Posted April 22, 2008

Susan DeJarnatt, legal writing professor, wins Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching

Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching

Susan DeJarnatt
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University
Susan L. DeJarnatt has been teaching “Legal Research and Writing” at the Beasley School of Law since 1996.

Robert J. Reinstein, dean of Temple's Beasley School of Law, says he's lucky to have Associate Professor Susan DeJarnatt on the faculty.

DeJarnatt, who has taught legal writing at Temple since 1996, is respected by her peers and beloved by her students, who rate her courses among the best they've experienced. Her skill and dedication as a teacher have helped earn Temple's legal writing program a perennial national top-four ranking, and have earned her a 2008 Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Yet when Reinstein says the Law School is lucky to have her, he may not realize how accurately he's describing the chain of events that brought DeJarnatt — someone who never expected to teach — to Temple.


DeJarnatt's improbable path began in Longview, Wash., a pulp-mill town. "Girls there got married; boys went into the Army," she said.

DeJarnatt bucked the trend and went to Oberlin College. After graduating in 1974, she ended up in Philadelphia, where she had spent a semester as part of an urban studies program. She stumbled into a paralegal job with Community Legal Services (CLS) working with Philadelphians in public housing. Her goal was to "make a progressive contribution to the world" — the legal aspect was an afterthought. But the legal work turned out to be more engaging than expected.

"I actually got to go to administrative hearings and represent clients," DeJarnatt said. "I realized I wanted to be a lawyer, so I applied to Temple Law."

Although a superb student (she graduated first in her class in 1980), DeJarnatt admits that law school didn't move her — not because she disliked her courses, but because of her single-minded focus on what she'd do with her degree.

"I certainly never imagined I'd end up teaching law," she said. "I wanted to represent people!"

After clerking for a federal judge, DeJarnatt took a job as an associate in a private firm when funding cuts forced CLS to slash attorney jobs. When CLS started hiring again, DeJarnatt returned as a consumer housing specialist. Times were tough at CLS, but fortune intervened again.

"I was riding the subway one day," DeJarnatt recalled. "I was a single mom, separated from my husband. My car had problems. I ran into a colleague, who said that Rutgers–Camden Law School was hiring people to teach legal writing part-time. She said they were only paying $7,500 a year; I said, 'Where do I sign up?'"

DeJarnatt liked teaching legal writing immediately. "Teaching writing is very intimate; you really get to know the student," she said, "and I've always loved helping students understand how they could approach a legal problem to solve it."

It would take one more lucky break to bring DeJarnatt to Temple.

After she remarried and had a second child in 1995, funding cuts brought more uncertainty to CLS. In what DeJarnatt calls "a happy coincidence," that was the year Temple decided to move to a legal writing program staffed by full-time faculty members. She got a job as an assistant professor, and she hasn't budged since.

Unlike most law schools, Temple devotes as much resources to legal writing as it does to its other flagship programs. Faculty members are given clout, and DeJarnatt says that respect is transmitted to the students.

"I hope never to change jobs again," she said.

If Temple's luck holds out, she'll get her wish.