We asked Joanna C. Schwartz, Vice Dean for Faculty Development and Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, what has inspired and motivated her throughout her career. This author spotlight gives a glimpse into her passions and what brought her to where she is today.
What or who motivated you to study law?
[JCS] After college, I worked for an alternative to prison program in the Bronx, advocating in court for teenagers charged with their first felony to be released to their families and participate in a six month after school program instead of going to prison. That experience gave me an appreciation of the power of law, showed me how much I enjoyed advocacy, and convinced me to go to law school.
Did you have a favorite professor in law school? If so, who was the person and what made them stand out?
[JCS] My favorite professor was Steve Bright, who taught a course on capital punishment. Bright has been litigating capital cases for decades, and incorporated materials from his work into class discussion, including briefs and argument transcripts. He stood out not only because of his passion for the material, but because of his commitment to his students. I remember that on the first day of class Bright introduced himself to each of the sixty students individually before class began, and seemed to know each of our names and interests from that day forward.
What law school course did you enjoy the most?
[JCS] Probably the capital punishment course.
What are your primary areas of writing and teaching? What fascinates you about these areas of law?
[JCS] I write primarily about police misconduct litigation, and teach in this area—in addition to civil procedure. I practiced civil rights litigation before becoming a law professor, and that experience has given me a lot to write and think about. I am particularly interested in exploring the ways in which judicial and scholarly assumptions about civil rights litigation, and litigation more generally, is inconsistent with the realities on the ground.
Do (or did) you have a mentor or someone that has inspired or encouraged you in your writing or teaching?
[JCS] Steve Yeazell has been a tremendous mentor from the minute I arrived at UCLA. He has been extremely generous with his time, and has given me invaluable advice about both teaching and scholarship.
What motivated you to write a casebook?
[JCS] Given Steve’s mentorship, I jumped at the chance to join him on his casebook. It has been a pleasure to work with him.
What has been the most influential or pivotal moment in your career?
[JCS] Getting a job at UCLA.
What changes in legal education excite you?
[JCS] I am excited by the move toward more low stakes testing throughout the semester. In my view, a final exam is not the best way to test students’ knowledge and understanding, and am looking for ways to incorporate more testing experiences—including assessment questions, short quizzes, and writing assignments.
What advice do you have for today’s law students?
[JCS] Remember that this is probably your last three years in school. Savor it. Find professors who inspire you. Attend all the talks and conferences you can. Learn about areas of law you find interesting, even if they do not seem the most relevant to the work you intend to do. Follow your passions.
How do you hope to be remembered by your students or law school?
[JCS] I hope to be remembered by students as someone who cares for them, both by supporting them in their school experience and by pushing them to go beyond their comfort zones.
What are your interests outside of law?
[JCS] My family, politics, music, and exercise (in that order).
Joanna C. Schwartz is a Vice Dean and Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law and is the author of Civil Procedure, Tenth Edition and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure: With Selected Statutes, Cases, and Other Materials, 2018.