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Harvard Law School announced that it would appoint Nancy Gertner and Stephen E. Shay as professors of practice on Friday in a recognition of their accomplishments during their careers in the legal community.
Professors of practice—titles reserved for prominent, successful individuals in the legal profession—are appointed to help students transcend the boundary between academia and real-life practice.
Often cited as one of the leading tax attorneys in the world, Shay—formerly a deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Treasury Department—has spent over 35 years practicing tax law and policy, working in private practice, and publishing articles. He will lecture on tax law at the Law School, according to a press release from the school.
Gertner has served as a U.S. District Court judge since being appointed by President Clinton in 1994. Before becoming a judge, she worked as a criminal defense attorney and civil rights activist and was named by the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly as one of the “Most Influential Lawyers of the Past 25 Years.”
Gertner explained that she hopes to impress upon students the multidimensionality of the law by drawing on her experience as both a lawyer and a judge.
“Law is unusual in that it embodies aspects of philosophy and sociology and political science—and also what happens on a day to day [basis] in the courtroom,” Gertner said.
She said that she looks forward to reflecting on her career and the evolution of the law after a lifetime of working within the system.
“By bringing their recent and substantial experience into the classroom, appointees will offer students a deep understanding of the kinds of real-world situations that are typically encountered today by practicing lawyers,” Law School spokesperson Robb London wrote in an e-mail statement.
Gertner has taught internationally and nationally at Arizona State Law School and intermittently at Yale Law School. She explained that judging and teaching are alike, saying that judges must “teach” their rulings to the jury and the parties in the case by explaining reasoning which is made up of legal traditions and precedents.
But Gertner added that the two professions are also dissimilar.
“The difference is that I have to come to a decision [as a judge,] and in teaching, I can raise the issues and let students decide,” Gertner said.
“I can’t rule in the classroom, which I’m going to miss,” she added.
—Staff writer Caroline M. McKay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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