Civil discourse in class

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One challenge in any academic environment is providing a safe environment for students to explore and debate ideas. For lawyers, this problem is a professional one that relates both to how we speak and to what we hear. As a lawyer, you will find that you must sometimes speak respectfully to people around whom you feel either disrespect or at least discomfort. For example, if your firm has a transgender male client who prefers to be called “Mr. Jones,” then your obligation to your firm and client is to respect the client’s wish—even if you are uncomfortable with transgender folks and believe you have a right not to have to interact with them. You will always refer to a judge as “Your Honor,” even if you feel she has unfairly ruled against you out of personal malice.

Similarly, you must be prepared to hear things you are uncomfortable with. For example, if you experienced sexual abuse as a child, you might feel very distressed to read a case about sexual abuse. Nevertheless, if the case relates to a legal problem you must solve, you will have to read it. If you are lesbian attorney and the constitutionality of same-sex marriage comes up in a legal problem, you will have to listen to opposing counsel and perhaps judges make arguments that you think are wrong, perhaps even evil. Out of respect for you, it would be great to be able to issue “trigger warnings” before we discuss such topics, but your legal education must help you come to grips with the fact that such warnings will not be forthcoming in your career.

As a consequence of the speaking and listening that lawyers must do, your grade in Larson’s class sections depends in part on your adherence to one simple guideline: No matter what issues we discuss, we will speak and listen with respect. If you believe that anyone in class (whether another student, the TA, or myself) is failing to comply with this guideline, I invite you to reach out to me to discuss it.

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