Professor Robert Farrell
Farrell is on a hunt this afternoon for details of the Alaska Packers v. Domenico case. He begins by ascertaining what students recall from a previous class about manifestation of assent and the appearance of consent without a formal contract. Eventually he moves on to consideration for modification, one of the legal concepts at the heart of the case about fishermen who agree to terms of a contract, but find out that the job is considerably less lucrative than they had anticipated and seek to change the terms.
If energy and enthusiasm could be monitored like decibel levels, Farrell's would be bouncing in the high-volume zone much of the time. In fact, some observers would say that he doesn't so much teach the law as effervesce it.
"Mr. Gilwit, what am I talking about? Save us; save your classmates; help us continue the discussion," Farrell implores of Isaac Gilwit, who takes the other 53 students off the hook with his response. "He is very energetic. I love this class--it's my favorite," says first-year student Michelle Monderer. She listens as Farrell launches into the ways contracts can be modified. Farrell makes his way around the room, extracting answers, sometimes amid chuckles, until he gets what he's after from one student or another.
He's been teaching at the law school since 1984. During that time, he's been chosen professor of the year twice. He also has been the director of the school's summer program at Trinity College in Dublin since 1995. He teaches contracts, property, remedies and administrative law; the equal protection clause is his principal area of scholarly interest and the topic of several published articles.
Farrell is known among his students for his enthusiastic manner of teaching and also for his twice-yearly Irish sing-alongs that draw 50 or 60 students and alumni to his New Haven home. The Brehon Law Society sponsors the fall sing-along. In the spring, Farrell hosts a sing-along with pizza and beer--his contribution to the Public Interest Law Project auction.
Just as an Irish ballad can sound different each time it's sung, so it is with Farrell's classes. "You can't teach a class the same way twice," he says. "You have a different set of students, who respond differently to questions, which takes the class in a slightly different direction. When it works, there is an incredible amount of energy in the classroom. I love the interaction and feedback," he says. Farrell uses humor to make students comfortable speaking in class. "Law students are a rapt audience. They start off nervous, and they are looking for an excuse to laugh-you don't have to be that funny," he observes.
First-year students, Farrell observes, usually come with an incredible work ethic. "They had to meet competitive admissions standards and there is a lack of certainty about what lies ahead and of course, that element of competition."
Farrell earned a BA in the classics and general scholarship from Trinity College in Hartford. His first job was as a high school Latin teacher in nearby Suffield, Conn. As much as he enjoyed sharing his appreciation for the classics, he had a thirst for a legal education and quenched it by entering Harvard Law School. After graduating cum laude in 1977, Farrell practiced law for two years in the Office of the General Counsel, Department of Health, Education and Welfare in Washington, D.C.
He enjoyed the chance to argue cases and write regulations, but after two years, the classroom pulled him back. George Mason University was opening a law school. He applied and was hired on the spot as an assistant professor. "I worked around the clock preparing for three weeks, all for the first class. It went well. Law students are a critical group; you have to earn their respect. I was nervous the first day. I was 28, and teaching students close to my age was additionally intimidating. My first reaction was, 'Whew, that went great.' And then my next thought was, 'Oh my God, I've got another class tomorrow!'"
Tomorrow stretched into five years, as he discovered he liked teaching and was good at it. His career path took him north, to the New England School of Law for a year, and then he was hired at the University of Bridgeport School of Law in 1984, where he served as associate dean for two years, moving on to Quinnipiac School of Law in 1995.
He sometimes daydreams about ending his career the way it began--reading the great authors in Latin and influencing a generation yet to attend college. But, there are law students still to come who need to be filled in on the finer points of Alaska Packers v. Domenico. The classics will have to wait.
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