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Passing of H. Russell Cort

Friday, September 18, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Shelley Broderick
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Russ Cort and Shelley Broderick 

Dr. H. Russell Cort (1927-2015)

Read the Washington Post Obituary HERE


Three Remembrances: Shelley Broderick, Joe Tulman and Rich Rubenstein

 Remembrances of Russ Cort: by Shelley Broderick

                 Dr. H. Russell Cort died Thursday, September 3, 2015, at the age of 87.  Russ was a real “founding father” of Antioch Law School and of the DC School of Law.  He was a dear friend.  I want to take a moment to provide a personal remembrance of his special magic.

                I met Russ Cort in 1979, when I enrolled in the Clinical Fellows Program at the Antioch School of Law.  He co-directed the program with Professor Rich Rubenstein.  What a duo!  As I recall, the Harvard trained lawyer, Rich, was in charge of teaching the fellows about Law and the Lumpenproletariat.  Much as we appreciated the Marxist tutorial, it was Russ, the psychologist non-lawyer, who took on the heavy lifting to develop us as effective clinical professors.  Russ introduced us to the Catalog of Definitions of Generic Lawyering Competencies.  He guided us in building clinical syllabi that would chart a course in which students learned, practiced and received feedback on a series of performances for each lawyering competency.  Russ also taught our cadre of new clinical teachers the policies and procedures necessary for operating a well-managed legal clinic and he required each of us to develop a clinical manual for our respective clinics. Under his tutelage, we learned our craft well.

                Russ was so smart, so thoughtful and so effective that he was tapped again and again over a couple of decades to serve in an amazing array of positions.  He served for many years as academic dean.  He taught Trial Advocacy and served as Clinical Director.  He wrote speeches, letters to the editor, and reports for the ABA.  He conducted a regression analysis to identify predictors of bar passage and he oversaw a thorough review that resulted in the establishment of an innovative curriculum for the DC School of Law.    During one particularly unusual period, Russ even served as director of the law library.

                Russ and I hit it off from the beginning and worked closely together planning the new DC School of Law.  We became especially close after the death of his wife Betsy, in 1990.  Shortly thereafter, Russ visited my family in Maine, on Casco Bay.  Spending a week fogged in with the Broderick Clan is not for sissies.  Russ was up to the task!  He listened to endless stories, participated in cooking and eating marathons, played charades and poker and solved geometric puzzles.  On the one day that started out sunny, Russ had to borrow a compass and navigate our way home from an island picnic through a massive fog bank

                A year after the Maine adventure, Russ met the fabulous Louisa Schwartz while investigating a potential gift of a private law book collection.  I was instrumental in the success of that relationship offering important relationship guidance like, “Not the red pants!”  He took my sage advice and things worked out.  They returned the favor by hosting an engagement party for my husband John and me.  They entertained us countless times with dinners featuring political debate, good food and a great cast of characters.  We often visited their weekend place in Chestertown, Maryland. They were great fans of our daughter Isabella, who learned one windy day how to fly a kite with Russ.

                Louisa died of lung cancer in 2000.  Russ was miserable for a couple of years until he met another terrific woman, Charlotte Streidel.  They married in 2003, and enjoyed many years together.  John and I always looked forward to dinners and seders with Russ and Charlotte.  Charlotte took wonderful care of Russ throughout and especially during the last years of his life.  Russ was extraordinarily lucky in work, in love and in friendship.  He will be greatly missed!

                - Shelley Broderick,Dean and Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. Chair of Social Justice


Remembrances of Russ Cort: by Joe Tulman:

     The U.D.C. David A. Clarke School of Law community mourns the passing of a former colleague who was a great pioneer in legal education.  H. Russell Cort, Ph.D. was an educational psychologist – a non-lawyer -- who spent many years as an administrator, law school teacher, mentor, and friend to faculty members and students at the District of Columbia’s public law school and at its predecessor institution, the Antioch School of Law.  Along with Jack L. Sammons, Russ led a team of people who constructed what was arguably the first comprehensive typology of general and specific lawyering competencies.*  This work informed clinical evaluation and grading at this law school (the “most-clinical law school in the country”) and influenced evaluation systems in law schools,  as well as in public and private law practices around the country.  


     Russ helped law professors learn how to teach law.  He accomplished this task of teaching the teachers by helping them to be conscious of the need to learn and employ teaching techniques beyond basic imitation.  With long-time friend and professional colleague, Professor Richard Rubenstein and with other expert legal thinkers, Russ revised the teaching of legal reasoning at Antioch and devised materials that people used at other schools, as well.  Russ also co-taught with Ed Morgan, a highly acclaimed and accomplished civil rights practitioner turned law professor.  In this collaboration, Russ was instrumental in re-thinking and revising how to teach trial advocacy.


     In considering Russ Cort’s many contributions, Professor Rubenstein wrote the following:  “As Russ [knew] very well, to challenge the dominant methods of elite education – to demystify one’s method and make it available to people outside elite circles – is a profoundly political and ethical act.”  All of us in this law school community who knew Dr. Russ Cort can attest to his tremendous contributions.  Everyone in this community, including those who did not have the opportunity to meet Russ, have benefitted from his brilliance and from his work.



* See generallyH. Russell Cort and Jack L. SammonsThe Search for “Good Lawyering”:  A Concept and Model of Lawyering Competencies, 29 Clev. St. L.Rev. 397 (1980).



       I arrived for the first time at the Antioch School of Law in August, 1979.  The school was housed in an ancient grey stone pile on 16th Street, N.W. called the Warder–Totten House – a mid-Victorian rabbit warren housing some 300 students and 20 faculty members on three meandering floors.  Some years earlier, the house had been declared a historical landmark – a well-intended curse, as it turned out, since the classification made it impossible to make any serious changes in the layout.  I remember walking into the entrance of this strange building, asking directions, and being guided by a student to the office of Edgar S. Cahn and Jean Camper Cahn, the school’s founders and guiding spirits.  The green traffic-style light over their door was on; the red light was off.  The student explained that this meant that we were permitted to knock and enter.  I knocked, entered, and found the Cahns engaged in a heated discussion with a third person: Russ Cort.

            Edgar and Jean greeted me warmly.  I had met them once before, at dinner in Chicago, where they had convinced me to leave Roosevelt University, where I was then teaching political science, and to join them at Antioch: “the people’s law school.”  (I didn’t need much convincing.)  They introduced me to Russ – Dr. H. Russell Cort – explaining that his presence at the law school was both an indicator and a cause of what made it such a special place.  “Russ is not a lawyer; he is an educational psychologist,” Edgar explained.  “Yes, but he knows more about trial practice than 99% of the lawyers in this town,” Jean added.  “Russ is the person you need to talk to before you start teaching here,” Edgar concluded.  “He can teach you things nobody else knows about law teaching.”


            I am not sure which Cahn had the idea of hiring Russ to work at the law school, but the reasons for hiring him were clear.  Russ’s job was to help reverse an alarming cycle of decline at Antioch by discovering how to teach non-traditional law students to reason like good lawyers, pass their bar exams, and try cases like the best trial lawyers in town. 


A little background may help to clarify the situation at the end of the seventies:


            Antioch Law School, which specialized in teaching public interest law to public-spirited students, had always had an appeal for non-traditional law students, including African-Americans, Hispanics, working-class whites, women, and political activists of all sorts.  In the early and mid-seventies, when the school was just starting, there were a great many middle- and upper-class idealists who came to study with Edgar, Jean, and their colorful and distinguished faculty – young people who could easily have gone to Harvard, Yale, or Columbia, but chose Antioch instead for political and ethical reasons.  The school taught law by placing heavy emphasis on student participation in faculty-supervised legal clinics.  Antioch’s clinics (based roughly on the clinical model of teaching in medical schools) were already famous both for their pedagogical effectiveness and for bringing about serious reforms in areas like landlord and tenant law and juvenile justice. 


            By the end of the decade, however, the spirit of the sixties and early seventies was waning.  The law school ran into financial and accreditation difficulties.  More students, percentage-wise, now hailed from underprivileged and minority communities, and passing the bar examinations at the conclusion of their studies became a problem for a number of them.  The school’s clinics, while still of great social value, seemed to vary widely in educational quality.  The situation (as I learned for the first time on my arrival) was rapidly becoming critical.  The American Bar Association was withholding full accreditation and threatening to de-accredit the school because of declining bar passage rates and other alleged deficiencies.  Even though Antioch was getting more non-traditional students through the bar exam than minority student programs at Berkeley or Columbia, the ABA in the age of Reagan had turned hostile.  Early in this critical period, Edgar and Jean Cahn called on Russ Cort to help turn the tide.


            Russ and I began by having lunch at the Potter’s House, a religious/hippie/social activist haven on Columbia Road.  We went on to enjoy many other meals and meetings together, to co-author papers, co-teach courses, get to know each other well, and become lifelong friends.   Here is a quick synopsis of what Russ taught me and many others at Antioch:


            First, he taught me about the “expert/novice problem.”  Applied to legal studies, this meant that students in general, and non-traditional law students in particular, did NOT learn what experts do simply by imitating them.  By the same token, professors, and law professors in particular, were NOT able to teach students to learn by methods other than imitation, because the professors weren’t self-conscious enough about what they actually did to be able to teach it. 


            “Watch how I reason out this problem” was not enough to teach many students how to do legal reasoning.  But the famous texts on legal reasoning by experts, and the classes taught by these same experts, turned out to be elaborate ways of saying, “Watch how I reason out this problem”!  To teach legal reasoning to non-traditional students, we needed a method that was much clearer, better elaborated and structured, and far more “user friendly” than that offered by any existing text.  Russ had already begun working on such a method, and I was privileged to be able to join in the work.  With him in the lead, we revised the teaching of legal reasoning at Antioch and produced materials that were even used by other schools with similar educational missions.


            More than that – the lesson that lasted me the rest of my life, as I went from law teaching to teaching conflict resolution and writing on a number of other subjects, was the need to become conscious of my own method – always a much harder job than it seems on the surface – so that I could teach others what I was actually doing. This sounds like a technical matter, but it is far more than that.  As Russ knows very well, to challenge the dominant methods of elite education – to demystify one’s method and make it available to people outside elite circles – is a profoundly political and ethical act. 


            Russ put the same philosophy into practice at Antioch in a second way – by participating in a series of projects with his teaching partner, the great Ed Morgan (W. Edward Morgan, Esq.), a vastly experienced civil rights and civil liberties lawyer, originally from Arizona, who was the law school’s leading trial practice teacher.  Ed Morgan had the good sense to recognize that, despite his multiple appearances in the U.S. Supreme Court, among other venues, he also was teaching on the model of “Watch what I do and imitate it.”  Russ appeared in time to show him that great trial practitioners are artists who, in many cases, do not have a clue about the elements of successful trial practice, even though they may have a bag of tricks that they pretend constitutes an adequate guide to their art.  Working with Ed, whom he joined as a co-teacher of all the school’s major trial practice courses, Russ created a new model of trial practice teaching.


            Finally, Russ was one of the small group of faculty and outside experts who fought the good fight in the early to mid-1980s to prevent the American Bar Association from de-accrediting the school – a task that seemed hopeless at the time.  (Among their other prejudices, the ABA’s educational mavens were convinced that the Antioch faculty was paid too little to be competent.   They simply could not comprehend that people like Ed Morgan, Tom Mack, Shelly Broderick, and Frank Munger might be teaching there for reasons other than money!)  As those interested in American legal education know, the school retained its provisional accreditation, but still did not survive.  It closed its doors in 1988 when its parent institution, Antioch University, could no longer afford to maintain it. 


            But this story has a happy ending!  Like a phoenix arising from its ashes – or like the un-killable cockroach, which Antioch humorists used to say should be the law school’s mascot) – a core of faculty members and advocates for the school succeeded in convincing the DC Council to create a new law school based upon the Antioch model of egalitarian legal philosophy and clinical teaching.  That school is now called the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.  Not only is it fully accredited by the American Bar Association, it has been listed as the 14th best clinical law school in the USA, ahead of Harvard and Boalt Hall.  Its dean, former Antioch faculty member and Russ Cort admirer Shelley Broderick, was named “Law Dean of the Year” in 2008.  And its methods of teaching legal reasoning, trial practice, and other subjects owe an enormous debt to the creative imagination, psychological expertise, justice-seeking spirit, and indomitable will of Russ Cort.


            It took a while, Russ, but we prevailed!  Here’s to you, my friend!


Rich Rubenstein

University Professor

Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution

George Mason University  


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