Road to discovery Law professor helps students hone skills in critical thinking

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Many students come to law school with very little or no training on how to write, according to Aimée Godfrey, an Ypsilanti resident and a professor of Legal Research and Writing at Wayne State University Law School.

"In an age where students are used to texting, tweeting and posting on Facebook, it can be hard to convince them of the importance of full sentences with subjects, verbs and pronouns that agree with nouns," she says. "Most colleges assume students have been given training on writing in high school, but many high schools do a poor job of teaching not only writing but critical thinking skills in general.

"I find that those of us who teach Legal Writing are often 'filling in the gaps,' so to speak. But there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing how they grow over the course of the year in terms of their writing skills. There is nothing as fulfilling as watching a student move from very little -- or no -- understanding of how to write a memo or brief to being able to make complex legal arguments. Seeing them develop research skills and discover the pleasure of tracking down cases and other sources is also fulfilling."

Also, while her students may be Web-savvy, most have never used a database like Westlaw or Lexis.

"Teaching them how to critically think through a problem -- identify the information that they need and figure out how to find it -- is incredibly fulfilling. That 'light bulb moment' when a student realizes how everything he or she has learned fits together is always amazing to me."

Godfrey certainly knows a thing or two about research. She was faculty services librarian at the University of Michigan Law Library from 2001-06, supervising the faculty research service and the document delivery service. She also developed various training programs for research assistants and faculty assistants and provided bibliographic instruction for law school classes.

"In coordinating the faculty research program at the law library I had the opportunity to assist hundreds -- literally! -- of professors with their research," she says. "This enabled me to hone my own research skills, and to be able to be involved in a great deal of 'cutting edge' legal research. By the end of my five years at U of M, I think that there were very few areas of the law that I had not conducted research into. I used to joke that I could find any legal or non-legal source -- if you wanted it, I could find it!"

Much of the research fascinated Godfrey, and enabled her to develop new areas of interest.

"For example, a number of the members of the U of M faculty are involved in transnational law and in assisting them with their work, I developed an expertise in transnational legal research. In doing this, I learned a great deal about the UN, EU, foreign legal research, IGOs, and NGOs - this led to me teaching Transnational Legal Research while I was at U of M and led to my increased desire to teach on a full time basis.

Godfrey earned her J.D., cum laude, at the U-M Law School, where she served as a contributing editor of The Michigan Law Review.

"Law was something that I realized I might be good at," she says. While originally planning to be a math teacher, a law class in high school got her interested in the law, as did a couple of classes she took while earning her bachelor's degree in political science from U of M in 1996. "They were basically the same as law classes, taught using the case law method, and I fell in love with them. That made me decide that the law was definitely for me!

"I like that lawyers have the opportunity to be a force for good, although they don't always act upon that opportunity."

A native of Ann Arbor, Godfrey says going to U-M "wasn't a big deal - but being at the Law School was a big deal! I enjoyed my fellow classmates and also getting to know the professors there. I was surrounded by a number of amazing people, and it was very enriching to go to school there."

Godfrey, who clerked for Judge Paul D. Borman, of the Eastern District of Michigan, received a master's degree in theology last summer from Sacred Heart Major Seminary. Her area of focus was moral theology with a sub-focus on bioethics, and she wrote and defended a thesis titled, "The Status Question is of Catholic Bioethicists on Brain Death."

"I've always had an interest in theology and the study of moral theology complemented my law degree quite well. The whole area of bioethics and the law is becoming even more important as science moves forward more quickly than the law in many ways," she says. "I wanted training on how to think about these changes from a moral, as well as a legal, perspective. I'd like to do more study in this area and may look to publish my thesis soon."

Godfrey and her husband live in Ypsilanti, where she is on maternity leave.

"I love to travel and read -- and right now I'm focusing on spending time with my young daughter."

She looks forward to returning to teaching.

"I love my students and giving them the skills that they need to succeed as lawyers. Most of my students are eager to 'change the world' and their eagerness is inspiring. It reminds me of why I love the law."

Published: Tue, Jan 10, 2012

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