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Ken Chestek

We asked Ken Chestek a Professor of Law and Director of Externships at the University of Wyoming College of Law, what has inspired and motivated him throughout his career. This author spotlight gives a glimpse into his passion for law and what brought him to where he is today.

What or who motivated you to study law?

[KC] I was a newspaper reporter covering the “courthouse beat” which gave me the opportunity to observe lawyers in action. When the newspaper I worked for folded, I needed to either get a new job in journalism or change careers. I went to law school because being a lawyer gave me the chance to actually work to correct injustice, rather than just point at it in a news account and hope that somebody else corrected the problem.

Did you have a favorite professor in law school?  If so, who was the person and what made them stand out?

[KC] Probably John Burkoff, my Crim Law/Crim Procedure professor, who also was the Law Review Advisor when I became Editor-in-Chief of the law review. He was young-ish, very approachable, and seemed very connected to the real world and the practice of law, not a head-in-the-clouds academic with no interpersonal skills. He had compassion for everybody, which was a quality I thought a lawyer needed.

What law school course did you enjoy the most?

[KC] Torts. It always amazed me the kinds of weird situations humans were able to put themselves into.

What are your primary areas of writing and teaching? What fascinates you about these areas of law?

[KC] Teaching: legal writing and pretrial practice/litigation strategy. My scholarship is mostly about storytelling, specifically how stories can best be told and why they are so persuasive. I include aspects of cognitive psychology into most of my writing.

Do (or did) you have a mentor, or someone that has inspired or encouraged you in your writing or teaching?

[KC] Ruth Anne Robbins. She encouraged me to do a presentation at the first Applied Legal Storytelling conference in London, and she has continued to be a wonderful sounding board, editor and collaborator in so much of what I write about.

What motivated you to write a textbook?

[KC] I wasn’t really using much of any of the other available textbooks. They all seem to be talking about “what does a brief look like?” and did not really say much about the more important question: “How can I persuade the reader?” I found myself relying more and more on my own materials, or other scholarship, and concluded that there was an opening in the market for a book like ours.

What has been the most influential or pivotal moment in your career?

[KC] Probably that first Applied Legal Storytelling conference. I learned that there were a lot of people thinking and writing about the nature of persuasion, which is what interested me the most.

What changes in legal education excite you?

[KC] The ABA has been slowly pushing law schools toward teaching more practical courses, especially including an emphasis on experiential learning opportunities. Learning happens best when it happens in context, and experiential learning provides great context. I teach all of my courses as simulations of actual practice, and I am grateful that the ABA sees the value in such teaching.

What advice do you have for today’s law students? 

[KC] Law school is not about learning the rules of law; it is about learning the skill of critical thinking. Your professors aren’t trying to teach you the answers; they are trying to teach you the questions.

How do you hope to be remembered by your students or law school?

[KC] As a professor who brought theory and practice together, and helped students develop their professional identities.

What are your interests outside of law? 

[KC] Running marathons; landscape photography; politics and social justice.


Ken Chestek is the author of the Wolters Kluwer coursebook,Your Client's Story: Persuasive Legal Writing, Second Edition.

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