How Derrick Bell Helped Me Decide to Become an Educator, Not Just a Faculty Member


Way ahead of the current chorus of critique of American legal education, Derrick Bell was a fierce, but lucid and incisive, critic of every aspect of American legal education, from law professors’ inadequacies, to the repetitive passivity of the law school classroom, to the financial exploitation of students, to the negative consequences of the tenure system.  Dean Bell did not merely voice these concerns, he creatively structured his own courses to make them more relevant, effective, and student-centered.  The author’s chance encounter with Dean Bell’s 1982 article, The Law Student as Slave, which presaged later calls for wholesale reform of legal education like the Carnegie Report, was transformative.

Professor Merton teaches and directs the Immigration Justice Clinic at Pace University School of Law.  For fifteen years, Prof. Merton served as Pace Law School’s Associate Dean for Clinical Education and Executive Director of the law school’s free legal clinic, while creating and teaching clinical programs in Access to Health Care and Criminal Prosecution of Domestic Violence.  She also directed the clinical and externship curriculum at City University of New York (CUNY) Law School, where she co-founded the Health in the Workplace Clinic.  Her career in legal education began as a clinical professor of criminal law at New York University (NYU) School of Law.  In 2012, Professor Merton was chosen to receive the Elmer Fried Excellence in Teaching Award of the American Immigration Lawyers Association; she had previously received outstanding teaching awards at both Pace and CUNY.  She holds a B.A. from Radcliffe College and a J.D. from NYU Law School.