By John Masson
In just his second year of teaching at the University of Michigan Law School, Prof. Nicholas Bagley has been chosen by students to receive the L. Hart Wright Teaching Award.
The coveted award, managed by the Law School Student Senate and voted on this year by more than 200 students, is named after a legendary Michigan Law professor who was both widely influential in the law and deeply revered by the students he taught. It will be presented to Prof. Bagley at a faculty wine and cheese reception next fall.
"It's easily the greatest honor of my professional career," said Prof. Bagley, a former attorney with the appellate staff in the Justice Department's Civil Division, who also clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens. "But I don't think by winning this award I can just claim victory and sit on my laurels. My plan for the next three, four, five, 10, 20 years is to keep doing whatever I can to be more effective."
For Prof. Bagley, that means copious preparation before each class. He painstakingly maps out where each session will go so he knows precisely the information he wants to convey and what he wants students to understand before they walk out of the classroom.
"I have a clear sense of my ultimate endpoint and how I want to get there," he said.
One of his students, 2L Kate Gilbert, said she was fortunate to take health law and civil procedure from Prof. Bagley, and his hard work and preparation were always evident to students.
"He was so obviously incredibly well prepared every day," Gilbert said. "Each class is incredibly well structured. He crafted the classes and had clear educational objectives, and at the end of each class he would make sure that you left with those."
Gilbert said Prof. Bagley also brought huge amounts of enthusiasm and energy to every class—especially in civil procedure—along with a charmingly self-deprecating sense of humor.
"No one goes to law school and says, 'I can't wait to take civil procedure,' but they might now," Gilbert said. "Professor Bagley does such an incredible job. He was lively, funny, engaging—he's hilarious, and he's really teaching you, too. You come out of that class having a firm grasp on the material. And we're talking about the federal rules of civil procedure!"
She particularly remembers his first reading assignment: Rules 1–12, the completion of which Gilbert describes as "one of the more painful experiences of my law school career."
"I got to class and there was just no way I was going to retain that information," Gilbert said. "But I realized he just wanted to expose us to it, and we were going to go back and work our way through it. In the end, he had given me a picture of why we have these rules, how they work, and what the driving rationale is behind them."
Prof. Bagley said some of his penchant for preparation and a clearly delineated class session comes from his two years teaching eighth-grade English in the South Bronx as part of the Teach for America program.
"The experience made an enormous impact on me and changed the way I approach teaching," he said. "And it certainly changed my approach to classroom management."
All for the better, according the law students who voted to honor him—including Gilbert, who would have this to say to future 1Ls preparing to take Prof. Bagley's civil procedure class:
"First, I would say that I'm jealous," she said, laughing. "Because I wish I could have that experience again. But I'd also say to enjoy it, and to listen carefully, because it's one of the most positive educational experiences you're going to have. Oh, and don't worry about that first assignment."
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