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Professor Peter Winograd Highlighted in ALI Reporter

January 7, 2015 - Tamara Williams

Peter A. Winograd

Emeritus Professor Peter Winograd was highlighted in a multiple-page interview in the fall-winter issue of the ALI Reporter, a publication of the American Law Institute. According to the website, ALI is the leading independent organization in the United States producing scholarly work to clarify, modernize, and otherwise improve the law.

Winograd was elected to ALI in 1989 and served last year as one of three co-chairs of the 1989 Life Member Class Gift campaign, which the publication indicates far exceeded its goal of $150,000 by raising $185,891. Below is an excerpt of “Q&A with Peter Winograd.”

Professor Peter A. Winograd was elected to The American Law Institute in 1989 and served last year as one of three co-chairs of the 1989 Life Member Class Gift campaign. The campaign far exceeded its goal of $150,000 by raising $185,891. An Emeritus Professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law, he has played significant roles in a broad range of national associations, including the American Bar Association, the Association of American Law Schools, and the Law School Admission Council where he served as President from 1989 to 1991.

As an ALI member for more than 25 years, you have attended almost every Annual Meeting during that time. What have you gained from this experience?

The Annual Meeting is the largest gathering of ALI’s membership, so it provides a unique opportunity to meet leaders in their fields and to learn more about the issues scheduled for discussion. No other organization brings together such an outstanding group of judges, academics, and practitioners, all intensely focused on the hard work of improving the law. I often strike up conversations with a member seated near me in the meeting room or at one of the special events. Sometimes I see a nametag that bears a familiar name and I get the chance to make a connection with someone whose work I’ve long admired. I always leave the Annual Meeting feeling energized and with a sense of accomplishment that other professional programs rarely, if ever, match.

The 1989 Life Member Class Gift campaign was a tremendous success. As one of three co-chairs, you had a key role in encouraging generosity among your classmates. What did you learn from that experience?

It was with some trepidation that I accepted this assignment. Although I have worked in law school management throughout my career, fundraising has never been a main responsibility. On the rare occasion when I was asked to solicit a contribution, it involved taking someone out to a fancy dinner, culminating in “the ask” over dessert. But since ALI members are located throughout the United States and abroad, the fine-dining approach was not an option. We determined that our campaign would be conducted entirely by phone and email. Fundraising, plain and simple, no frills.

To my surprise, it turned out to be an extremely pleasant experience. Each of the co-chairs already knew a number of class members, so those calls were an opportunity to catch up with folks we may not have been in touch with for a while. Even when I cold-called total strangers, I found that almost everyone listened to the presentation and then made a contribution or pledge. The fact that we achieved an 80 percent participation rate confirmed for me the high esteem in which the ALI is held by its members and the respect they have for its work. I cannot think of another association that has come close to reaching such a percentage. It is truly remarkable.

When did you first think of becoming a lawyer, and how did you end up with a career in legal education?

I was in my junior year of college before I gave much thought to post-graduation possibilities. Even then, the process was mostly one of elimination. Neither business nor advanced studies in political science was appealing, and I never would have survived the first-year anatomy lab in medical school. A favorite professor who had a law degree told me that I “think like a lawyer” and suggested that I would find law school both interesting and challenging. Most important to me was the fact that a legal education could prepare me for a variety of positions, thus postponing the ultimate career decision another three years. I spent the summer after my second year of law school in the legal department at IBM headquarters in Manhattan. I was very impressed by the IBM attorneys and the work they did. The following fall, I was invited to interview with three major firms in New York and, much to my surprise, received an offer on-the-spot from one of them. I later learned that the person who made the offer was not authorized to do so, and I found myself jobless as the recruiting season was ending. Then a brochure from NYU Law School describing opportunities for teaching fellowships landed in my mailbox. I applied and was accepted. I earned an LL.M. degree while teaching two sections of legal research and writing, and quickly became an assistant dean with a broad range of responsibilities. I had circuitously discovered the perfect career niche for me, and, to this day, I give thanks to that law firm for failing to follow up on its offer.

You are a big supporter of the Institute’s Young Scholars Medal. Why is this important to you?

Someone joked after I was elected to the ALI in 1989 that I had single-handedly lowered the average age of the Institute’s membership. Although ALI’s demographics have changed a bit since then, there’s a lingering misperception that most of us are in our twilight years. The Young Scholars Program showcases our efforts to identify great legal minds relatively early in their careers. There simply is no better way to begin engaging the next generation of law reform leaders with the work of the ALI.

Working with the American Bar Association, you helped evaluate more than 30 law school programs for accreditation. What did you learn from that experience?

Serving on an accreditation team is a huge time commitment, from reviewing a school’s self-study, to spending three days on site, to preparing a report used by the Accreditation Committee to determine whether a school complies with the standards. I have visited schools on anyone’s list of the most prestigious, and other schools that would not be so described. In almost every case, I have observed the impact of one or more programs, policies, and/or procedures that had not previously come to my attention.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Of the 540 classmates who entered Harvard Law School with me in 1960, perhaps a half dozen were persons of color. This was not unusual in that era, but things were about to change. By the late 1960s, as I was becoming involved with law school admissions at NYU, I joined with several colleagues at similar schools to launch a joint effort to encourage college students from underrepresented groups to apply. We visited colleges with diverse populations and distributed material from all of the participating law schools, not just our own institutions. We experimented with ways to maximize the likelihood of academic success for those who matriculated. Financial aid problems had to be addressed. The inaugural group was small, but the numbers and incoming-class diversity gradually increased. These students generally performed well and some have had truly outstanding careers, including at least one who has served for many years as a federal judge. In retrospect, this small project marked the start of concerted efforts to diversify the legal profession. I consider it a privilege—and stroke of good luck—to have been present at the beginning and to be able to continue making a difference in the decades that followed.

Lobbying efforts by you and a few other professors led to passage of the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which, as the name suggests, makes loan forgiveness available to graduates who serve a minimum of 10 years in public service employment. How did you achieve this success?

I chaired the Government Relations and Student Financial Aid Committee of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar in 2001-02, and Phil Schrag, longtime faculty member at Georgetown, chaired the Association of American Law Schools’ Government Relations Committee. He had already written about student debt and its particularly heavy impact on law graduates who hold public service positions. He suggested that we work together to press the issue at both the ABA and AALS. Later, ABA President Bob Hirshon appointed a Commission on Loan Repayment and Forgiveness, with which we both worked. The Commission proposed forgiving loan balances that remained after several years of full-time public service employment if scheduled repayments had been made. The ABA House of Delegates endorsed the idea. Both the Law Student Division and the Young Lawyers Division of the ABA emphasized the need to have forgiveness available to attract candidates to public service careers. Thanks largely to the efforts of Senators Ted Kennedy and Mike Enzi, and Congressman John Sarbanes, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 embodied our suggestions and created the Program. I should mention, however, that the final chapter of this saga may not have been written yet, because some foundations and organizations now advocate restricting or repealing it. Stay tuned!

What’s your idea of a perfect vacation?

A long weekend in Ogunquit, Maine, in June, September, or early October, disconnected from the rest of the world—no voicemails, no emails, just relaxation. Little has changed since my family first visited there when I was 10. The beach is unsurpassed, and you can walk a mile on the scenic Marginal Way, above the waves crashing along the coast. You can almost feel your own blood pressure dropping.

You served six years as a public member of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (the accrediting agency for U.S. and Canadian M.D. programs), and you were later named the first recipient of its Distinguished Service Award. What led you to become involved with this organization?

Having enjoyed my involvement with the law school accreditation process, I thought this would be a unique opportunity to become familiar with the similarities and differences between the delivery of educational programs in these two professions. I was not disappointed. With regard to differences in approach, I always cite student assessment as particularly important. Although law faculties have modified assessment techniques somewhat, the high-stakes, end-of-semester examination remains a significant measurement tool. By contrast, medical students are assessed regularly, almost from the moment of arrival. The LCME requires that students be provided with formal feedback during each required course, and that a narrative description of student performance be included whenever teacher-student interaction permits such assessment. Clearly, there is a lot we can learn from each other.