S. Rafe Foreman balances his teaching approach with the lessons he’s learned as an auctioneer and trial lawyer in Texas. At UMKC, he teaches trial advocacy and evidence and coaches the school’s trial advocacy teams.
What’s the first lesson you teach your students?
You don’t have to be the greatest orator in the world, the best looking, the most powerful. I want to change their mindsets. If they can be the most congruent with the skills they possess, they can be the best advocates possible. A lot of people give up and decide they can’t do something and they don’t try, and the truth is, a lot of people can be great advocates with confidence and belief.
What’s your approach to teaching?
I teach confidence by positive reinforcement. If a person can have a little bit of success, they’ll take greater risks next time. I teach them to build on a little success.
How can you tell when students are reacting to your methods?
I call it ‘digging my chili.’ If I cook chili for somebody and they like it, that makes me feel good. If my students are digging my chili, that’s proof to me that I don’t need to change the recipe. As an auctioneer, I can see it in their face, in their body language if another bid is coming. It’s the same with students—I can read it all.
How does auctioneering translate into the classroom?
I want you to know this is my auction, you’re welcome here and we’re glad to have you. I try to create that same environment in the courtroom and in the classroom. When you come into my space, I want you to know I’m going to treat you fairly. I want to leave you better than when you got here.
Would your law school peers recognize you at an auction?
My students would. I incorporate so much of what I learn in the auction to create my classroom. They would feel familiar. None of the professors would recognize me. They only see the guy who walks down the hall; they don’t know the substance. My students get all I’ve got.
You auctioneer for charities in your free time. What’s your motivation?
If you’re worth your salt, you try to help make other people’s lives better. I teach students to stop thinking about complicated stuff that bogs them down and instead worry about what they control right now, and that’s leaving other people better off.
What’s the most rewarding part of working with students?
I see my students come in like puppies with their tails dragging and I see them walk out pounding their chests thinking they can conquer the world, and that’s really what I want.
Foreman is the Douglass Stripp Dean’s Distinguished Professor and the director of advocacy at the UMKC School of Law. Photo: Dan Videtich