Clinical Professor Lisa Radtke Bliss makes an impact on hundreds of students each year as associate dean of Experiential Education and Clinical Programs at Georgia State College of Law, but her role in educating the next generation of lawyers can be attributed to a serendipitous opportunity that occurred while she was studying communications at the University of North Florida.
While taking classes to help Bliss in her pursuit of becoming a journalist, she landed a job at law firm from a friend who had recommended her. Bliss was hired to deliver legal documents, file lawsuits at the courthouse, and run errands. By the time she finished college, Bliss was doing paralegal level work and decided to take the next step and attend law school.
“If I had not gotten that random, part-time job, I would not be here,” Bliss said.
It was when Bliss was a student in the civil practice law clinic at the University of Florida Levin College of Law when she realized her true dream job: becoming a clinical professor.
“Clinic is really about the lawyering process,” Bliss said. “I'm really interested in planning, strategizing, and reflecting on actions to determine what worked, and what didn’t. It is a continuous cycle of learning and growth. I have this distinct memory of one day looking at my clinical professor like a beam of light landed on him thinking, ‘That is what I should do’.”
Bliss moved to Atlanta after earning her J.D. to begin practicing, before an opportunity came up to work alongside her former clinical professor at the University of Florida. After two years, she found herself back in Atlanta becoming the deputy director of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation and then getting into private practice. When a legal writing teaching position opened at Georgia State Law, Bliss was excited about the opportunity to return to academia.
While the College of Law didn’t have a comprehensive clinical education program yet, joining the faculty allowed Bliss to be instrumental in later developing one. In 2006, Bliss became the first clinical professor and later co-director of the newly formed HeLP Legal Services Clinic with Sylvia Caley. For the past 14 years, she’s worked to build up the interdisciplinary program by creating collaborations with other schools such as Morehouse School of Medicine and Emory School of Medicine. The clinic helps clients get the resources they need to provide for their children with disabilities. Bliss has also helped grow the clinical offerings at the College of Law, which now include six different clinics.
“It's very common for law students to describe their clinical experience as transformative because it's their opportunity to see the law in action,” Bliss said. “Beyond contextualizing their legal education in a really meaningful way, we’re fulfilling such a critical need in the city and helping clients do something they cannot do by themselves.”
Outside of her love of clinical work, Bliss says some of the more impactful moments in her career have come from being a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar and her role in training other law teachers internationally. She’s taught in countries such as India, Thailand and Czech Republic, which has opened up her world view and help her reflect as a teacher.
“When teaching in a place where English is not the primary language, it forces me to really think about everything I am saying in a very intentional way,” said Bliss. “Whether it’s here or in another country, I have to remember to never assume my students know a particular thing and make sure I am laying the proper foundation for the goals that I'm trying to achieve in the classroom.”
Written by Mara Thompson