How well do you really know the faculty at the COL? Maybe you heard stories from other classmates or maybe you have taken a few classes with a certain professor, but have you ever wondered what really makes them tick? Well, wonder no more! I’d like to introduce the Faculty Spotlight Series, a collection of posts that will highlight some of our faculty at the GSU College of Law. Every week, we’ll try to look beyond what you find on a biography page and delve into what truly drives our mentors and teachers.
We’re starting off the series highlighting Lisa Bliss, Associate Dean of Experiential Education and the Co-Director of the HeLP Legal Services Clinic.
How long have you been teaching at GSU?
What classes do you teach?
I teach Health Law Partnership (HeLP) Clinic I and II, and Interviewing and Counseling.
What class would you like to develop if you could?
I would love to teach more courses on Interviewing and Counseling! That course is a lot of fun for me and the students, and there is always more to learn and experience. Someday I would also like to develop a course on Creative Problem Solving.
What do you most enjoy about teaching?
Being a lawyer is a very creative profession, although people do not usually associate being a lawyer with the notion of creativity. I love the process of lawyering. As a clinical professor, I have the privilege of watching students develop their understanding of how to identify a client’s problem, generate potential solutions for it, and then put their ideas into action. All of this happens in the clinic in the context of real cases. The clinical learning experience is transformative, and I have a front row seat to that transformation every semester. As we work closely together on cases, I see students meet their clients, perform research, write briefs or other documents, and represent clients at hearings. I watch students develop their skills and confidence, and by the end of the experience they see themselves differently. They see themselves in the role of lawyer.
What type of law did you want to practice when you were in law school?
I had a “lightening bolt” moment when I knew exactly what I wanted to do: I was sitting in my civil clinic seminar watching my professor debrief something with the class. I was completely mesmerized by the depth of examination of what we were learning and doing, and what those decisions and actions meant for the case and the client. We were fully examining the process of lawyering. It was at that moment that I realized that I wanted to be a clinical professor. I am so lucky to be here now doing a job that I dreamed of having, and to have had such a wonderful role model and mentor.
What did you end up doing before you came to GSU?
In order to become a clinical professor, one must understand and experience the practice of law. I worked for several years for a mid-sized litigation firm doing toxic tort litigation, trucking accidents, and a few very high-end divorce cases. I then had a chance to teach with my former clinical professor, so I did that for two years. My husband and I decided to move back to Atlanta, and I served for a few years as Deputy Director of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, where I consulted with lawyers handling pro bono cases, and ran the Saturday Lawyers Program. After our daughter was born, I went to work part time for a small litigation boutique where I handled a small caseload on variety of matters. That was a lot of fun. Because I had a lot of experience at that point, I got to work on some really interesting cases. I left there to come to GSU, where I started teaching in the legal writing program. Ten years ago, I was hired to develop and teach in the HeLP Clinic when GSU received a grant to start that clinic.
What is your favorite piece of advice for students?
Being a lawyer is a lifelong process of learning and accumulating experiences to apply in the future. Often our most memorable lessons come from our mistakes.
Is there any aspect of the legal profession you would like to see changed?
There are so many people that need legal help that cannot afford or access it. I would like the profession to fully commit to ensuring that legal help is available for those who need it. Getting that kind of assistance can make a difference in a person or family’s housing, education, health, status, and other matters that contribute to quality of life and ability to access resources. Those who are vulnerable are taken advantage of and are often unable to pursue or enforce their rights because they don’t have a lawyer to help them.
Any fun story that you’d like to share?
When our daughter was six, I drove to New Mexico and Colorado with her by myself in our VW camper van while my husband had to stay behind for work. We camped everywhere. We visited some very remote spots (some roads so rocky we did not think we would be able to drive out!) and one night when we were in Texas a scary storm came through. We had lots of fun living out of our van, visiting a friend, and meeting people along the way. I had been doing this for a couple of weeks when we ended up camping next to two state troopers from Arizona. They saw that I was a single woman traveling with a child and made some assumptions about us. They kindly kept trying to help me with my equipment and such, which I thought was very funny, because I had been doing it for weeks all on my own. That trip was a great experience for me, and something I hope our daughter will remember as an empowering thing we did together. Just to be sure she would remember, I forced her to write a sentence or two in our journal every night, promising her that she would thank me as an adult!