Professor Reflects on Lessons Learned Over 3 Decades in Legal Education

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I had the honor of sitting down with Jim Fine, Professor at Roosevelt University, to chat about his experience in legal education, and learn his advice for legal professionals looking to differentiate themselves in today’s increasingly competitive market.

Alicia: Tell us briefly about your background. How did you get into teaching?

Jim: I started my career as a high school US History teacher. Hard to believe but there was a time in the mid-1970s that high school enrollments were declining and teachers were being let go. I decided that since I had no talent for building guitars or grandfather clocks that I’d try law school. A year after passing the bar I saw an ad for adjunct professors at Roosevelt University. I was hired and began teaching in February 1983. In 2003, Roosevelt decided that they needed a full-time professor in Paralegal Studies. I applied and was hired for that position.

Alicia: As a professor for Roosevelt University’s Paralegal Studies Program, what are your key job responsibilities?

Jim: I teach a number of courses including Pre-trial Litigation, Trial and Post-trial Litigation, Commercial Law, and Legal Technology. I review textbook changes with other instructors and try to make sure that we are using books that focus on technology and ediscovery.

My Legal Technology class focuses on using programs like DISCO, CaseMap, TextMap, Word, and Excel. I’ve written curricula for my litigation courses that integrates these programs and gives students hands-on experiences that simulates what it would be like using these programs in a law firm or corporate legal department.

Alicia: What are the primary challenges your department is currently facing?

Jim: I think that all paralegal programs must meet the challenge of making sure that their students are capable of dealing effectively with ediscovery. This means that all full-time and adjunct professors must also be aware of the new federal rules as well as each state’s ediscovery rules so that they can impart a working knowledge and reasons behind these rules. This means that we all need to be updating our own knowledge base and looking at new ediscovery cases as often as we can.

Alicia: What were you looking for when selecting legal technologies to teach in your classroom?

Jim: When I took over our Legal Technology course in 2004 I was aware of how difficult it was for students who were not computer savvy to understand the software. At that time it was Concordance and Summation, which were the most utilized ediscovery programs. I did not feel that these programs were at all intuitive and it seemed as though only my younger students who had grown up using computers were successful in understanding how these software programs operated.

It is my role as an ediscovery educator to make sure that our students feel comfortable navigating ediscovery document production. I chose DISCO as one of our ediscovery training software programs because I was immediately impressed by how easy it was to understand, view, and navigate. I have been using DISCO for three years and I have been impressed by the modifications and operations that the program can perform with a minimum of difficulty. My students have consistently given favorable evaluations of this program for ease of use, speed, and navigability.

Alicia: What has been your experience in using DISCO for ediscovery?

Jim: Adding to what I said in my last paragraph above, using DISCO, I have been able to demonstrate concepts such as batching and analytics in hands-on exercises that simulate office practices. I believe that our students are able to enter the legal community with a solid understanding of ediscovery software and how to use it most effectively.

Alicia:  What piece of advice would you give to soon to be law graduates or new legal professionals who are looking for ways to differentiate in an increasingly competitive market?

Jim: I’m going to assume that when you say differentiate, you mean how will these graduates make themselves stand out from the myriad resumes that are sent out every day. Obviously, a facility in using ediscovery software is an absolute necessity. Becoming familiar with other case management software programs would be helpful as well.

Finally, even though what I’m about to say is not directly related to ediscovery or software programs, all law students or paralegal students must become better writers. At some point, it may be necessary to explain the nuances of ediscovery to a client. While we legal types understand what the programs do and what the rules dictate, it is not always easy to make that clear to our clients. You need to remember that we work for our clients and that they are usually delighted when you make things clear and understandable.

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Alicia Brewer