Sternlight’s Acceptance Speech for the Outstanding Scholarly Work Award

As regular readers know, we are big fans of the ABA Conference here at Indisputably.  There are a number of reasons why (here are Jill’s and John’s post conference explanations why), and one of the big ones for me is the DR Section’s annual Award for Outstanding Scholarly Work.  This year’s recipient was Jean Sternlight at UNLV, a friend and mentor for many of us and a semi-regular guest blogger here.  Many of us thought Jean’s short acceptance remarks were great, so I asked if we could post them here.  Not surprisingly, Jean didn’t have any prepared remarks.  She’s recreated them as she could best remember and passed them along.  For those of you who don’t know her – this is so Jean and part of the reason why we love her.

To be perfectly honest, when I first entered legal academia in 1992 I was appalled at some of the culture I encountered relating to scholarship. Though this was back in the day, before Al Gore had invented the internet, I used to receive long lists of law review articles that had been published in a given week. As I saw the listed titles I tended to think “Don’t these professors have something better to do with their time?” I had just spent eight years in practice, where I had seen that many people with good claims could not get the legal help that they needed, so I wondered whether some of the brilliant professors who were writing those articles might better spend their time providing assistance to people who needed legal help.

Second, I was concerned with that many in legal academia, at least at the school where I first taught, perceived that a law professor had to make a choice between being a good teacher and being a good scholar. They thought that interest in teaching signaled a lack of scholarly commitment. But I did not buy it.

While I had these concerns about the culture of scholarship in legal academia, I knew I still loved writing. Finding the time to do more writing was one of the reasons I had chosen to enter legal academia in the first place. So, I vowed to try to do only worthwhile scholarship – that would serve a cause beyond mere bellybutton gazing or obtaining glory for myself or my school. And, I vowed to try to be both a good teacher and a good scholar. Indeed, my very first article in legal academia, entitled “Symbiotic Legal Theory and Legal Practice,” made the point that teaching and theory can be mutually supportive.

I have focused on two main goals in my writing: making the world more just, and trying to train better attorneys. My work critiquing mandatory arbitration is ultimately focused on how we can use dispute resolution tools to improve our world. Indeed, I have tried to end most of my articles in this vein with the word “justice.” My other strand of work, focused on training better attorneys, has examined both how to help attorneys use psychological tools to more effectively represent their claims and also how to integrate the teaching of dispute resolution throughout the curriculum, again in order to improve law practice.

I love our field of dispute resolution because it helps to serve these ends of creating a more just society and also improving lawyers’ ability to help their clients. I also love this field because all of you, my colleagues, are so wonderful.

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