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Thursday, September 20, 2012

For This Award-Winning Professor, the Human Element Keeps the Legal Field Engaging

This summer, UC Hastings Professor Evan Lee traveled to Washington, D.C., for the 15th year in a row to provide on-air analysis of U.S. Supreme Court cases for a television program called Supreme Court Term in Review. The show, produced by the Federal Judicial Center, demands extensive preparation and pays little, says Lee. Yet he loves every minute of it.

"Interacting with my fellow panelists is truly stimulating," Lee says of his colleagues Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of UC Irvine, Laurie Levenson of Loyola Law School, and Suzanna Sherry of Vanderbilt University Law School. "These are some of the most impressive legal scholars in the nation. And I thoroughly enjoy all the people who work at the Federal Judicial Center. Really, everyone looks forward to it."

That melding of law and personal relationships has kept Lee engaged in his profession for the past 23 years. The Yale-educated academic is fascinated by the law, which comes across in his energetic and animated teaching of criminal law and federal courts classes at UC Hastings. Yet it's the personal attention to students that has contributed most to Lee's numerous awards, including Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year, Professor of the Year, and the Rutter Group Award for Excellence in Teaching.

"The most fun I ever have as a law professor is with a single student in my office, talking about everything: law, courts, society, politics, philosophy. There's nothing I do that's more gratifying than that," he says.

Lee also is passionate about helping his students see the law--and federal courts in particular--as dynamic, rather than something preordained and untouchable. This philosophy led to his 2011 book, Judicial Restraint: How the Ageless Wisdom of Federal Courts Was Invented, which discusses the evolving shape of judicial restraint rulings.

"I used to present constitutional law to students as if the rules were handed down from the mountain because that's the way I was taught," he says. "Now, I tell students that law is a product of human beings, of economic, political, and cultural currents that run through a society at any given time. It's important to remember that and not cop out, not to say our hands are tied here, because that absolves us of responsibility."

In addtion to his own teaching, Lee--recently named the Honorable Roger J. Traynor Director of Scholarly Programs--has long been committed to enhancing intellectual life on campus. When he served as associate dean for research, he brought in heavy-hitting guest speakers, including U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer. Lee looks forward to continuing to foster dialogue wiht "the most interesting lawyers in the world" by co-directing Legally Speaking, a UC Hastings lecture series created withCalifornia Lawyer magazine. Offering opportunities to discuss law while developing relationships--you might say it's another role tailor-made for Evan Lee.

[ADVICE CORNER]

What advice would you give to attorneys preparing to argue before a federal judge?

If the judge is leaning your way, just look confident and hammer home the same points you made in your briefs. If the judge is leaning the other way, the best you can do is plant a big seed of doubt and get the judge to take it under advisement. Hopefully, opposing counsel will say something inadvisable, and then you go on the offensive. Most important, when the judge finally rules in your favor, throw your papers into your briefcase and run out of the courtroom.

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