We asked Philip G. Schrag, Director, Center for Applied Legal Studies and Delaney Family Professor of Public Interest Law at Georgetown University Law Center, what has inspired and motivated him throughout his career. This author spotlight gives a glimpse into his passions and what brought him to where he is today.
What or who motivated you to study law?
[PGS] I strive for a world that is always moving toward peace, tolerance, and greater equality. In college I realized that law is the arena in which people are constantly pushing for or against these goals, whether through legislation, administrative action (or inaction) or judicial decisions.
Did you have a favorite professor in law school? If so, who was the person and what made them stand out?
[PGS] Charles Black was my most inspiring law school teacher. He asked deep questions, and in his spare time he volunteered to work on cases for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the legal staff of which I joined when I graduated from law school. A few years later, I had the great pleasure of working with him as a colleague in an unsuccessful effort to persuade Congress to authorize federal courts to hear consumer class actions in which the amount of the claim, when aggregated, met the jurisdictional limit for diversity cases.
What law school course did you enjoy the most?
[PGS] There were two: Constitutional law, taught by Charles Black, and Legal Journalism, taught by Fred Rodell. I never taught or wrote about constitutional law, but the legal journalism course has probably influenced everything I write, even for law reviews.
What are your primary areas of writing and teaching? What fascinates you about these areas of law?
[PGS] I have written about many topics, but the unifying framework is public interest law. Aside from the casebook Ethical Problems in the Practice of Law, most of my writing during the last decade has been about asylum law and particularly asylum adjudication. I’ve written or co-authored four books on asylum and am currently working on a book on the legal efforts to challenge the federal government’s detention of immigrant children.
Do (or did) you have a mentor, or someone that has inspired or encouraged you in your writing or teaching?
[PGS] The first person to encourage my writing was my 8th grade teacher, Mrs. Costello. Prodded by her, I entered Junior Scholastic’s national short story writing contest. I won first prize, so my very first publication was “The Rock,” published in Junior Scholastic in 1957.
What motivated you to write a casebook?
[PGS] My amazing wife Lisa. She was an experienced ethics teacher and well-established author in the field of legal ethics. When Wolters Kluwer offered her a casebook contract, she decided that she wanted me as a co-author. I turned her down repeatedly, but she was so persuasive that eventually I studied the field, taught the course, and joined her on the book.
What has been the most influential or pivotal moment in your career?
[PGS] In 2001, I published a law review article advocating the creation of what eventually became the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. For the next six years, I worked with the ABA, the Association of American Law Schools, Senator Edward Kennedy, and Representative John Sarbanes, to help persuade Congress to create this program, which was finally enacted into law in 2007. Since then it has benefited thousands of nurses, social workers, teachers, public defenders, legal aid lawyers, prosecutors and others who have made careers working for governments or non-profit organizations. That’s probably the single most important event in my almost 50 years of teaching and writing.
What changes in legal education excite you?
[PGS] The most important change in legal education in my lifetime was the creation of clinical education, which I regard as the most meaningful and mind-expanding aspect of legal education after the first year of law school. Half of my work every year is clinical education, and it has been for as long as I have been teaching.
What advice do you have for today’s law students?
[PGS] Take a clinic.
Read Judge Patrick J. Shiltz’s famous article, “On Being a Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhappy, Unhealthy, and Unethical Profession,” 52 Vand. L. Rev. 871 (1999), or at least the two excerpts from it that appear in Ethical Problems in the Practice of Law.
Have a good life, but don’t forget about justice.
How do you hope to be remembered by your students or law school?
[PGS] As a law teacher who was also a public interest lawyer.
What are your interests outside of law?
[PGS] I travel to total eclipses of the sun, play racquetball as often as possible, and snorkel on the planet’s rapidly disappearing coral reefs. Everyone should see the amazing creatures that inhabit the waters of New Guinea before it’s too late.
Philip G. Schrag is the Director, Center for Applied Legal Studies and Delaney Family Professor of Public Interest Law at Georgetown University Law Center. He and his co-author, Lisa G. Lerman, are the authors of the following Wolters Kluwer titles:
Ethical Problems in the Practice of Law, Concise Fourth Edition (2018)
Ethical Problems in the Practice of Law, Fourth Edition (2016)
Ethical Problems in the Practice of Law: Model Rules, State Variations, and Practice Questions, 2017 and 2018 Edition