Joan Rocklin is a legal research and writing professor at Oregon Law. She earned her J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, graduating Order of the Coif. She had her first opportunity to teach legal research and writing when she was selected to be a legal writing instructor to a group of 12 first-year law students at the University of Pennsylvania. While there, she was also an editor for the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.
Professor Rocklin joined the University of Oregon faculty in 2001 after working in a private practice. She teaches Legal Research and Writing I and II and an upper level writing class, Intensive Writing. She is active in the national legal writing organizations. At the 2008 and 2010 Legal Writing Institute's biennial conferences she trained dozens of new legal writing professors in the fine art of critiquing student work. She was also the 2008-09 secretary for the Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research section of the Association of American Law Schools and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Legal Writing Institute.
Below is a Q&A with Professor Rocklin on what she enjoys about her life as a legal educator.
Q: What inspired you to become a legal educator?
A: As a legal writing professor, I spend a lot of time working with students, pushing them to think more precisely, and then pushing them further so that they communicate their precise thinking in a way that is concise and easy to understand. I love all of those tasks — working with students, thinking about how lawyers analyze problems, and then thinking about how to better communicate that analysis. When I was looking for a change in careers, I asked myself what do I enjoy doing? That question led me to this job.
Q: If you did not work as a legal educator, what other profession would you choose?
A: I'd probably find some other way to teach, probably as a high school teacher.
Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching legal research and writing?
A: Ultimately, legal writing is about clear thinking. I really enjoy pushing my students to think more precisely and, then, provide them with techniques to express those thoughts in a logical, easy-to-understand way. Students are sometimes surprised that there are a number of simple techniques that, if used consistently, can have a huge impact on their writing.
The other great thing about teaching legal writing is that the classes are small. Each legal writing professor has only 20 students in a classroom and about 40 students in a term. Because the classes are small, I get to know my students really well.
Q: What is your personal mission statement in the classroom?
A: The mission of any Legal Research and Writing Class is to teach students the fundamentals of legal research and writing. (Pretty obvious.) What is important to me is the way I do that. I like to hold my students to very high standards, but, at the same time, give them all the tools and support they need to meet those standards.
Q: What do you enjoy about our law school community?
A: The people who are here. Coming from the East Coast, I didn't know what to expect from students of the faculty. I have found the students to be engaged, passionate, and interesting. Every year, I enjoy meeting the first-year law students; every year they make my job a lot of fun.
The faculty and administration are similarly passionate about what they do, and they care about the student experience. It's a great group of people to work with.
Q: What do you enjoy most about living in Eugene?
A: I love that it's so easy to get outdoors. Anywhere in Eugene, you are minutes from beautiful hiking and cycling. I particularly enjoy walking Eugene's Ridgeline Trail. It's just minutes away, but you soon feel as though you are deep in the woods. Kayaking is not far either. Nearby, there's Fern Ridge Reservoir. But just a little bit further there's Waldo Lake, one of the world's most pristine lakes, and Clear Lake, in which you can see petrified trees. Then, the coast is just a little over an hour in one direction, and the mountains (and skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing) are a little over an hour away in the opposite direction. And, finally, the UO Outdoor Program (which is located just a few blocks from the law school) rents all the equipment you need to enjoy all of it.
Q: What are some of your personal hobbies/interests outside of work?
A: As you can tell, when not working, I love to be outside. I bike, hike, walk, kayak, ski, snowboard, snowshoe, swim. I don't do any of it particularly quickly or at a particularly high level, but I enjoy them all.
Q: The most memorable place you have visited is…
A: I can't choose one. I've lived in Paris; trekked in Nepal; visited the pyramids in Egypt; hiked to black sand beaches in Hawaii and up volcanos in Guatemala; sipped espresso in Croatia, tea in Istanbul, and Guinness in Ireland; and explored Masada in Israel and Petra in Jordan. And then there are the memories closer to home: I became engaged at the top of Spencer's Butte, got married at King Estate Winery, and am now watching my son grow up, here, in Eugene. I can't choose one.
Q: Who most influenced your life or is someone you most look up to?
A: Would it sound incredibly pretentious to say Aristotle? Yes, it would. But there you have it. In my college Philosophy 101 class, I read Aristotle's theory that the fulfilled life focuses on activities that are ends in themselves and not those that are only means to an end. We all have to make choices in our life, like which career to pursue, which projects to focus on, or where to live. That idea–that one should prefer tasks that are inherently enjoyable and avoid those that are done only for the sake of where they will get you–has consistently provided helpful guidance. Obviously, it's not an absolute rule. I can't avoid all tasks that are only a means to an end. (I did have to take law school exams, and I do have to clean dishes.) Still, when you can, it's good advice to follow.