Lawyering Skills on the National Stage

Professor Kim D. Chanbonpin Leads Innovative, Nationally Ranked Legal Writing Program

In Chicago, where some 1.9 million residents are Latino, it makes sense for lawyers to be able to communicate in Spanish. So John Marshall has created a new “Spanish for Lawyers” class to teach future lawyers how to speak and write in legal Spanish. The new course satisfies the law school’s demanding fourth semester legal writing requirement and trains young lawyers to provide much–needed legal services to the Spanish-speaking community.

The class is one of the many innovations coming out of the law school’s top-ranked Lawyering Skills Program under the leadership of Professor Kim D. Chanbonpin, who became director of the program last year.

“I inherited a very strong program and have the good fortune to have three past directors and a past associate director on the faculty with me,” says Chanbonpin. “Each of these folks has brought their own energy and know-how to the program. I intend to carry on their tradition and track record of excellence. At the same time, I have some new ideas that I hope will improve upon the existing curriculum and the learning experience we provide for our students.”

I inherited a very strong program

Innovations in Teaching

Chanbonpin points to the scholarship and teaching methods of fellow Lawyering Skills faculty member Cynthia Bond as one of those creative ideas. Bond, who writes about popular culture and the law, often uses film and television shows in her classes so that students can better relate to the material.

“Most first-year law students often are not familiar with cases or statutes, but are regular consumers of television and movies. These popular media are texts that require the engagement of the audience or the reader to make meaning. The same is true of legal texts, except lawyers are the ones who read, interpret, and participate in the meaningmaking of legal texts like statutes and cases. Professor Bond’s approach makes unfamiliar legal authorities more accessible,” Chanbonpin says.

She also praised the outstanding efforts of John Marshall’s adjunct faculty, including Jennifer Ward, who teaches Lawyering Skills IV: Family Law Drafting.

Ward (‘02), a family law practitioner, revamped her drafting course to incorporate the legislative changes in the 2016 Illinois Dissolution of Marriage Act. The new law has created a need for family law practitioners to learn new substantive and procedural rules and to revise court filings.

Cutting-Edge Information

“Ward’s students are learning cutting-edge information while gaining drafting skills that will make them ready to practice family law in Illinois upon graduation,” says Chanbonpin.

While these innovative teaching methods help keep John Marshall’s Lawyering Skills Program a top-ranked program by U.S. News & World Report, Chanbonpin isn’t content to rest on the program’s laurels. She also sees value in having the Lawyering Skills’ faculty visible on the local and national stage.

Chanbonpin recently became president of the Legal Writing Institute and is on the Board of Governors for the Society of American Law Teachers. She also holds committee positions in the Illinois State Bar Association and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and is a member of the ALWD/LWI Task Force on ABA Accreditation Standards.

“A significant part of the responsibility of a law faculty member is to be engaged in the community outside of the law school. Being involved in bar associations allows me to cultivate professional networks, and leadership in organizations like LWI and SALT encourages me to constantly innovate my teaching methods. Both of these benefit our students.”