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A “Thank You” to Electronic Discovery Adjunct Professors

Bill Hamilton

Bill Hamilton is a Commercial Litigation Partner in the Tampa Office. Bill has been teaching E-Discovery as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law since 2007. He is the Executive Director of the University of Florida E-Discovery Project and a Provost of Bryan University and Vice-Chancellor and Dean of its E-Discovery programs. You can see additional information about Bill by visiting his professional bio

This Saturday, we celebrate World Teachers’ Day. Many of us fondly remember a teacher who made a life-changing difference in our lives. I recall Mrs. MacDougal, from my 7th-grade, who guided us with wit, beauty, and grace through a new “post-Sputnik” course on mathematics as set theory — like any good Platonist, she made the mathematics in the world come alive. I still get chills as I think back on the day I first discovered that a number was really the name of a set.

Other teachers along the way have contributed much to the man and the professional that I have become, especially William Albert Levi (“Bill”), my mentor in graduate school. His stunning moments of articulated genius are engrained in me, such as the time, after I had read an obtuse section of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind, that he calmly announced that Hegel was simply anticipating Freud. Suddenly and stunningly, Hegel and Freud became understandable and profound to me.

I’ve always loved real teachers for two cardinal virtues: their ability to spark that instant of comprehension — that “a-ha!” moment — and their amazing generosity.

As much as any motivation to pursue the profession, teaching is an act of generosity. Something more important than and beyond monetary value is being packaged properly and gifted without expectation of equal recompense. The educator has to present the culmination of the collective progress of human civilization in new and refreshing ways to students so that they can feel the richness and power of these discoveries themselves. Teachers know nothing emerges fully formed from the head of Zeus. Everything is built on the labors, successes, and victories of others. Educators intuitively know this and thereby intuitively recognize the depth of the gift of learning.

Perhaps this is the core of the irony in why our teachers are paid so little compared to other professionals. They didn’t get into it for the money, so they are paid shockingly little for delivering value beyond price.

Which brings me to the adjunct professors who are teaching e-discovery at our nation’s law schools. A few year back, my colleague Ralph Losey graciously allowed me to pen an article for his blog, e-Discovery Team®, which called on law schools to teach e-discovery. We have wonderful, dedicated civil procedure professors at our law schools, but civil procedures courses must cover much more than discovery, even leaving e-discovery aside. Moreover, the practical experiences of many of our civil procedure professors are far removed from the e-discovery revolution of the past 15 years. They often lack the concrete experiences and practical skills that teaching such a course demands.

E-discovery, however, has become the crucible in which the litigation process burns away irrelevance. To apply another metaphor, it is not simply icing on the civil procedure cake, or merely a good elective course for a second- or third-year law student. E-discovery has quickly become the guts of litigation (to keep the metaphors coming), requiring a completely new set of litigation skills to digest the truth. To the point (and dispensing with the metaphors), e-discovery must be taught as a requisite course for law students headed toward a litigation practice.

Spanning this yawning breach between law school and practice are our e-discovery adjunct professors. They are “adjuncts” for two reasons: (1) while teaching, they keep full-time jobs (read: “80 hours per week”) at law firms and in law departments; and (2) they perform this essential work for a pittance, compared to the compensation they might garner in other pursuits.

Adjunct teaching is an act of generosity.

Over the last few short years, adjunct professors have begun teaching e-discovery at more than 40 law schools around the nation (albeit not every semester), and more are signing on for this comparatively thankless duty every day. Hmm, it can’t be the money, or the joys of grading papers after midnight, can it? . . .

In fact, this adjunct group knows much is at stake: the integrity of our civil and criminal litigation process and the careers of our law students caught in the evolution (or is it revolution?) of the legal profession. Our e-discovery adjunct professors (as well as adjuncts in other fields) bring gusto, enthusiasm, talent, and experience to our laws schools. But e-discovery adjuncts alone build their new e-discovery courses virtually de novo in the contemporary litigation maelstrom.

Hats off to this little band of volunteers, and a hearty “thank you” on World Teachers’ Day. (That goes for you, too, Mrs. MacDougal!)