal issues, he analyzed problems in a sound and impressive manner, and he engaged the group in his lively, enthusiastic teaching method. ... The inaugural class was so successful, it has served as a model for other lectures by law professors to our group."
Former students said that Marcus's encouragement made an enormous difference in their law school experience.
Rebecca Jackson '02 studied criminal law with Marcus and also served as his research assistant for three years. Among her research duties, she interviewed jurors who had served on capital murder trials in Virginia for a research study that Marcus headed. "As his student," she said, "I felt he was very accessible and that he really believed in my abilities. This was a much needed boost for a first-year law student. As his research assistant, I felt honored to work with him, and quickly came to view him as my mentor."
When asked if Marcus affected his law school experience, Zach Terwilliger '07 replied succinctly, "Professor Marcus was my law school experience. His classes kept me engaged in law school when all I wanted to do was quit. ... Aside from my parents, he is the first individual that I contact when I have a legal career decision to make. I consider him not only a great instructor, mentor, but also an incredible friend."
Sheyna N. Burt '01 said that an invitation from Marcus to become one of his research assistants came at a time of when she was feeling "less than certain about my place and value within the Law School." Marcus, she said, probably doesn't know how important that invitation was to her. "Professor Marcus was the person who shook me out of the fear and self-consciousness that could have really undermined my law school experience. ... Basically, Professor Marcus believed in my abilities and potential as an attorney before I did."