Dean aims to help law school professors polish their craft

 by Tom Kirvan

Legal News
Teachers can use the benefit of some teaching, too.
Such was the motivation for Nelson Miller to publish his first book, a recently released work titled, Teaching Law: A Framework for Instructional Mastery.
Associate Dean at Cooley Law School and head of its Grand Rapids campus, Miller said the number of adjunct professors at Cooley served as the impetus for the book.
“We have 35 elective sections that are offered here and many of them are taught by adjunct professors, some of whom do not have a lot of teaching experience,” Miller said. “The book is a bit of a ‘how-to’ in that regard.”
The 14-chapter book, which follows a 14-week law school term, includes topics like course objectives, syllabi, lectures, the Socratic method, differentiating instruction, integrating instruction, assessment, multiple choice questions, essay questions, and scoring and grading. It also includes a beginning chapter on the study of teaching law and a closing chapter on teaching vision, according to Miller.
Miller, who earned his law degree from the University of Michigan in 1987, said the book took a “term” to write, the time frame in which “I measure my life,” he quipped. Research material for the book was gathered over a 5-year period, he indicated.
Vickie Eggers, director of the faculty center for instructional support and head of distance learning at Cooley, also created a CD to accompany the book, explaining each chapter with a PowerPoint presentation.
“There are many judges, lawyers, and law professors who teach law in law schools as full time or adjunct faculty and in pre-law undergraduate programs,” Miller explained. “Many of these professors have great professional training, but might have little or no training in education. This book provides clear and straightforward advice on how to teach law based on extensive research of educational literature.”
A resident of Grand Haven, Miller began his legal career with the Ann Arbor firm of Davis & Fajen, eventually establishing a branch office in Grand Haven. His legal work with the firm included “products liability, personal injury, airliner and helicopter crashes, civil rights, securities, employment, real estate, and business disputes. He argued two cases before the state Supreme Court, dozens in the Michigan Court of Appeals, and several cases before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In addition, he has written briefs filed in the U.S. Supreme Court.
A graduate of Indiana University, Miller began teaching at Cooley in January 2004, eventually becoming associate dean, succeeding Marion Hilligan, a beloved faculty member who died from complications of scleroderma. He has taught courses in torts, professional responsibility, ethics, tax-exempt organizations, health law, and No-Fault Insurance.
Miller’s book, which is available at or, has received high marks from Michael Hunter Schwartz, associate dean at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kan. Schwartz is the co-author of Teaching Law by Design: Engaging Students from the Syllabus to the Final Exam.
“Exhaustively researched, the book trains readers to frame proper learning objectives; to use their syllabi more productively; to adopt best practices when they lecture and use Socratic questioning; to make learning more visual; to assist law teachers in integrating skills, knowledge and values and in teaching in ways that are inclusive; and to create better assessment instruments,” Hunter wrote on “Finally, while the book disavows an intent to inspire, it concludes with a chapter labeled ‘Vision’ that I personally found quite rousing.”