An international career as an attorney was only the beginning for Professor S.I. Strong, the Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law at the University of Missouri. Specializing in international commercial arbitration, large scale law suits, international dispute resolution and comparative law, Strong uses her expertise in her research, teaching, and practice. In addition to her legal specialties, Strong writes about research and writing methods crucial for any lawyer. Her career remains international in scope, as she is in demand as a speaker, moderator, and expert advisor for initiatives, programs, and conferences around the world.
When S. David Mitchell leaves for work in the morning, he isn’t sure which hat to wear. Sometimes he is a law professor, and sometimes he is a sociologist. On most days he wears both hats at once—an interdisciplinary approach to research that seems to bode well. As an associate professor in MU’s School of Law, Mitchell’s teaching and research feed off each other, focusing on the intersection of society and the law. While his teaching covers topics ranging from torts and criminal justice administration—from “bail to jail”—the courses he gets most excited about involve his main area of research, including “Law and Society” and “Collateral Consequences of Sentencing.”
Can nest conditions predict what kinds of predators can masticate a bird? What effects do controlled drugs have on the formation of persistent follicles in beef cows? How resourceful is the neglected art of video poetry? These were just some of the questions that approximately 120 undergraduate students were attempting to answer during the summer of 2007.
The Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievements Forum, held at the end of July at the Bond Life Sciences Center, allowed students to present their scholarly research projects to the public. MU students specializing in an array of concentrations were stationed at posters describing their findings.
Dr. Strong discusses why research and writing are necessary skills for lawyers, and how she helps law students develop these skills.
Being bilingual, Dr. Strong relates, is the start of being able to practice law in two languages. However, she cautions, a comparative knowledge of law in different countries and cultures is also key. In this segment, she discusses her current collaborative project: a book for bilingual lawyers, and relates some of the differences between practicing law in Spanish and in English.
“Being a good writer,” Dr. Strong argues, “is a critical part of being an attorney.” In this segment, she discusses why this is the case, and how law students can and should develop their research and writing skills to become better lawyers.
Dr. Strong shares how her considerable experience of litigating very complex cases enhances her teaching, and how a professor’s background in the practice of law benefits students.
Dr. Strong describes her work with the United Nations to establish standards of international mediation.
Dr. Strong explains how class arbitration gives individuals and groups access to redress from large corporations.
Dr. Strong describes her interest in class arbitration, and how she went from opposing it to being a vocal proponent—and leading expert—of the practice.
Though Dr. Strong advises students, “don’t have my career, have your own; follow the path that makes you happy,” she shares how obtaining dual citizenship in both the United States and the United Kingdom allowed her to practice law in England at a time when few Americans were able to do so.
Interviewees tell about how they are working to further their disciplines with their contributions.
Mitchell teaches a broad range of courses, including a criminal justice administration course that he describes as “bail to jail”; a class about torts, which involve civil wrongs; and one called Law and Society, which examines the social context behind the law. The latter course clearly reflects Mitchell’s background in sociology, which has influenced both his pedagogy and his research. In Collateral Consequences of Sentencing, he covers felon disenfranchisement, felon exclusion laws, and prisoner reentry.
From reading court cases to scouring such legal databases as Lexis-Nexis and WestLaw, Mitchell explains how a legal scholar goes about gathering research data. He also describes a teaching strategy employed in his classes to handle conflict-ridden legal subjects that require one to “take sides.”
Mitchell recalls that when he began graduate school in sociology he was told scholars should engage in objective research, that they should not inject bias into their research. While agreeing with that principle, Mitchell finds that “the notion that any of our work is truly objective is ridiculous.” By the time one chooses a research topic, he suggests, there is already the bias of selecting an area about which one is passionate. Moreover, he disagrees with the idea that scholars should not be advocates of their own research.
After graduating from college and working as a paralegal for several years, Mitchell returned to his alma mater, Collegiate School, in Manhattan, New York, to serve as the student diversity coordinator and teach history. Wanting to make a bigger impact, he began law school thinking he would research the costs and benefits associated with affirmative action in predominantly white institutions. While at the University of Pennsylvania—working on a joint degree in both sociology and law—Mitchell began to examine felon disenfranchisement. “It popped up as an issue,” he recalls. “We’ve got this class of people who are citizens, but not full citizens, and that became my research topic from that point forward.”
One of the debates occurring within the scholarly community concerns whether there is a disproportionate impact of felon disenfranchisement laws, that is, how such laws affect some demographic groups more than others, especially African-American communities. If we consider, for instance, the disproportionate number of African-American men who are currently incarcerated or under the control of the criminal justice system at some point in time (about one-third of the African-American male community), it becomes clear that such laws do have a disparate impact on certain groups.
When a legislative body changes a law, mitigating the former penalty and improving someone’s condition, Mitchell argues, this change should be applied retroactively to all the cases still pending and to those individuals who have been convicted as well: “If the legislature changes a statute to reduce the penalty, in order to reflect the intent of their body and the will of the people, then the convicted and sentenced individual should get the benefit of that new penalty.”
From professors and lawyers to the judges themselves, legal scholarship is continually cited and challenged. As for whom he is addressing when publishing his findings, Mitchell explains that “I write for a much larger audience,” including the general public as well as felons and ex-felons. “You have got to speak to both the scholar and the lay person,” he contends. “We do an injustice to our work when it’s not accessible to those individuals.”
Even though the student researchers are usually not going to get their studies published in an academic journal, these researchers have an opportunity to make a difference with their findings. For example, every summer approximately twenty researchers go to Jefferson City to present their finding to lawmakers. “We work with the students to take their posters, turn those posters into something that very accessible to the public and elected officials,” Blockus explains. “This is our way of reminding the state officials of some of the things we do, and the special ways we are adding value to student experiences here at MU.”
Wells majored in chemistry at the University of Kansas, assuming she would eventually become a physician. She eventually realized, however, that what she liked most about chemistry was the theory part of problem-solving. After taking some humanities courses, she found herself drawn to law, and when she took a constitutional law course Wells simply “fell in love,” finding multiple connections between chemistry and law in terms of problem-solving, philosophy, and the testing of hypotheses.