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Katerina Lewinbuk

Katerina Lewinbuk random

We asked Katerina Lewinbuk a professor of law at South Texas College of Law, Houston, what has inspired and motivated her throughout her career. This author spotlight gives a glimpse into her passion for law and what brought her to where she is today.

 What or who motivated you to study law?

[KL] I was born and raised in a totalitarian country (Soviet Union). After immigrating to the United States alone at age 19, I was determined to understand my own rights and the rights of others, whom I could represent and support. I wanted to be an active participant in the American legal system, which provides for our precious freedoms and due process of law – something that a person with my background cannot take for granted.    

Did you have a favorite professor in law school?  If so, who was the person and what made them stand out?

[KL] Professor (now Vice-Dean) Julie Spanbauer was my favorite professor. She taught me in my first semester of law school and was one of the first lawyers I met. She was strict, demanding, but also supportive. She was just a few years older than my classmates and I at the time but kept proper boundaries and had our respect. She achieved so much, yet she never let it get to her head, but rather shared her knowledge and success with others. Seeing her accomplishments made my personal goals seem somehow possible! When I came to her overwhelmed by my enormous workload and heavy pressure to succeed, she told me: “Tune everything out! Just put your head down and work!” I still remember her saying this, and it helps me to this day.

What law school course did you enjoy the most?

[KL] Although I should probably not say this because people will laugh at me or not believe it, I truly enjoyed my entire 1L year. After two weeks in law school, I literally fell in love! In love with the logic, arguments, legal analysis, and one’s pure ability to research and understand her rights – in every possible scenario! It was empowering and intellectually stimulating. If I had to choose one favorite course, it would be Legal Ethics/Professional Responsibility. I know some students do not really care for the subject, but they are missing out… The structure and regulation of our profession is key to our legal system and all we do, not to mention the answer to who we really are as lawyers!

My Legal Ethics course was taught by Professor Frank Morrissey (now deceased), a former partner at Baker & McKenzie. He made us realize that the rules of ethics are very real and of critical importance to every lawyer, regardless of specialty.

What are your primary areas of writing and teaching? What fascinates you about these areas of law?

[KL] I teach a few different subjects, but would name “legal ethics, malpractice, and profession/professional responsibility” as my main area of expertise. My admiration for the subject matter is two-fold. First, I think the extent and depth of our profession is enormous. This includes our mission – the overall purpose of lawyering, regulation, and ethical boundaries for our professional conduct – as well as our role in the courtroom, for our clients, and so much more. Furthermore, I enjoy a comparative aspect of lawyering in the United States and other countries, global trends and developments. Second, legal malpractice cases are a great source of learning because they always include the alleged malpractice issue and the underlying case, which could involve any area of law.

Do (or did) you have a mentor or someone that has inspired or encouraged you in your writing or teaching?

[KL] Our former Dean, Dean Emeritus Jim Alfini. Jim believed in me from my first interview with him when I was a faculty candidate at the South Texas College of Law Houston in 2006. When he looked up from reviewing my curriculum vitae, he had the biggest smile of approval. Ever since, Jim has always been there to guide me through my teaching and scholarship journey. I admire Jim’s academic work and accomplishments, but also his kind and genuine nature and sense of humor. I always feel inspired and grateful after talking to him.

What motivated you to write a casebook?

[KL] What an interesting question in my case… I would honestly say the Wolters Kluwer representative, whose name I don’t even know… He came to my office as he was doing rounds in my school visiting with professors and promoting new books and started his talk, while I was distracted getting ready for class. Finally, he got my attention by asking, “What is this crazy pile of papers with a rubber band?”  I explained that I had put together my own set of materials for a Professional Responsibility course, including modern and engaging cases, MPRE prep, logical timeline for concepts, etc. I even proudly told him that another ethics professor had requested to use this “crazy pile.” He then said: “It sounds crazy you did not turn it into a book – looks like 90 percent of the work is already done!” I was speechless – this simple and genius idea had never crossed my mind before!

As luck would have it, soon after that I met Rick Mixter and Anton Yakovlev, and later (thanks to them!) the rest of the amazing WK Team that made this project a reality with 2 book editions by now, and even a matching interactive book version via WK’s innovative project Casebook Connect. I really wanted to fly solo with this book, and they supported me!

What has been the most influential or pivotal moment in your career?

[KL] Becoming a tenured full professor is a huge milestone in one’s academic career. I will never forget that day! It is the moment when one really feels approval and support of her colleagues and the entire academic community. The path is not easy, but so worth it at the end! Congratulating me then, a respected colleague told me: “Tenure is a chance to launch and advance your career – it is a big start! Not sure why some people confuse it with retirement…” I giggled but promised to remember the honor and not take it for granted!

What changes in legal education excite you?

[KL] I love the idea of “practice-ready” and “legal skills”! It is great we are now training our students on problem-solving and actual lawyering tasks while in law school. Although law school can never fully replace work experience, it is starting to come close with our legal clinics, skills classes, etc.

What advice do you have for today’s law students? 

[KL] I will reiterate what Vice-Dean Spanbauer advised me 23 years ago, “Tune everything out! Just put your head down and work!” I will just add: “The rest will come!” But also, remember that being an attorney is a privilege that should be cherished. If you love what you do, the work becomes easy and joyful. Never forget – you have a high purpose: you are here to represent others.

Finally, always take the high road and… be positive! We all want to be around positive people!!!

How do you hope to be remembered by your students or law school?

[KL]Knowledgeable! Positive! Compassionate! Supportive! And someone who never took my fortunes for granted!

What are your interests outside of law? 

[KL] I love travels and being with my family and friends. I love running and yoga! I love laughing like crazy over a silly joke! I love dancing and having deep conversations about life! I love interesting people! I love reading, but only the books that capture me – otherwise, I quit quickly.  I love Russian language and culture! I love writing in both English and Russian.

Katerina is a professor at South Texas College of Law, Houston, and is the author of the Wolters Kluwer coursebook, Connecting Ethics and Practice: A Lawyer's Guide to Professional Responsibility, Second Edition.