Law Faculty Engage in American Law Institute’s Vital Work

The laws that govern our lives day by day derive from many sources. Many have their roots in common law, but the U.S.Constitution, state constitutions, federal and state statutes, and other influences also have all played decisive roles. This patchwork process inevitably produces inconsistencies and contradictions.

The American Law Institute (ALI) was established in 1923 to create some order in this confusion, to “clarify, modernize, and otherwise improve the law.” Today it is one of the most respected voices in American law and jurisprudence. And Washington University law faculty are making significant contributions to its work.

The ALI’s 4,000 lawyers, judges, and law professors draft, discuss, revise, and publish restatements of the law, model statutes, and principles of law. According to Susan Appleton, the Lemma Barkeloo and Phoebe Couzins Professor of Law, a member of the ALI Council or governing body, and until spring 2013 the Secretary of ALI, these publications shape American law in several key ways.

“In reaching decisions, courts often rely on a Restatement or other ALI project,” Appleton notes. “So, for example, the Supreme Court in the last week of its most recently completed term cited ALI restatements in four different cases. Legislatures also can find such work influential, as with the Model Penal Code, which many state legislatures used in reforming their criminal statutes.”

Beyond these impacts, ALI publications also can address rules and regulations used by governmental agencies. Appleton’s own scholarly interests focus on family law, and she was an Adviser for Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution, published in 2002. “On some issues,” she explains, “neither a legislature nor a court is really in charge, but instead an administrative agency that develops child support guidelines, for example.”

Other law faculty members and ALI members have actively participated, as well. Pauline Kim, the Charles Nagel Professor of Law, has worked as an Adviser on an employment law project. Michael Greenfield, the George Alexander Madill Professor of Contracts & Commercial Law, is contributing as an Adviser to a project on consumer contracts. Professor Kathleen Clark is currently Associate Reporter on the Principles of Government Ethics, and Professor Laura Rosenbury has facilitated a discussion exploring a possible ALI project on children and law. Although not currently an institute member, Professor Neil Richards is working as an Adviser on an ALI privacy project.

Some 14 current Washington University law faculty are members of ALI. In addition to those mentioned above, ALI members are: Professor Rebecca Hollander-Blumoff; Daniel Keating, the Tyrrell Williams Professor of Law; Stephen Legomsky, the John S. Lehmann University Professor; Ronald Levin, the William R. Orthwein Distinguished Professor of Law; Charles McManis, the Thomas and Karole Green Professor of Law; Professor Kimberly Norwood; Leila Nadya Sadat, the Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law; Hillary Sale, the Walter D. Coles Professor of Law and Professor of Management; and Dean Kent Syverud, the Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor.

ALI projects go through an exhaustive drafting and deliberation process before publication. The ALI Council must first approve a project, and then designate an expert in the field, typically a legal scholar, as Reporter. The Reporter researches and drafts the work, usually in successive parts. Multiple reviews follow, in small advisory groups, the ALI Council, and the membership at large, until the ALI Council and the membership both approve a final draft.

Appleton believes one of the ALI’s great strengths lies in the membership’s breadth. “The institute is composed of legal academics, practicing lawyers, and judges,” she notes. “Rarely do all three segments of the profession come together to examine the law as it is and as it might be. They all bring different perspectives about the varied topics that ALI tackles.”

Appleton was elected to ALI membership in 1987 and to the ALI Council in 1994. She served as Secretary for seven years and is now chairing the Governance Committee. As Secretary, she was on the Executive Committee, chaired various sessions of ALI Council and membership meetings, and inaugurated a highly successful fundraising program to support the ALI’s work. She values her ALI engagement for the way it has shaped her own scholarship and teaching and especially for the remarkable people she’s come to know. “These are people with amazing careers and insights. They are excellent role models with different perspectives who have enriched my own professional life enormously,” she says.

Award-Winning Connection to ALI  

The American Law Institute has conferred its coveted Henry J. Friendly Medal upon the Hon. William Webster, JD ’49, for his many contributions to the law. Webster is a Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean conflict. He served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Attorney, and judge of the federal district and appellate courts. Today he chairs the Homeland Security Advisory Council. The law school’s Webster Society, named in his honor, awards scholarships to students committed to public service.