Let there be light bulbs

Leslie Ridgeway • November 15, 2023
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Professor Sara Berman embraces opportunities to help students and improve legal education

It was in law school that Professor Sara Berman first discovered the rewards of teaching and supporting students in pursuing legal careers.

Berman, professor of lawyering skills and director of USC Gould’s Academic Success Program, enrolled in the Street Law course while a student at UCLA Law School, learning about legal education pedagogy and teaching basic contracts, torts, and criminal law to high school students.

“Translating ‘legalese’ into plain English for non-lawyers was an empowering experience; it helped me to better understand my own legal education and to share the importance of law and lawyers in our society,” says Berman. “Teaching gave me hope that those kids would feel a greater sense of ownership and belonging in our democracy and would go on to help make the world a better place.”

Berman brings the same passion to her work with law students, which she has done for decades in other schools prior to joining Gould.

“You see the connections clicking in students’ minds between what they are learning and who they want to be as future lawyers,” she says. “Seeing those bright, shiny light bulbs when students develop new insights and understandings is the most rewarding part of teaching.”

Berman considers herself a catalyst for change in legal education, advocating for thoughtful, deliberate adjustments in areas such as distance learning, professional identity formation and reforming licensing to better align with the legal profession. Berman works closely with leading legal educator Joan Howarth (JD 1980), author of “Shaping the Bar: The Future of Attorney Licensing” and other scholars as part of the Collaboratory on Legal Education and Professional Licensing, and is committed to student wellbeing, serving on the ABA’s Committee for Mental Health and Wellness in Legal Education. In November, she moderated a panel on mental health in law schools at the AccessLex 2023 Legal Research Symposium.

Berman also writes extensively on student success and for self-represented litigants. She has co-authored books on the criminal and civil justice systems for for nearly three decades and is currently authoring several volumes in a Law School Success series published by West Academic.

As the new director of Gould’s Academic Success Program (working with Associate Director Barrett Schreiner), Berman says, “We inherited a strong program that helps all of our students to thrive here at Gould.” Berman and Schreiner have added inspiring new components to Gould Preview, a pre-orientation program helping incoming students transition to law school. With the assistance of student fellows, they also provide workshops for JD students throughout the year, from 1L skills training sessions to 3L bar exam success sessions.

Berman says her values are reflected in every corner of USC Gould, adding that the school “prioritizes community and belonging alongside excellence in legal education.”  On the first day of classes, she found a handwritten note from Interim Dean Franita Tolson.  “The 360-degree welcome – from faculty and students alike — has been heartwarming.”

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