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Representing a domestic violence victim at her concluding divorce hearing, the School of Law student was jittery, fearful that she’d blow her remarks to the judge. She glanced at her teacher, sitting nearby, the student recalled, who “discreetly” tilted her legal pad so the student could read the bullet points written on it, reinforcing her rehearsed presentation.
“As I spoke to the judge, I could feel Naomi’s trust in me—evidenced by her silence, especially during the times where she could have intervened—and all the time she had dedicated to my understanding and improvement of our case,” the student went on. “When I think about my life and my luckiest moments, I now rank being matched with Naomi as one of them…”
The teacher was Naomi Mann, a LAW clinical associate professor, and such raves (this one from a letter the student had written in support of a Metcalf award) helped win Mann this year’s Metcalf Cup and Prize, the University’s highest teaching award, after just four years at BU. She will receive the Cup and Prize at the University’s 144th Commencement on Sunday, May 21.
Mann coteaches seminars on pre-trial advocacy and trial advocacy, supervising up to eight students each semester as they practice law for the first time and represent low-income clients in family, housing, job, and disability cases. She also helped create the three-year-old Lawyering Lab, a required one-week, one-credit simulation course that has first-year students practice lawyering with fictional clients.
“From a young age, I knew that social justice work was my calling,” says Mann. Her late father, physician Jonathan Mann, inspired her with his efforts to mobilize global health authorities against AIDS in the 1980s while arguing for health care as a human right. He died at 51 in 1998 when the plane he and his wife were on crashed off Nova Scotia. He was en route to a series of meetings on AIDS.
“I decided to become a lawyer because I wanted to have concrete tools to assist me with fighting injustice and inequities in society,” Mann says. “The law is a powerful tool, and I wanted that tool on my side while I worked to ensure that even the most disenfranchised got the rights that they were due.” In her clinical teaching, she tries to expose students to structural impediments to “whether individuals get a fair hearing. Each of my students reflects on what they can do in their legal careers, regardless of what area of law they work in, to help promote and protect justice in our legal system.”
Real courtroom experience is vital, she says, as employers increasingly demand law school graduates who demonstrate practical application of their classroom learning. “I seek to transform law students into lawyers capable of applying complex legal standards to the individual facts of their clients’ cases.”
She learned about winning the Metcalf after being called to meet with President Robert A. Brown and Jean Morrison, University provost. “They asked me if I knew why I was there, and I said, well, it’s either bad news or good news, and I am hoping that you would have someone else deliver bad news for you.”
Maureen O’Rourke, dean of LAW, notes that Mann’s “outstanding impact” on students is reflected by the fact that she was nominated for the Metcalf by six of her former pupils, one of whom recalled how she took a yearlong civil litigation clinic under Mann after having had a toxic, confidence-killing job with a law firm the previous summer. “My concerns about participating in the clinic soon subsided,” she wrote in her nominating letter, “as Professor Mann immediately inquired about my ideal working and learning environments, and made a concerted effort to create and maintain such an environment throughout the year…”
Yet another student marveled at Mann’s availability for student meetings despite her professional duties and, as the mother of two small children, family duties.
O’Rourke’s own recommendation letter said Mann is “an outstanding clinical teacher” and “a mentor, role model, counselor in time of need, and inspiration for those whose backgrounds include experiences as defendants in the court system.”
Mann says she appreciates both her students and her coteachers in the Civil Litigation Clinic. “I come to work every day looking forward to what my students and I can accomplish together,” she says.
She graduated from Harvard and earned a law degree from Georgetown. After working as a civil rights attorney in the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and representing low-income victims of domestic violence and sexual assault as a staff attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services, she taught at Boston College Law School and then came to BU.
A gift from the late Arthur G. B. Metcalf (SED’35, Hon.’74), a BU Board of Trustees chair emeritus and former professor, funds the Metcalf awards, created in 1973 and presented at Commencement. The Metcalf Cup and Prize winner receives $10,000 and the Metcalf Award winners receive $5,000 each. A University committee selects winners based on statements of nominees’ teaching philosophy, supporting letters from colleagues and students, and classroom observations of the nominees.
The winner of this year’s Metcalf Awards for Excellence in Teaching are Sophie Godley (SPH’17), a School of Public Health clinical assistant professor of community health sciences, and Gary Lawson, LAW’s Philip S. Beck Professor of Law.
More information about Commencement can be found here.