We asked Stephen C. Yeazell, David G. Price & Dallas P. Price Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus at UCLA School of Law, 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?
[SCY] I was cruising toward what I thought would be a doctorate in English literature (medieval and Renaissance) when for the first time I encountered peers who were in law school. Asking them about what they were studying, I found myself more interested in the questions they were considering than in John Milton’s style in Paradise Lost. So I applied to law school; I’m quite sure the world did not lose a great Milton scholar.
Did you have a favorite professor in law school? If so, who was the person and what made them stand out?
[SCY] I was blessed by several wonderful teachers who took an interest in my work and who let me serve them as research assistants, in particular Morton Horwitz and David Shapiro.
What law school course did you enjoy the most?
[SCY] It would probably be a tie between my first year torts courts (taught by Morton Horwitz) and a Legal Process course taught by Duncan Kennedy.
What are your primary areas of writing and teaching? What fascinates you about these areas of law?
[SCY] I teach and write about procedure, broadly speaking. In the first part of my career my writing was mostly about the roots of the modern class action. For the last couple of decades I’ve been interested in what might be called the dynamics of civil litigation, as those are affected by changes in the structure of the bar, in litigation finance, in increasingly nuanced forms of settlement, in the changing demography of civil litigation and in the strange way in which for a decade or so civil litigation became a topic of partisan political discussion.
Do (or did) you have a mentor or someone that has inspired or encouraged you in your writing or teaching?
[SCY] I’ve been blessed with a number of wonderful mentors, starting with Morton Horwitz and David Shapiro at law school and continuing with numerous colleagues here at UCLA, among whom Norman Abrams, Kenneth Karst, and Murray Schwartz stand out particularly. I should add that I’ve also been inspired by the examples of UCLA colleagues far outside the law school—ranging from medicine to anthropology to literature, who have served as wonderful examples of what intellectual creativity is all about.
What motivated you to write a casebook?
[SCY] In the mid-1980s the then-publisher at Little Brown (subsequently Aspen/Wolters Kluwer) asked me to take over an existing casebook that in different ways had lost both its authors. That meant I had a head start—not having to start from scratch—and could, over several editions, renovate various sections in ways that seemed to make sense. In recent years I have been delighted to have lured my colleague Prof. Joanna Schwartz into the project. A prize-winning teacher and path-breaking scholar, she also possesses a wonderful eye for good cases, and sufficient tact to persuade me that this or that favorite—but out-dated or otherwise unsuitable—case should be jettisoned.
What has been the most influential or pivotal moment in your career?
[SCY] I can think of three. One was UCLA’s offering to hire me, from which the other two flowed. The second was taking on the casebook, which forced me to take a broader view of the field and led to some articles I still think good. Finally, I’ve been privileged to participate in several out-of-the-law-school activities at UCLA, which have given me a broader vision both of my own field and of the possibilities for creative academic work.
What changes in legal education excite you?
[SCY] These changes relate not just to law but to education more generally: I’m interested in the “flipped classroom,” in which students use in-class time with collaborative projects. And I’ve had some success with “personal response” systems that allow law students to have real-time, low stakes feedback to help them understand which concepts they may not yet grasp sufficiently.
What advice do you have for today’s law students?
[SCY] First, realize that changes in the practice of law mean you’ll likely not spend an entire career in one practice setting, so think about a career as possibly having several stages. Second, realize that even in big-city, big-law practices reputation matters: don’t be a jerk—and you can be an extremely effective lawyer without bluster or chest-beating. Finally, I would like to pass on a wonderful thought from the 19th-century Swiss poet and moral philosopher Henri-Frédéric Amiel: “Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind.”
How do you hope to be remembered by your students or law school?
[SCY] I’d hope to be remembered as a teacher who wanted my students to learn, and who looked forward to admiring their careers. As a colleague I’d like to be remembered as one who cared about the institution and its culture, and who wanted colleagues to succeed in their work.
What are your interests outside of law?
[SCY] I’m an enthusiastic cook (sourdough bread being a recent breakthrough), a moderate hiker, and an immoderate reader, with tastes that run to non-fiction and 19th century novels.
Stephen C. Yeazell is a Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus 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.