“Students come to law school wanting to do good, but they leave wanting to do well.” That is what one of my law school professors told me more years ago than I will admit. Fortunately, at this significant time in our nation’s history, the current generation is quite serious about doing good and students are increasingly focusing their attention on state and local government service. That insight, expressed by James E. Tierney, Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School and former Attorney General of Maine, has resonated with us at the Georgetown Project on State and Local Government Policy and Law (SALPAL) at Georgetown Law.
For many years, Jim Tierney has been the “Johnny Appleseed” of teaching about the role of the state attorneys general, encouraging incumbent attorneys general and assistant attorneys general to teach, and recruiting many former attorneys general as well. He is the force behind StateAG.org, a website that collects materials on the role of the state attorney general, and through Harvard’s H2O platform has created an online syllabus that can be adapted by qualified individuals interested in creating a course on the topic.
We were introduced to Jim Tierney’s work by our colleagues who teach about state and local government and a great collaboration has begun. At Georgetown Law, as at law schools nationwide, our students seek to turn their legal education to public service. For many in our school in the heart of the nation’s capital, that has meant a career in federal government, but now more and more of our students realize that a key to a satisfying and impactful career may be returning to their home state. Many are making a difference as advocates in the areas of consumer affairs, charitable organizations, public health, criminal justice, and litigation against federal agencies. They are also providing high quality legal advice to state agencies as those agencies wrestle with their statutory responsibilities.
That is why, in 2019, we founded SALPAL. The goal was to create a cluster of courses for students interested in state and local government law, to provide a website that would publish the work of experts and students on key topics in the field, and to convene practitioners. The last is where Jim Tierney’s work comes in. Like us, he knows that students are eager to learn the skills that they will need in practice. As a consultant in the national tobacco litigation, to attorneys general nationally and to the National Association of Attorneys General, and as a long-time law school instructor at places like Columbia Law, Yale Law, and now Harvard, Tierney knows how to combine doctrine and practical wisdom.
To showcase the work being done in the field, we have created an affinity group for those teaching about attorneys general and those who may want to teach in the future. Jim Tierney and I, with the support of the National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute (NAGTRI) and a steering committee of experts in academia, government, and practice, have collaborated to create periodic “hangouts” for professors, adjuncts, and those who are considering teaching in this area.
The hangouts have been a resounding success. In the first, former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and former Pennsylvania Attorney General (and Governor) Tom Corbett were speakers. The second focused on Americans for Prosperity Fndn. v. Bonta, perhaps this Supreme Court term’s most important case for state attorneys general and state charities regulation law, featuring Daniel B. Rodriguez of the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, Richard Briffault of Columbia University Law School, and Cindy M. Lott, of Columbia University School of Professional Studies, who worked on one of the many amicus briefs filed in the case. Also active in our planning process and as commentators at the hangouts are Tom Fisher, Indiana solicitor general, and Bill McCollum, former attorney general of Florida and a twenty-year member of the US House of Representatives. In the fall, we will discuss Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, P.S.C, in which the Supreme Court could decide whether a state attorney general vested with the power to defend state law should be permitted to intervene when no other state actor will defend a state statute invalidated by a federal court of appeals. We will consider other cases as they come up, as well as the practical aspects of teaching as an adjunct while serving in an attorney general office, and the nuts and bolts of everything from creating new courses to working with full-time faculty and administrators.
Some of the best professors teaching about the attorney general function, for example, Heidi Li Feldman at Georgetown and Margaret Lemos at Duke, are rising stars who are products of academia. On the other hand, William P. Marshall at University of North Carolina School of Law spent a year as the solicitor general of Ohio and Anthony Johnstone at the University of Montana Blewett School of Law followed his public service experience as the Montana solicitor general with full time law school faculty appointments. SALPAL aims to help potential teachers from both academia and public practice with all aspects of the job, including course design, finding champions on the law school faculty and administration who believe in the mission, model syllabi (on the StateAG.org website), and attorney general interviews (on the SALPAL website).
Since the inception of the project, we’ve seen several new courses launch, and we are particularly delighted that some of these have been at state law schools. As the 2021-22 academic year begins, we will hold additional hangouts and add resources to the websites.
If you teach about the role of state attorneys general or if you think you might like to, please let us know. Contact Meryl Chertoff, Executive Director, SALPAL, firstname.lastname@example.org or Jim Tierney, Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School, email@example.com.