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Office Hours with Professor Victor Goode

April 17, 2018

Professor Victor Goode If we asked you to pen your own introduction, what would you add to the “standard faculty intro” to give us the really important stuff?

In many ways, I’ve been a “legal architect” throughout my career. By that I mean that I’ve helped build several important legal institutions, including the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) and CUNY Law School. I’m proud that both continue to stand as beacons for lawyers and students seeking to do progressive legal work.

What’s new and exciting in your classroom this semester?

I have to say that after thirty-five years of teaching, there’s not much really new this semester. But my Contemplative Practice and the Law class is always different and interesting, certainly for me, and, I hope, for my students. In this course, students explore their emerging professional identity and examine how their values have evolved through this socialization process. When that happens, the discussions are always interesting and different.

The other day, a student told a story about a school desegregation lawsuit in her hometown. This was an important event in her life because her father was involved in the lawsuit, and, as a result of the case, she attended the town’s first integrated high school. She had never told this story in three years of law school and it was our discussion about values and motivation to do public interest work that opened the space for her to have that conversation. These are the kinds of “teaching moments” that the Contemplative class generates every semester.

 

If you could recruit anyone to guest lecture in your class, who would it be – and what would they talk about?

I’d love to have our former dean and my friend Haywood Burns talk to my class about his work on the Attica Defense Committee. Haywood was the first Director of NCBL and I was the third, so our life paths have crossed many times. He was also a former president of the National Lawyers Guild and was a strong believer in building coalitions. I think today many students are exploring how to do social justice lawyering and could learn much from his experience. While the Attica cases were extraordinary for many reasons, they were also a model of how progressive lawyers organized themselves to respond to the legal needs of their time.

 

You’re known as CUNY Law’s meditation guru… since 1983. Can you tell us about how your meditation practice grounds or informs your legal career?

Although I had a meditation practice when I started teaching at CUNY Law, it was not something that I shared with my colleagues and students until years later. In those early days, meditation was often associated with religious rituals, and, so, it was generally assumed to be a private matter. Not until we began our Contemplative Program at the law school in 2001 did meditation become recognized as a secular activity and a skill that could be useful in the practice of law.

Today, I would advise every new lawyer to cultivate the skill of meditation. Its impact on reducing stress is well-documented, and it has shown to be very useful in a variety of legal activities, including client interviewing and counseling, negotiating, and even conducting a trial. Being more centered and less reactive are traits that we should all cultivate.

 

Do you have any alumni in your inbox right now?

I have many. In fact, the only reason I got a Facebook page was at the urging of former students who told me it was a simple way of staying in touch. From my modest number of FB “friends,” I’d say about 200 are former students.

But the alums that are in my real daily inbox are those who have joined us as teachers and administrators at the law school. Joe Rosenberg and David Nadvorney are two that have been my colleagues for many years. But I’m happy to also count Camille Massey, Allie Robbins, and Ryan Dooley as more recent alumni colleagues whom I interact with on a regular basis.  I know I’m leaving some out, but CUNY has been very good about reaching out to its alums for adjunct and administrative positions, and they’ve all been invaluable because they bring their perspectives as former students along with their skills as accomplished lawyers to their work at CUNY.

Before teaching, did you have any other jobs or experiences that might surprise us?

I worked as a lawyer for ten years before going into teaching, but I haven’t really had any career outside of the law. I went straight from college to law school and started my first job with the Vindicate Society in Newark, New Jersey doing juvenile defense work, while also organizing for the National Conference of Black Lawyers. As a mid-westerner from the rust belt, I worked various jobs through my college years. They included a steel plant, a chemical factory, and every Christmas a temporary stint with the Post Office. The challenges of those jobs made me very determined to continue my education and pursue other options.

 

Do you have any morning rituals? Blogs or news you always check or a meditation practice you like to check in on?

I confess to being a news junkie, so I read the online version of the New York Times every morning. Frequently I’m either moved or annoyed by some story and take advantage of the “comments” section to express my opinion. Some have gained favorable responses from other readers, and a number have been NY Times picks, which means the editors thought they added something significant to the discussion. A few weeks ago, one of my comments attracted over 1,000 positive recommendations, and, on a few occasions, the Times staff suggested I transform the comment into a letter to the editor.

My meditation time depends on how I feel. But, I tend to meditate more in the evenings than in the morning. Evening meditation helps me settle the mind and let go of the day’s events before going to sleep.

 

What can’t you let go of? Is there anything that holds you enthralled, that you want to keep on people’s radar, or that is keeping you up at night?

As my mentor and friend Arthur Kinoy said, “those who aspire to greatness in the law must immerse themselves in the political turmoil of the day.” I’ve never really sought “greatness,” but I’ve always been acutely aware of the relationship between law and our political economy. And like many today, I can’t “let go” of the many ways in which our legal system has been captured by forces that are not only disparaging human rights but destroying the planet itself.

As a child of the 50s, I lived with the prospects of a possible nuclear war. Today, our students have seen the risk of that tragedy re-emerge, along with the very real prospects of catastrophic dislocations from climate disruptions. The real possibilities of these events definitely keep me up at night.

 

What’s one question you wish more students would ask you?

The question that must always be on the minds of every student is “why?”  It’s not so important that they ask me, but that they ask themselves. Ours is an evidence-based discipline, and so there must be reason and fact behind all that we do. “Why” reflects the necessary skepticism that leads us to dig deeply to find the answers we seek.  And “why” keeps us alive to the unfolding wonders of the universe.

 

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