This past week we had the final classes of the semester, which meant that I taught the last two-hour session of the Criminal Lawyering Process, a companion course to the Juvenile Justice Clinic. It was my ninth year teaching it, and I finally felt that I had captured its essence — I have a clear sense of my goals for each class, how to engage the students and provoke good discussion, and confidence in my pacing and substantive coverage of the material. UNC Law students are truly lovely — smart, hard-working and caring. It is a privilege to spend time with them in the classroom.
This semester was particularly busy. My husband tells me that I seek out projects that then become stressors — part of my type A personality, I suppose, but also somewhat inevitable for a working parent. All my various obligations do feed a certain level of anxiety, but the truth is that while I’m doing them — and when they are completed — I feel exhilarated and a strong sense of accomplishment.
It was this way for the 1000 word op-eds that I wrote for 15 consecutive weeks between August 13th and November 19th. I would agonize over the topic, research and write frantically, rewrite and edit, and then submit it (all within a two to three day period), worried that it would be of little interest to anyone. Then it would be published — here as well as via the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and the Huffington Post — and I would wait. Would it be read? Would anyone care enough to comment? How many times would people post it on their Facebook page or Twitter feed? This would occupy me for a day or so, and then I’d return to agonizing over the next column.
Sounds like a lousy pattern, I know, but it was ultimately satisfying. I enjoyed making connections with folks who actually did care enough to react, comment, email or friend me. I was heartened by the positive reception and feedback. And it was immensely satisfying to discuss critically important juvenile justice issues in the mainstream (Huff Post) and niche (JJIE) media. However, when I saw that the pace (which, admittedly, was completely self-imposed) was negatively impacting my family life — my mood in the evenings and the time I had available to be with my daughters — I knew it was time to take a break. I hope to return to it in January, but we will see….
The commentary process did reinforce for me the importance of writing regularly. I would frequently only have the barest sense of a topic, but after 2-3 hours, I would produce a draft that felt cohesive and ended up expressing an idea, concept or sentiment that I could not have predicted. I’ve long known that the process of writing is, for me, a process of thinking and figuring out my ideas. Although I appreciate the value of outlines and note-taking, at some point I need to sit down and just get the words flowing.
My plans for December? I am still appearing in juvenile delinquency court with my students, wrapping up our cases and court hearings for the semester. I also will be preparing for next semester when I will be teaching — only for the third time — a course that I’ve developed, Juvenile Courts and Delinquency, that is based on the section of the casebook, Children, Parents, and the Law, that I co-edit with Professor Leslie Harris. It is a three hour/week class in which we spend the first two hours analyzing and discussing the case law and legal doctrine that governs juvenile delinquency court practice, with the third hour spent on simulation exercises that are designed to prepare students for the actual representation of kids (trial advocacy skills, interviewing, counseling, negotiation, etc.). I will be teaching it at both UNC and Duke Law, which will make for an interesting comparative experience (go Tar Heels!).
One exciting project that has come up is that I’ve been invited to submit a book proposal based on my article, “Delinquent by Reason of Poverty,” in which I try to answer the question of why nearly all the children in delinquency court are poor and then offer strategies for reform. It is an issue that I care deeply about, so I’m looking forward to expanding upon the article and eventually reaching a wider audience. So this, too, will be occupying my time within the next 4-6 weeks.
As we pass the six month mark on the launching of the Juvenile Justice Blog, I am grateful to all for reading and supporting my work. I wish you and yours a peaceful holiday season.
Photo © Peter Birckhead