Building on Best Practices
An artist who enjoys painting, jewelry making, and fiber arts, Lisa Bliss, director of experiential education and associate clinical professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law, also sees teaching the law as a creative process. The professor employs a variety of methods to help students weave different strands of learning together to expand their knowledge, explore new ideas, and develop practical skills.
Although many may not see it that way, the practice of law is also inherently creative. Bliss encourages her students to bring these pieces together through experiential, hands-on
learning. Through her dedication to her students and her commitment to lifelong learning, Bliss has become one of the leading voices in legal education.
The 2015 publication of Building on Best Practices: Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World, which Bliss co-edited with three other law professors, cements her reputation as an innovative legal educator. The book is a follow-up to Roy Stuckey’s Best Practices in Legal Education, a 2007 resource for legal educators to help prepare students to enter the profession.
“Our book shares current and emerging practices to help guide educators in designing curriculum to meet the needs of future lawyers,” said Bliss, who also co-directs the college’s HeLP Legal Services Clinic. “For example, the rise of experiential education, interdisciplinary education, problem-solving and conflict resolution, and intercultural effectiveness are all areas of interest to legal educators seeking to effectively prepare students for their lives as professionals in today’s legal environment.”
Building on Best Practices: Transforming Legal Education in a Changing World draws on Bliss’s extensive teaching experience. She has taught law professors in places such as the Philippines, the Czech Republic, Spain, India, Turkey, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam about best practices in clinical education and experiential and interdisciplinary learning.
“Lisa Bliss is a master teacher in clinical and experiential learning,” said Leslie Wolf, professor of law and director of the Center for Law, Health & Society. “So many professors world-wide have benefited from her talents.”
Bliss recalls the exact moment she knew she wanted to teach. She was a student at the University of Florida participating in a civil law clinic. She found herself excited not only about learning how to be a lawyer, but also about the professor’s role in developing students’ professional identity – imparting legal knowledge, but also honing decision-making skills and practicing how to interact with clients and other lawyers. She knew she wanted to play a similar role in helping students become lawyers.
The skill set on which Bliss drew in Building on Best Practices was built through a number of different experiences in her career. She developed her practice skills with an Atlanta law firm, before being offered the opportunity to teach alongside her mentor in the clinic at University of Florida’s Levin College of Law. Bliss and her spouse returned to Atlanta after a couple of years, and she became deputy director of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, where she supervised externs from Atlanta law schools, oversaw about 500
volunteer attorneys and handled pro bono cases.
Bliss wanted to return to teaching. She jumped at the chance to once again work directly with students honing their communication skills and accepted an offer to teach legal
writing and advocacy at Georgia State Law.
This additional teaching experience left Bliss well-positioned when the Health Law Partnership, a medical-legal partnership formed by Georgia State Law, Atlanta Legal Aid Society and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and directed by Sylvia Caley (J.D. ’89), was ready to establish the HeLP Legal Services Clinic at Georgia State Law. Bliss was selected
to co-direct the clinic with Caley.
“The HeLP clinic blends my interest in experiential learning for students and my commitment to ensuring access to justice for under-served communities,” said Bliss. “The opportunity to make a positive difference in children’s lives by working together with our hospital and medical school partners has been incredibly fulfilling.”
In addition to law students, the clinic has medical students and residents and graduate students in public health, social work, bioethics and others rotate through to learn about interdisciplinary problem-solving. “When professionals work together as a team, each learns to value the expertise of other members. They break down their professional silos, and outcomes for the patients, the clients, are improved,” said Bliss.
Bliss has been recognized both internally and externally for her work in advancing experiential and interdisciplinary education. In 2013, Bliss was named Georgia State Law’s
first director of experiential learning for her work integrating practical skills education into the curriculum.
In 2014 Bliss was awarded the Association of American Law Schools Section on Clinical Legal Education M. Shanara Gilbert Award. She serves on and is chair-elect of the executive committee of the AALS Section of Clinical Education. She also is a member of the Board of Directors of the Global Alliance for Justice Education. In all her endeavors, she brings the creativity that infuses her art and which she affirms is essential to the legal profession.