Professor Atiba Ellis to Join Marquette Law in Fall 2018

Prof Atiba Ellis Many in our community will recall Professor Atiba Ellis, who served as Boden Visiting Professor at the Law School during the fall 2017 semester.  He will return to the Law School for the fall 2018 semester—this time as professor of law and a member of the permanent faculty.  We are delighted that he will be joining us.

During his semester as the Boden visitor, Professor Ellis taught a course entitled Contemporary Issues in Civil Rights.  He also participated broadly and enthusiastically in the Law School community, including by delivering a faculty workshop, serving as a featured guest for one of Mike Gousha’s “On the Issues” sessions, and being consistently present in the common areas of Eckstein Hall for engagement with students and colleagues.

Professor Ellis joins Marquette Law School from the law school at West Virginia University, where he has been a member of the faculty since 2009.  In 2017, in addition to his semester at the Law School, he served as a Visiting Scholar at Duke University Law School.  Professor Ellis has taught courses in the areas of Election Law, Civil Rights Law, Race and the Law, Property, and Trusts and Estates.  His research and scholarship has focused on voting rights law and theory, critical legal theory, and legal history.  He is a well-established and highly regarded scholar whose work relates directly to matters of great present concern within Milwaukee and Wisconsin more generally.

Please join me in welcoming Professor Ellis (back) to Marquette University Law School.

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Law and the Horse

Horse and RiderIf you’ve spent much time around me, you know that I’ve got horse-crazy daughters.  My oldest is fourteen, and she’s just starting her tenth year of riding.  Her sisters joined in the fun a couple years after she started.  That has meant all sorts of things for our family, one of which is that I’ve spent an awful lot of time watching riding lessons.

It’s no surprise that spending that much time watching my daughters being taught a set of skills has led me to reflect on my own teaching.  There are, I’ve concluded, lots of connections, and so in this post I’m going to try to persuade you of two things:  The first is that learning to be a lawyer is in meaningful respects similar to learning a skill like how to ride a horse.  (Or, for that matter, figure skating.)  Both processes involve not merely the acquisition of information, but also a somewhat ineffable sense for how to engage in an activity.  The second is that those similarities can help provide some interesting perspectives on what we do in law schools.

I am breaking no new ground in making the first point.  Karl Llewellyn, for example, wrote of the value to lawyers and judges of “situation sense” and “horse sense” and of understanding that – and even more, understanding how – legal rules will often tell a tale that is incomplete or even wrong when applied to certain fact patterns.  This is a view of law as a craft.  Doing it well requires cultivating an often inarticulable sense of what sorts of responses are appropriate to which situations.  We might call it judgment.  Some of this is doctrinal knowledge, the content of the “law.”  But, Llewellyn admonished new law students, as memorialized in The Bramble Bush, “it does not make so very much difference whether you remember the specific rules.  Good, if you do.  But even if you do not, there remains a deposit, formless, curious—but one which informs your hunches in the future.”  Few of us remember much in the way of doctrinal specifics from our first semester in law school, but none of us could claim that we didn’t learn much.

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A First-Timer’s Reflections on Israel

IsraelI don’t have a handy quote to use as an epigram, but I’m sure that someone has previously, and pithily, expressed the idea that we travel as much to learn about ourselves as to learn about others.  It’s the original form of comparative analysis, a chance to experience other ways of living and doing and thereby to reflect upon our own.  The immediate effect is (often) the experience of novelty – at root the same thrill that accompanies exposure to a new idea, taste, or sound.  “Here is something I haven’t seen before!”  The lingering effect is that of evaluation, an effort to understand.  We humans like to categorize, and so the urge is to place this new experience within our existing mental boxes.  But the fit is not always perfect. When that happens we have to adjust the boxes, and thus our sense of the world. (Of course, there is a danger here, too. We might be so tempted to place things in our existing boxes that we overlook differences.)

Why the holding forth on travel? I will tell you. I had the opportunity to accompany Professor Andrea Schneider and the thirty-three students in her International Dispute Resolution class on their trip to Israel over Spring Break. It was an amazing trip. We encountered theory in the classroom, and the reality of conflict, borders, and displacement outside of it. The people who showed us these things, both the theoretical and the concrete, are themselves deeply immersed in the effort to achieve peace and mitigate the consequences of conflict. Even what might appear to have been the more conventionally touristy parts of the trip – typically involving some historically and/or religiously significant site –served to underscore just how layered and tangled the region’s issues are.

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