What They Have to Say: A Faculty Q & A with Professor Griffin

by Scott Krystiniak, Class of 2016

One thing I will always remember about my 1L year is the perpetual feeling of being awestruck by the brilliance and cleverness of all my professors.  What is also fascinating is that these intellectual titans have also gone through a similar chapter in their lives.  In realizing this, I’ve often wondered what all my professors were like as law students or what they experienced during their three years of law school.  Then I decided that I would just ask them and learn exactly what they have to say.

clgriffinjrI recently had the pleasure of corresponding with William & Mary Professor Chris Griffin, a graduate of Yale Law School (he’s also my Property professor).  I prompted him with a few questions that were geared towards his experiences as a law student and now as a law professor.  He was gracious enough to offer his insights and memories, many of which have an apt analog to the various opportunities and offerings here at William & Mary.   Here it is:

What was the most memorable experience or moment you had while you were in law school?

There were countless such moments. The law professor in me would point to a spirited, organized debate one afternoon between two giants of law and economics: Judge Guido Calabresi and Judge Richard Posner. But the former law student in me would cite the three Law Revue skit shows I attended. Each one was held on the last day of classes and lampooned life in law school with all the wit of a great Daily Show or SNL episode. During 2L year, my schoolmates set their sights on our rivalry with Harvard Law School and then-Dean, now Supreme Court Justice, Elena Kagan with great panache. In my final year, a video cameo by Sam Waterston of Law & Order fame brought down the house. (We’ve all been sworn to secrecy, or I would say more!)

What was your favorite class in law school?  Why?

A seminar called The Civil Rights Revolution with the legendary Bruce Ackerman. The course combined the great 20th Century cases that paved the way for race equality with relevant statutes, legal scholarship, and historical accounts. The course offered a chance to pull back the curtain and understand how the Supreme Court arrived at landmark decisions like Brown v. Board of Education. We discussed what was inspiring about them and even identified how they still often fell short in ensuring full equality under the law for all citizens.

Was there any law school class or topic that stuck out in your mind as particularly challenging?

It might sound strange, but I would single out Remedies, a course I now teach at William & Mary. When I saw it listed in the catalog as a student—for the first time in twenty years apparently!—I knew it sounded practically useful and intriguing. It was as if the class would provide a magic key to unlock the secrets of many courses taken in the first year. It turned out to be just that. With that reward, however, came much challenging but no less stimulating reading and lecture time. Now I thoroughly enjoy passing along those insights to our students.

What do you miss most about being a law student?

Thankfully those memories are not too far in the past for me! And while I enjoy being on my side of the podium, I do think fondly about learning directly from great legal minds in the classroom. The most enduring part of the experience, though, remains the camaraderie with fellow law students: commiserating over a paper in the student lounge, source-citing for a journal into the late hours, and of course “law school prom.” My classmates made the three years a genuinely exciting and uplifting time, easily the best educational experience of my life.

What extracurricular activities or organizations were you involved in and how did they contribute to your legal education?

I was most actively involved in journal work, serving as an Editor of the Yale Law Journal and Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law & Policy Review. I learned a tremendous amount about the world of legal scholarship as well as working closely with classmates to produce each issue. I also participated in the work of the American Constitution Society and our Latino Law Students Association chapter. Even though I didn’t share their ethnic heritage, my Latino/a friends encouraged me to be involved and help advance diversity initiatives, which remain very important to me today.

What do you enjoy most about being a law professor?

Without a doubt: the “ah-ha” moment, when I can tell that a student has put together pieces of a doctrinal puzzle. As I see it, my job in the classroom is to deconstruct the rules into manageable pieces and then reassemble them into a coherent whole. I mostly teach first-year students in Torts and Property, so I know I’m doing something right when those “ah-ha” moments occur early in one’s legal education. I also deeply appreciate the freedom of my scholarly pursuits, which involve statistical study of how the law affects us socially and economically.

If you were to give one piece of advice to incoming law students, what would it be?

My advice to the law school applicant, well before he or she hopefully comes to William & Mary, would be: take some time off after college. Thinking about how a law degree will fit within one’s professional goals can only enrich the three years working toward it. I know this from my own experience and those of former classmates and current students. There are so many avenues one can take, and law school is a smorgasbord of options and opportunities. Working for a year or two and reflecting on how best to use the J.D. will make you a much more informed student and allow you to hit the ground running with a purpose. 

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