Dean Minnow’s Retirement From Harvard Law Deanship Reminds Us of Law Schools Importance to and Potential For Access to Justice

In a time of many transitions, we must note the news, sad for access to justice, that Dean Martha Minnow will be retiring, after eight years of very significant achievement, from the deanship of Harvard Law School.

I suspect that Martha Minnow is one of the very first Deans whose retirment notice is headlined with language like, “With a focus on access to justice, public service, and entrepreneurship, Minow has guided HLS in new directions to prepare lawyers for challenges and opportunities brought by globalization and a changing legal profession.”

That access to justice is listed first can never be forgotten.  As Vice-Chair of the LSC Board, and in many many other ways, Dean Minnow bridged the ATJ to Law School gap.  She was one of those most responsible for the huge positive changes at LSC in the last few years, developed ATJ links to the courts, deeply encouraged the Bellow Sachs Project on the Future of Access to Civil Legal Services, and helped make possible the American Academy of Arts and Sciences involvement in access to justice, as well as myriad achievements listed in the formal announcement.  Rather than repeat those achievements, I want to note what it meant to me personally to know that I could always connect to a law school dean who “got it” and who understood ATJ at the deepest level.

At the human level, I can not resist sharing how, when my wife Joan and I had Martha and her partner over to dinner many years ago, and I was showing off about my Massachusetts intermediate appellate court clerkship, and that she managed to include her clerkship with Justice Marshall without in any way suggesting a lack of comparability.  Not an easy thing to do.

I also have to share Martha’s graciousness when I was managing a panel at an After Gideon Conference at the Law School, and she made a comment, and I started pushing follow up questions, and could not resist making a smug reference that I was finally engaging an HLS Dean in Socratic dialog, and she responded beautifully with humor and pleasure.  A class act.

More generally, Dean Minnow set a standard for ATJ commitment by which other Deans will long be judged.  As those institutionally responsible for shaping the next, and indeed often the current, generations of lawyers, law schools’ relative abdication is slowly being overcome.  This is therefore a particularly good moment to talk about the need to hold law schools accountable and strongly to encourage their participation in Access to Justice Commissions, in projects deriving from the Justice For All Strategic Planning process and the Chief’s 100% Resolution, in the training and certification of those in “roles beyond lawyer” initiatives, in expanding the role of incubators, in research into access issues, in development of international access networking, in simplification and system reform, and, of course, ensuring the integration of access into the curriculum as a whole.

My wife Joan Zorza, who helped Martha teach a family law course back in the 1980s adds:

Working with Martha was a privilege and a joy.  She always combined a deep human understanding of people’s lives, even poor people’s lives, with her unique analytic experience.  I am sure I learned at least as much as the students about teaching as well as the law and being a human.  Although just a clinical supervisor, I never felt treated as anything less than an equal,  Thank you, Martha, and I know we will continue to hear your desperately needed voice.

For the future, I am not surprised, but deeply encouraged, by the language in the retirement announcement that Dean Minnow:  “will remain on the faculty and return to active participation in public dialogue and legal policy.”  We do indeed need it.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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