Monday, December 20, 2010

Professor Sylvia Lazos Fights for Equality

Sylvia Lazos, Justice Myron Leavitt Professor of Law, has been researching issues of diversity since arriving at the UNLV Boyd School of Law in 2003. She has written on a variety of issues, including how initiatives by the electorate affect the civil rights of minorities, the difficulties in appointing judges who are minorities and women to the federal bench, and in general, why the concept of "diversity" has not easily gained access to mainstream legal thought.

Her latest project is an empirical investigation of whether judicial performance evaluations are fair to minorities and women judges. Her interest in this project began when she was enlisted to help form a panel for the National Association of Women Judges for the purpose of commenting on a recent controversy in Missouri. The Missouri State Bar administered judicial performance evaluations that were published on the Internet in order to aid voters to cast an informed vote in retention elections. However, a recent statistical study had revealed that the survey used in Missouri scored women judges eight points lower than men, and black judges ten points lower than white judges, on a 100-point scale.

In the upcoming issue of Law and Society Review, Lazos will publish with her co-author, political scientist Dr. Rebecca Gill, an analysis of the judicial evaluation polls conducted by an independent consultant hired by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The judicial evaluation poll data from 1998-2008 found that even after statistically controlling for judicial qualifications and performance records, women on average score 11.5 points lower than their male colleagues. Lazos and Gill attribute this rating difference to systemic unconscious bias, because there is no evidence that women judges as a group are less qualified than men. Unconscious bias, as distinct from explicit prejudices, cause people who believe they are neutral to nonetheless make judgments linked to race, gender or other factors.

Lazos and research assistant Mallory Waters have just completed analysis of another data set of judicial performance evaluations from Missouri, also controlling for qualitative and performance factors and found similar results in this data set. Even after controlling for experience, education, and other factors, women judges on average are rated 10 points lower than male judges.

In the next phase of Lazos's work, she will be looking to enlist the help of local judges to observe how the court room is different for women judges as opposed to male judges, and to confirm her theory that gender bias is at work in explaining the consistently lower evaluations that women receive in this state.

Lazos’s other research interests are in the area of education. She has been serving on the Clark County Superintendent's Equal Opportunities Advisory Commission since January 2010. Just recently named a Lincy Institute Fellow, she is working with colleagues from the UNLV College of Education to determine the efficacy of English Language Learner programs currently in use at the elementary school level at CCSD. This research, funded by The Lincy Institute, will help identify the teaching practices that are most effective. These research-based recommendations will be presented as part of a Brookings Mountain West event in May 2011. Lazos believes that this research work is the beginning of a truly collaborative research partnership with CCSD

Professor Keith Rowley Strives to Serve

In May and July 2010, respectively, the American Law Institute (ALI) and the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) approved extensive amendments to the official text of Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) Article 9, governing personal property security interests. William S. Boyd Professor of Law Keith Rowley actively participated in 18 months of UCC Article 9 Joint Review Committee meetings and conference calls that culminated in the amendments and accompanying commentary.

That experience has already paid dividends for students enrolled in his Secured Transactions course; forms the basis of an article he is writing for the American Bankruptcy Institute Journal; has provided additional fuel for his ongoing research and writing about what he calls the “Polyform Commercial Code,” a portion of which he presented in mid-November at the University of Tulsa College of Law; and is infiltrating a less provocative book about the law of secured transactions he is currently writing for Aspen (Wolters Kluwer). It has also made him the resident expert on the proposed amendments and the de facto liaison to the Nevada Bar and the Nevada Legislature, which may take up a bill to enact some or all of the amendments after it convenes in early 2011.

This latter role is not unfamiliar: after reading a two-part article Rowley wrote for the Nevada Lawyer in 2004 (which later morphed into a longer, updated article in the Uniform Commercial Code Law Journal and continues to thrive as a periodically-updated on-line resource), then-Senator Terry Care sought Rowley’s counsel during the 2005 legislative session regarding pending bills proposing to revise or amend six articles of Nevada’s version of the UCC. Rowley has since consulted with legislators, state bar leaders, and other interested parties regarding similar efforts in eleven other states and keeps a wide audience updated on UCC legislative developments (and related topics) through two blogs to which he contributes, his Boyd website, and his work as Developments Reporter for the American Bar Association Business Law Section’s UCC Committee.

In addition to serving all who legislate, adjudicate, practice, teach, study, or are otherwise affected by commercial law through his work with the ALI, the ABA, and his presence in the cybersphere, Rowley more directly serves the legal academy through leadership roles in the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). Having chaired the AALS Section on Commercial and Related Consumer Law until the January 2010 AALS annual meeting in New Orleans, Rowley continues to serve on that section’s executive committee as Immediate Past Chair. In January 2010, he became Chair-Elect of AALS Section on Contracts, and will take over as Chair at the January 2011 AALS annual meeting in San Francisco.

Rowley pursues scholarship across a broad spectrum of contract and commercial law topics (while also indulging a passion for law and popular culture that has thus far produced a book chapter on lawyers and lawyering on The West Wing, contributions to two ABA Journal cover articles and another forthcoming in National Jurist, and several conference papers). Along with several law review articles, book chapters, and conference papers in various stages of progress, and his forthcoming book for Aspen, he is also currently writing a second book on selected topics in the law of contracts for LexisNexis, and is under contract to write a third. Just as Rowley’s involvement in the Article 9 amendment process informs the secured transactions book he is writing for Aspen, his awareness-raising and consulting efforts pertaining to UCC Articles 1, 2, and 2A will benefit both of the LexisNexis books.

In addition to pursuing his own scholarship, Rowley also devotes considerable effort to promoting scholarship across a broad spectrum of contract and commercial law topics.

In January, Rowley moderated a program he conceived and organized for the AALS Section on Commercial and Related Consumer Law on the recently-promulgated ALI Principles of the Law of Software Contracts. The program – The Principles of the Law of Software Contracts: A Phoenix Rising from the Ashes of Article 2B and UCITA? – yielded a print symposium in the Tulane Law Review, which Rowley organized, and is the launching point for a book-length collection of essays, responses, and replies.

In February, Rowley brought more than 80 legal academics and practicing attorneys from thirty-one states and several foreign countries to the Boyd campus for the 2010 Spring Conference on Contracts, which received rave reviews virtually guaranteeing a sequel in the not-too-distant future. Several papers presented at the conference have since appeared, or are forthcoming, in a variety of law reviews.

In January 2011, Rowley will moderate a program he has conceived and spent considerable time this fall organizing for the AALS Section on Contracts. Navigating Lombard Street in a Fog: Seeking (or Ignoring) Landmarks of Intent and Context will explore foundational issues including whether the parties’ intent is or should be an integral part of contemporary contract law; the extent to which context affects or should affect a party’s ability to consent or the significance of its manifested consent; and, assuming that intent and context matter, how best to determine and give effect to the parties’ intent in the context of their transaction. The discussion promises to be lively and the program, like the 2010 Spring Contracts Conference, will provide a platform for several emerging contract scholars as well as a showcase for some of the leading lights in the field.

Professor Marketa Trimble Joins the Boyd School of Law Faculty

The Boyd School of Law is fortunate to be the home of not only nationally but also internationally recognized scholars in the fields of international law and intellectual property law. This year the Boyd community welcomed a new addition to this group of renowned scholars and respected educators – Professor Marketa Trimble. Her research concerning cross-border aspects of intellectual property law combines her interest in both fields and provides insights that are extremely valuable in the global economy.

In her forthcoming book on cross-border enforcement of patents Professor Trimble explores the challenges that patent holders face because of the existing patent regime, which despite the global use of inventions, still follows a country-by-country model for protecting those inventions. Notwithstanding efforts at the international level to create a system that would facilitate patenting in multiple countries, inventors still find the costs of doing so prohibitive. Most patent holders can patent their inventions in only one or a few countries and therefore relinquish the benefits from their inventions in much of the world. Professor Trimble uses examples from the United States and Germany – the two largest patent litigation venues in the world – to show how patent holders attempt to mitigate the problem by reaching activities in third countries through U.S. and German patent laws. Her book will be published by Oxford University Press in 2012.

In her research, which also concerns cross-border problems in copyright, Professor Trimble uses her broad experience, education and foreign language abilities. She came to the United States from Europe, where she worked as a lawyer for the government of the Czech Republic. In her capacity as head of the European Union Law Unit at the Czech Ministry of Justice, she prepared the country for membership in the European Union in the area of cross-border judicial cooperation, conflict of laws and enforcement of intellectual property. She represented the country in the committees of the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, where she also worked as a national legal expert in Eurostat, the central statistical body of the European Union. After moving to the United States and interning for a judge she returned to law school and earned master’s and doctoral degrees at Stanford Law School to complement her master’s and doctoral degrees from the Czech Republic, all of which contribute to her valuable and unique background.

Spotlight: Alumnus Michael J. Higdon ’01

Michael J. Higdon ’01 is a Boyd School of Law alumnus of many firsts. He was the first student Editor-in-Chief of the Nevada Law Journal, the first graduate to be hired as a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals law clerk, the first graduate hired to teach at Boyd, and the first graduate hired as a tenure-track law professor.

Recognized for his talents, Higdon caught the attention of other law schools and secured a tenure-track position at the University of Tennessee College of Law. He was appointed Associate Professor of Law beginning in 2009.

Higdon teaches and writes in the areas of family law; sexuality, gender and the law; and legal writing. He also has published in the areas of law and rhetoric; and wills, trusts, and estates. His work has been published in a number of journals including the Wake Forest Law Review, the U.C. Davis Law Review, and the Indiana Law Journal. Higdon’s work has caught the attention of some of the leader’s in his disciplines. For instance, his article on informal adoption is cited in Dukeminier’s Wills, Trusts, and Estates, the leading textbook in that area.

Additionally, in August, Higdon was quoted in Time magazine as a result of a piece he wrote, focusing on methods of teaching and critique. The article features Higdon’s comparison between teaching and the reality TV show Project Runway, pointing out methods of critique used on reality television shows and how those examples can help law professors offer more effective critique to law students.

At present a member of the Legal Writing Institute’s Board of Directors, Higdon has also given presentations at a number of universities, most recently at Arizona State University School of Law.

His most recent article, “To Lynch a Child: Bullying and Gender Non-Conformity in Our Nation's Schools,” forthcoming in the Indiana Law Journal, builds on previous articles he has written relating to discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. Higdon currently serves on an LGBT commission at the University of Tennessee, which is dedicated to making the university a more inclusive environment for LGBT students.

When asked about his future in terms of scholarship, Higdon said, “both my immediate and long-term goals are to continue writing pieces that focus, generally, in the area of law and psychology but, more specifically, the way in which bias and prejudice influence the legislative process and the degree to which law can have a psychological impact on minority communities in the U.S.”

Higdon adds that: “I enjoy the process of research and writing scholarly articles, primarily because I love teaching; scholarship makes me a more critical thinker and, thus, a better teacher.”

Before teaching, Higdon began his career as a law clerk. Upon graduation from Boyd, he was selected from intense competition to be a judicial law clerk for Judge Procter Hug, Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit before practicing commercial litigation and employment law for two years with the Las Vegas firm of Schreck Brignone (now part of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck).
In 2004, Higdon was hired as a Boyd faculty member. He served as Lawyering Process Professor from July 2004 to July 2009. He also was invited to serve as a visiting professor at Seattle University School of Law.

While teaching at Boyd, Higdon was recognized by the student body as the 2006 law faculty member of the year. He also coached several outstanding student moot court teams and served as adviser to the Society of Advocates, the Boyd School of Law’s moot court program. In 2009, Higdon was named the William S. Boyd School of Law Alumnus of the Year, the highest and most prestigious alumni award given by the school.

A Summa Cum Laude graduate of Boyd’s charter class, Higdon is a recipient of the James E. Rogers Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement. He holds a B.A. in English from Erskine College, Due West, SC, and an M.A. in Communication Studies from UNLV.