Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Tenacious Bisom-Rapp: A Study in Law, Love, and Life

Published: February 20, 2015
B Rapp

In the Old Testament of the Bible, there is a story of a very wise and powerful king named Samson.  Jealous and power hungry, many detractors began conspiring to kill him.  After some years his bride Delilah inquired after the source of his un-earthly power, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.”  Samson replied, “No razor has ever been used on my head . . . If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”

Professor Susan Bisom-Rapp does not purport to have un-earthly powers, nor are there people out to get her. She has, however, been teaching law at TJSL for more than 18 years, and if the opinion of her students carries any weight, she has been doing it very well. I recently stopped by her office to pick her brain, and see if I could discover the source of her longevity and classroom prowess. If you don’t know who she is, or you haven’t had the privilege of taking one of her classes, you’d surely recognize her. The “Silver-Fox” as she is colloquially known on Ratemyprofessor.com,  shares a unique attribute with Samson . . . the hair. “I happen to believe that having good hair can take you a good distance in life in general . . . maybe it’s because my hair has become my signature. Most people assume its platinum blonde, and it is nothing of the sort. It’s something that began in my teens, and I never associated it with aging . . . it’s completely natural . . . what you see is what you get.” 

Professor Bisom-Rapp is not frustrated by the fact that many people believe her hair is dyed, or is some type of stage-makeup; in fact, she uses this confusion to fully engage her students in class. “A lot of it is an act . . . within most of the first semester is to create a diabolical persona and some horrific hypotheticals that we can apply legal rules to make it entertaining and fun. Law school in the first semester is stressful enough, and people need a chance to laugh. I have found people are less likely to check Facebook during class, if I keep them entertained.”  This act, however, is something that developed over time, and just like many first year students, Professor Bisom-Rapp has learned to adjust, and fine-tune her approach to the law, a lesson many of us can learn.  She explained that similar to a law school exam, she learned that “amazing things begin to happen” when you know the law, have three to five bullet points to work with, and speak from the heart.  “You figure out who you are, who your audience is, what the judge wants...what your client wants ... and I also discovered that I was funny.” 

Beyond the nuggets of wisdom she dropped regarding success in the legal profession, Professor Bisom-Rapp is also a living example to those juggling law school and a family, or those like me; staring down an un-eventful and potentially lonely Valentine’s Day. She is married to her high-school sweetheart, traveled across the country with him to teach here, and completed her LLM and JSD while raising a child.  “Relationships are mutualistic . . . it’s not all about you, but you can’t affiliate yourself with someone who is going to make exorbitant demands that make it impossible for you to do what you need to do as a law student. There are a lot of people who did successfully meet their true love at Thomas Jefferson . . . some of them have gone on to have children, and even people who have named their kids after our school.”  Short of giving advice, she explained that being in a relationship during law school will definitely help you decide if the person you are with is the right person to partner with,  a concept that bleeds very neatly into the practice of law itself.

However, at the end of the day (or the end of the semester) it is all about perspective, and our conversation made that abundantly clear. “It can’t be ALL about the law ALL the time,” she said.  Most of our doctrinal courses deal with weighty subjects, with real and sometimes life altering results, and it is essential in legal study, and indeed in legal practice, to be able to step back from the monotony. Professor Bisom-Rapp practices what she preaches and is a living testament by smiling through the ups and downs of life, love, and the law. So, with both Valentine’s Day and the Barristers Ball coming up, it may behoove us all to take a page from Professor Bisom-Rapp and Samson’s playbook. Go out, get your hair done (no scissors), throw your head back and laugh diabolically. After all, we law students are a rare breed and as Professor Bisom-Rapp can attest to, it may not seem like it now, but these three years will go by in a flash. “You may not like all of your classes, or professors for that matter, but you will miss some of them.”  Indeed, with such memorable professors like Professor Bisom-Rapp, I already have a first candidate in mind.

[1] Judges 14:18.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Rate My Professors, http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=453458 (last visited Feb. 6, 2014).

[6] Interview with Susan Bisom-Rapp, Professor, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, in S.D., Cal. (Nov. 17, 2014).

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.