Professor Amanda Fisher: Teaching, reading, and writing; there’s nothing better
According to WMU-Cooley professor Amanda Fisher, the resources and attention that students get at WMU-Cooley far surpass those at other law schools. In fact, she says the law school’s caring atmosphere and faculty accessibility translates into positive outcomes for students.
“I think here at Cooley, with our flexible schedule options, faculty and staff make sure our students, including our evening and weekend students, have the same access and attention.”
“We make sure we are working around the lives of our students, rather than the other way around,” confirmed Fisher. “I think it is one of the reasons we have always attracted a wider demographic, and why we are one of the most diverse law schools in America.
“I hear from students that a focus on diversity and inclusion helps them feel like they belong, and at Cooley we define diversity expansively. Focusing on the intersecting identities of our students helps us seek depth to our inclusivity practices.”
Inclusive teaching requires an open line of communication with the student body says Fisher, especially these past few years of remote learning, where staying in touch with students has been, and continues to be, critical in helping provide needed assistance.
“One way that we’ve done that is through a student involved inclusion committee,” explained Fisher. “A group of faculty, staff, and students kept up on how students were coping with class work and other stressors in their lives. We worked creatively with students on ways to provide academic resources, including wellness resources or other logistical resources, to provide them with the best learning environment that we could.”
LOVE FOR THE LAW
Fisher’s passion for the law started back in middle school when a visiting magnet high school presented about their Law Academy. Something in that presentation “Just grabbed me,” recalls Fisher. She ultimately ended up going to that high school, Jefferson High School in Tampa, and going through their Law Academy.
“I fell in love with the law there,” said Fisher. “Everything that I learned in the law classes and the criminal justice classes made sense; it clicked, and I did very well.”
She then attended college at the University of South Florida in Tampa and got a degree in Criminology, understanding that a legal career was calling her. She answered by attending Savannah Law School in Savannah, Georgia as a member of their inaugural class. Since her husband was an active-duty member of the U.S. Army, she was geographically restricted to law schools local to his base.
“I actually really loved law school,” chuckled Fisher. “I know that is not something people say often, but I truly loved law school. My first-term students often hear me say that law school blew my mind.”
Fisher went on to explain how law school opened her eyes to how the world worked around her, which was very positive, although sometimes maddening. It was that motivation that made her realize that a law degree was the path to change those things she saw as unfair.
Then came the motivation to get a Ph.D.
“In my third year of law school at Savannah Law, I was a research assistant for Professor James Binnall, who was finishing his dissertation involving mock jury research. The work he was doing made sense to me, especially with my background in criminology. It was a natural fit and I loved learning more about empirical research. He encouraged me to also pursue a Ph.D.”
That was the push Fisher needed. She knew then that a Ph.D. could open doors not only to gain knowledge but allow her to contribute knowledge as a means for change.
In her Ph.D. program at the University of California, Irvine in the Criminology, Law and Society Department, Fisher focused her dissertation on gendered stigma in the legal profession. She interviewed attorneys in Florida about different gendered interactions and their experiences with stigma. But as she continued conducting interviews, she found that Identity Theory also contributed a helpful framework for understanding gendered stigma in the legal profession. Not surprisingly, this emerged during the pandemic.
“I kept hearing about working moms having to work from home, manage their children’s remote learning classes from home, do everything from home with little or no childcare; and how difficult that was. I got it. My son was home with me. I was working; I was teaching; and I was trying to write my dissertation. I knew the challenge, especially at the intersection of being a lawyer and being a mom. I think people believe being a mom and being a lawyer are antithetical and that they contradict. But I found that the dissonance could be understood in the context of stigma and identity.”
Being a professor is a dream job for Fisher, where she can teach every day and continue to research and write as well.
“I always said that if I could get paid to read and write then I would be happy,” smiled Fisher. “I didn’t always expect that I would enjoy teaching so much, but I do. When I was in law school, I was a Dean’s Fellow and had the opportunity to teach legal writing workshops. Then I was able to build on those teaching skills during my Ph.D. program working with undergraduate students in class sizes of 50 students up to 400 students. Teaching, reading, and writing; there’s nothing better than that!”
Now Professor Fisher is teaching law students of her own. She teaches Introduction to Law and Drafting, and enjoys sharing her knowledge and scholarly writing, skills, and experiences with others as they carve out their own legal journey.
Introduction to Law is more than just the name of the first class a student may take in law school. Fisher says it’s the essential foundation for learning that paves a straight path for law students as they get their legal legs on firm footing.
To that end, Fisher has made it her mission to set the right path.
She seems to be succeeding.
“I remember teaching a few years back, and grades had just been released,” recollected Fisher. “I had a student run up to me in the hallway and give me a big hug. She said to me, ‘I got a 4.0 in my first term of law school! I can’t thank you enough for the skills you taught me in Intro!’”
That kind of feedback makes what she does very rewarding.
“It’s everything when you know you are making a difference in a student’s success in law school, and an even greater feeling when you know you are helping shape attorneys who will make an impact on the world for generations to come.”
RESEARCH, RUNNING AND RELAXATION
On a personal and professional level, Fisher is trying to set a balance. With a five-year-old son, Jax, who just started playing hockey, making time to fit running into her busy schedule, and enjoying her professional career as a lawyer and professor, she is grateful for a supportive family.
She is very thankful for her husband, Brad, who has been her rock at every step.
“We got married very young, 21 and 22,” smiled Fisher. “I was in college and Brad was in the Army, so there was a lot to juggle. Once he was out of the Army, he was able to go to college, and I was in law school. There was no down time, and I really could not have asked for a more supportive partner.”
Fisher adds that she also loves to read and that she hopes to start traveling more.
“I haven’t had a chance to do much traveling at all because I have always been in school,” shared Fisher. “Very soon, though, Brad and I are looking forward to life after the Ph.D.”
That includes fitting in the honeymoon they never had, after almost 14 years of marriage.
“That’s hopefully in the near future,” laughed Fisher. “We are looking for some time to really relax and take a break.”