School of Law professor sees the teaching of law as a tool of social justice.
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.”
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