William and Mary Law School

Why Do I Teach? An Essay by Haynes Professor Paul Marcus

  • Teaching a New Generation of Lawyers
    Teaching a New Generation of Lawyers
    Marcus has been honored with a Commonwealth of Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award and has been a three-time recipient of the Walter L. Williams, Jr., Memorial Teaching Award. In 2007, he was appointed as the inaugural Kelly Professor for Excellence in Teaching.
    Chris Cunningham Photography

Haynes Professor of Law Paul Marcus joined the faculty in 1992 and is an internationally known scholar of criminal law and procedure, jury behavior, and copyright law.  In 2007, William & Mary's Board of Visitors appointed him as the inaugural Kelly Professor for Excellence in Teaching. The chair honors the memory of Herbert V. Kelly, Sr., who received his undergraduate and law degrees from William & Mary and was the senior partner at Jones, Blechman, Woltz & Kelly in Newport News, Va., until his death in 2007.

Why do I teach? The question is oh so straightforward. The answer, alas, is far more complicated. To help me craft an answer let me offer to you a pop quiz, with two questions.

1. What do these places have in common for me: Melbourne, Australia; Williamsburg, Virginia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Paris, France; Chicago, Illinois; Porto Alegre, Brazil; and Auckland, New Zealand?

2. What do these issues have in common for me: The felony murder rule, the length of criminal sentences, the protection of Mickey Mouse under the Copyright Act, the ability of jurors in criminal cases in the United States - but almost nowhere else -  to speak of their experiences, the Miranda rule, why in the United States -  but almost nowhere else - a singer cannot copy the voice of Bette Midler on the song "Do You Want to Dance?"

Now the answer to these two questions is pretty simple.

Question 1: Those are all cities where I have taught or lectured, and some where I continue to teach or lecture.

Question 2: These issues are all matters I explore in my classes, talks, and short educational  programs.

Now, with that quiz behind us, let me return to the bigger question, why do I teach?  I teach because it is a thrilling and rewarding job. I learn so very much from my students. Whether it's the middle school student in Melbourne, the juvenile offender in Virginia, the law school student here in Williamsburg, the lawyer in Chicago, the judge in Porto Alegre, Washington or New Zealand, or the 30-year-old jail inmate in Virginia.  I learn from them; hopefully they also learn from me and from each other.

I am truly privileged to be able to explore the difficult question of how our justice system operates, and how it should be operating. In giving these programs, and particularly looking to the classes I teach here at the Law School, let me mention that I actually do not lecture very much. I do not just talk at students. It is my hope that engaging those students - whether the law student, the lawyer or the judge - having them think about the difficult issues, having them explore with their colleagues answers to hard questions, we achieve a far greater teaching technique and a far more enriching experience for them and for me. As a consequence, in my presentations I generally do not allow any electronic devices in class, I want students to look at me and I look at them and we focus together on a conversation about the issues. I use all sorts of devices in class to make key points (video and audio clips, diagrams, handouts, etc.) but my use of Power Point is quite limited. I ask everyone to be fully prepared. And, I call on students. Yes, I call on the law student, I call on the judge, I call on the prisoner. We talk together about legal problems and resolutions.

Through the years I have concluded that generally students teach as well as faculty members. To be sure, there is a good deal to be learned from students teaching one another. Let me explain. I give students problems to work on individually, and in groups; in smaller classes I have students make presentations individually and as groups; students will often set up discussion questions to be used in class and prepare materials to go with them. The resulting class sessions have students engaged, eager to question just about everything and everyone (especially their instructor!) I find it to be an intense and deeply satisfying experience.  Made all the more so because the students and I will - in the smaller classes - bring food to share, nothing like some coffee or tea and good cookies or snacks to get us all to engage.

Do these students, lawyers and judges learn effectively from this approach? I think so. I know I certainly do. So, to return to the question: Why do I teach? Here is the answer: There simply is no better job I could possibly imagine.

Click here (opens .pdf)  to read Q&As with three William & Mary law faculty, including Paul Marcus, Angela Banks, and Timothy Zick.