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Faculty Spotlight - Heather Melniker

As I write this, July is ending, and I’m planning my syllabus for the coming semester. I love the summer and the break it gives me away from the classroom. I’m no different from countless other students and teachers from kindergarten to college who rejoice on the last day of classes. But right about now, as happens every year, I find myself getting more and more excited about the start of a new school year.

In a few weeks I will begin my twenty-ninth year teaching at Touro. I have taught Legal Process in various forms for all of those years, and yet I have never once gotten bored or wished I taught something else. There is something so magical about welcoming first-year students to the study of law and understanding the difficult, yet wondrous journey on which they are about to embark. Since Legal Process sections are smaller than the other first-year classes, I know that I will get to know many of these students quite well. Some look scared. Some look eager. Some are shy. Some are talkative. Some will question why they came to law school. Some seem confident that this was the right choice for them. All will be challenged and all will grow. We proceed on this adventure together, and that’s why I love teaching so much.

Legal Process is often viewed as the most important course in law school because it simulates what students will do in actual practice. Students begin the process of learning to research, analyze, and write legal documents. Each professor tailors her assignments so that they are of increasing difficulty, and the issues raised in the assignments are based on various subject areas in the law. The changing topics of the assignments make the course fresh and new every year. While students sometimes feel threatened or embarrassed to have their writing critiqued, that critique is a critical component of the class. The feedback is intended to help students learn how to improve. Sometimes that improvement comes quickly, and sometimes it is frustratingly slow, but it does come with hard work and practice.

This year, the Legal Process professors are excited to begin a new chapter in our curriculum. We will no longer teach research through the books in the library, but rather, we will only teach research through online tools. This modern and innovative approach conforms to the current way research is conducted in a growing number of firms and public interest offices. Law libraries are no longer willing or able to spend the money funding an actual library when online sources are so readily available, and in fact, many sources are now available online for free. Online sources are kept current, while books, even under the best of circumstances, necessarily have a lag time to update. The two main online sources, Westlaw and Lexis, have even developed new programs that will soon replace their original programs, and we will be concentrating on those new programs, Westlaw Next and LexisAdvance. In the spring semester we will also introduce Bloomberg Law, a relative newcomer to online legal research. Student proficiency in the online sources is necessary for today’s legal practice, and we are confident our students will be thoroughly prepared to meet any research task they are assigned in their jobs following their first year of law school.

Finally, let me offer some advice to those of you entering your first year of law school. Work hard. Work very hard. Law school is different from college or any other graduate program you may have attended. It may take you an hour to read one sentence of a case, and it will seem as if you just read a sentence in a foreign language you’ve never seen. You have. That language is the law, so just like you did in high school when faced with a word in French literature you didn’t know, you look it up. Don’t be lazy. Look up every strange word. It will take time, but it’s worth it. You will begin to learn the vocabulary of the law and you will get comfortable with it. Trust me. You will. And remember, everyone is in the same boat, so don’t be afraid to voice your fears and insecurities. It helps to know you’re not alone.

Welcome to Touro. We are so glad you’re here!