Texas A&M Law Professor Malinda Seymore wanted to introduce two of her online-only courses to students registered for the spring in a way that was both encouraging and entertaining.
“Students who have not experienced online learning can be a little wary, worrying that it will be dry and dull, simply a static recording of a classroom lecture,” Seymore said.
The two courses, Evidence and Criminal Procedure Trial Rights, cover the gamut from indictment to bail, plea-bargaining, trial procedure, punishment to post-conviction relief, as well as admissibility of evidence and practical skills for presenting a compelling, persuasive story to a jury.
To help make her case, Seymore brought in an expert witness: the one and only Jackie Chiles, Esq.
Chiles was a recurring character on the television show Seinfeld for several seasons. Chiles, played by actor Phil Morris, was Kramer’s attorney and also represented the ensemble in the notorious last episode of the show. Chiles’s mannerisms and demeanor are not so subtly based on Johnnie Cochran, the attorney who most famously represented O.J. Simpson.
Seymore procured the appearance of Chiles through Cameo, an internet service where people can hire celebrities or various characters to make funny videos, typically for birthday or anniversary greetings. In this case, Chiles holds court for nearly three minutes, dispensing sage advice on “court demeanor” and “things you can’t learn in a classroom.”
Chiles gives a lesson in courtroom attire in his signature flamboyant style. “You gotta look sharp,” offers Chiles. “Jackie has won just as many cases with his suit as he has with his mouth. Trust and believe. Because when Jackie shows up, people can’t take their eyes off of him. That’s part of my magic. My brilliance. My luster,” Chiles beams.
Why go to all this trouble for her students? Seymore says she saw the video as a way to thank students for taking a leap of faith in signing up for the online courses. In the email sending the video to her students, she said, “I’m sending you a small gift as a promise that I will work hard to make the course educational AND interesting! We will mix intellectual engagement with — dare I say it? — fun!”
Seymore believes online learning may present material and facilitate learning in new and engaging ways. In her Women & the Law online class in fall 2020, she presented thought-provoking video and audio clips. She facilitated deep inquiry in discussion forums and helped students process material through reflection papers and videos, allowing students to work together on group presentations.
Robert B. Ahdieh, dean of Texas A&M School of Law, was encouraged by Seymore's approach: "Whether in the classroom or online, engaged faculty and a commitment to excellence makes all the difference in the education we offer our students. Even amidst a challenging year, I’ve been so pleased to see the expression of that in the teaching of my A&M Law colleagues.”
The response from students was positive and immediate. One student replied within a few minutes after Seymore sent the email: “Thank you so much for setting this up, it is amazing! I grew up watching Seinfeld all the time with my dad; he’ll be so excited to see this!”
Seymore was quite pleased with Morris's performance. “I didn’t tell him what to say. I just said give courtroom advice as Jackie Chiles. He came up with all that.”
“And, I think he gave some great advice!” said Seymore, “But don’t buy the judge a car!”