Posted: June 25th, 2013 | By: Lisa Snedeker
Mark Rabil spent 20 years working for the release and exoneration of Darryl Hunt, a young black man who was convicted of the rape and murder of a white female newspaper editor. For Rabil, who was an assistant capital defender from 2003 to 2012, the case has shaped his career.
Now as a full time professor of law and director of Wake Forest Law’s Innocence and Justice Clinic at the School of Law, Rabil is helping to train the next generation of criminal lawyers. He is just as likely to talk to students about the virtues of Buddhist meditation and silent retreats as he is criminal procedure.
“Student are stressed out. They need therapy to get through law school,” he said. “I see it not only as a way to reduce the stress in life that comes from being a litigator. Meditation makes one a better lawyer.”
In a seminar on work-life balance that Rabil presented at a meeting of the North Carolina Bar Association last year, he talked about how meditation helps lawyers and law students slow down and see the facts of a case more clearly. Tunnel vision can affect people who work to overturn wrongful convictions, just as it affects police officers and prosecutors.
“My students and I bring our own biases and prejudices to cases,” he said. “What steps can we take to mindfully evaluate the cases we accept?”
He and his students spend time thinking about which cases to accept and they decide as a team what to take on.
Rabil also incorporates investigative journalism techniques to help him gain perspective on cases. He advises his students to prepare a timeline to construct what happened after a crime has been committed. The timeline often helps students see something they’ve missed or discover a compelling narrative for the jury.
“Sure, if there’s someone innocent out there and we can help them get out, we want to do that,” he said. “We don’t want to be so focused on the goal of freeing them that we miss the evidence that can free them along the way.”
This summer, Rabil will join other law professors at a conference in Berkeley to talk about teaching mindfulness and meditation in law school.
“If we did some meditation on a daily basis, it might improve our ability to see things you normally wouldn’t see,” he said. “If you have 50 case files to review, spending time away from them helps you to see things you wouldn’t normally see.”
Rabil, who has been teaching trial practice as an adjunct professor for the last eight years, will teach criminal procedure in the fall. He enjoys helping to train the next generation of prosecutors. Recently he found himself rising at 5:30 a.m. after a weekend at the beach because he was so excited to get ready for his first summer session class. He describes his style of teaching as a blend of traditional lecture and Socratic methods.
“I always hoped I would end up teaching. In the beginning, I didn’t think I had the right to teach anything if I didn’t have the experience to back it up,” he said. “Now, I have more stories than I’ll ever need.”