Highlights from the 2023 Annual Meeting - Annual Meeting

By Zaena Ballon

More than 2,000 law school faculty, deans, professional staff, and sponsors gathered in San Diego, California from January 3-7 for the 2023 AALS Annual Meeting, in-person for the first time since 2020.  Attendees enjoyed the opportunity to convene and connect with one another at more than 250 sessions and events.  

Over four days, the meeting included moderated panels, interactive discussions, award ceremonies, and networking opportunities. The theme of the 2023 Annual Meeting was “How Law Schools Can Make a Difference,” selected by 2022 AALS President Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of University of California, Berkeley School of Law.    

“I believe that law schools can, and therefore must, make a difference in helping to solve essential problems,” Chemerinsky said during the Meeting of the AALS House of Representatives. “We do this as faculty members through our scholarship, we do this through our teaching creating the new generation of lawyers, and we do this through our programs.”  

Programming closely reflected many of the most pressing issues of the day, including legal topics related to the war in Ukraine, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, tax reform, and energy and environmental reform; as well as topics focused within the academy, such as the implementation of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and the legacy of exclusion in legal education. The meeting featured many pedagogy panels, programs for newer scholars, and the most works-in-progress sessions at any Annual Meeting. This year’s hot topic sessions addressed the future of law and multiracial democracy, immigration law, the Henrietta Lacks case, vaccine mandates, and more.   

The majority of the programs were planned by the association’s 106 sections. Sections also hosted networking sessions, receptions, and award ceremonies throughout the meeting, providing additional opportunities for law school faculty, staff, and scholars to connect with each other.  New sections on firearms law, criminal procedure, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging professionals hosted their first sessions at the meeting.  

  • AALS Annual Meeting entrance
  • AALS Exhibit Hall

Programming Highlights

Wednesday’s Presidential Opening Plenary, “A Conversation U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor” was moderated by Chemerinsky. During the hour-long discussion, Justice Sotomayor answered questions about her life and experience on the Supreme Court.   

“We need law professors to write about the ways the court has gone wrong and if we do something right, please say so,” Justice Sotomayor said in response to a question. “But I think if you’re a law student, if you’re a law professor, you can’t take wrong directions as permanent. …[It] may take us time, but I do believe we’ll go back on the right track.” 

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is interviewed by AALS President Erwin Chemerinsky during the Presidential Opening Plenary.

Wednesday’s programing also included opportunities for newer law school teachers to connect and receive advice on navigating the conference at the “Session for First-Time Annual Meeting Attendees.” Law schools welcomed many new faculty members over the last several years and this was the first opportunity to experience the Annual Meeting in person for many attendees. The day concluded with the AALS Reception for New Law Teachers.  

Thursday’s programming kicked off with an Author Meets Reader session that highlighted books written about trailblazing women in legal education, especially those who served as dean. The session included speakers Patricia A. Cain (Santa Clara University School of Law), Camille DeJorna (Law School Admission Council), and Lisa A. Kloppenberg (Santa Clara University School of Law) with Laura M. Padilla (California Western School of Law) serving as moderator.  

Thursday also featured the AALS Awards Ceremony in the afternoon (details below) and a reception in the Exhibit Hall in the early evening. 

Friday’s programming opened with Hot Topic programs, which are sessions that focus on important issues that emerged or developed in the months leading up to the Annual Meeting. Sessions included “Biden v. Texas and the Federal-State Battle over Immigration Law,” examining the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the termination of protocols requiring asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while awaiting an immigration hearing. Also, the “Law of Unjust Enrichment, the First Immortal Human Cell Line, and the Henrietta Lacks Case” explored concerns about patients’ rights and the corporate profits derived from medical research that was conducted using cells that were taken from a patient without permission. Members of the Lacks family and their lawyers were in attendance for the session.

The afternoon was dedicated to the Workshop for Pretenured Law School Teachers of Color where attendees received guidance navigating the tenure and promotion process from colleagues and senior faculty.  

Saturday included a full day of section programing including works-in-progress and new voices sessions. The final day of the meeting also included the breakfast for section leadership, AALS Hot Topic sessions, and the AALS House of Representatives (details below). 

  • US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and AALS President Erwin Chemerinsky
  • AALS Deans Study Panel
  • Assessing the Impact of President Biden’s Marijuana Actions
  • AALS Hot Topic Program “The Law of Unjust Enrichment, the First Immortal Human Cell Line, and the Henrietta Lacks Case”
  • AALS Hot Topic Program “The Law of Unjust Enrichment, the First Immortal Human Cell Line, and the Henrietta Lacks Case”
  • NCBE Session
  • AALS Hot Topic Program “The Future of Law and Multiracial Democracy”
  • AALS First-time Annual Meeting attendees

Awards & Honors

After several years of uncertainty and unprecedented changes in legal education there was a strong focus on celebrating success and honoring members of the legal academy who are making a difference. On Thursday, the third annual—but first-ever in person—AALS Awards Ceremony recognized the Scholarly Papers Competition winner and honorable mention recipient, the AALS Sections of the Year, and section award recipients (including awards honoring the legacies of Deborah Rhode and Michael Olivas.)  

AALS Awards Ceremony video

The AALS Scholarly Papers Competition winner, Nicole Summers (Georgetown University Law Center), was honored for her paper “Civil Probation.” The selection committee also recognized Jonathan Choi (University of Minnesota Law School) for his paper “Computational Corpus Linguistics” as honorable mention. 

The AALS Section of the Year Award was awarded to two sections: Pre-Law Education and Admission to Law School, and Technology, Law, and Legal Education. This award honors excellence in member support and other section activities that promote AALS core values. 

The Deborah L. Rhode Award from the sections on Leadership, Pro Bono & Service Opportunities, Professional Responsibility, and Women in Legal Education was presented to winners Maryam Ahranjani (University of New Mexico School of Law) and Jamelia N. Morgan (Northwestern Pritzker School of Law). The honor is awarded annually to the law professor or lawyer who exemplifies the groundbreaking work, imagination, and inspired action of Deborah Rhode who died in 2021. The awards were presented by Adrien Wing (University of Iowa College of Law). 

The inaugural Michael A. Olivas Award for Outstanding Leadership in Diversity and Mentoring in the Legal Academy was presented to Kevin R. Johnson, dean and professor at University of California, Davis School of Law. The award was established to recognize individuals who exemplify Olivas’s devotion to mentoring junior and aspiring faculty from underrepresented communities and promoting diversity, inclusion, and equity in the legal academy.

The annual award serves as a memorial to Olivas, who died in April 2022 after an illustrious career in law, most recently as William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law Emeritus at the University of Houston Law Center and the Director of the University of Houston’s Institute for Higher Education Law & Governance. In 2018, Olivas was awarded the AALS Triennial Award for Lifetime Service to Legal Education and the Law, the association’s highest honor. 

“I can’t really go into detail here about how important Michael has been to so many people in terms of his scholarship, in terms of his community building, in terms of his activism, and how special he was in so many ways,” said Dean Johnson during the Awards Ceremony. “For me, this award means such a great deal because I truly believe that I would not have had any of the opportunities I had without the support and the vision of Michael Olivas as a role model.” 

The award was presented by Anthony Varona, chair of the Olivas Award Selection Committee and Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Seattle School of Law. Olivas’ wife, Dr. Augustina Reyes, was in attendance for the presentation of the award.   

More than 45 awards from AALS sections were presented throughout the conference at ceremonies and section programming. 

AALS Leadership

At the Meeting of the AALS House of Representatives on Saturday, January 7, 2023 AALS President Mark Alexander, Dean and Professor of Law at the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, delivered his inaugural address and announced his theme for the year and the 2024 AALS Annual Meeting, “Defending Democracy.”   

“The urgent question before us is how should AALS participate in defending our democracy,” Alexander said. “I believe that the work of defending democracy is built on three pillars of every law school: our curriculum, our scholarship and our culture.”  

2023 AALS President Mark Alexander delivers his inaugural address at the Meeting of the AALS House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives also took a moment to reflect on the law professors who died in 2022.    

Darby Dickerson (Dean, Southwestern Law School) presented the candidates for 2023 AALS President-Elect and new members of the Executive Committee in her role as the Chair of the Nominating Committee. The House of Representatives voted in advance of the meeting to confirm the nominations of Melanie D. Wilson (Dean, Washington and Lee University School of Law) to serve as President-elect and Anthony W. Crowell (Dean, New York Law School) and Renée McDonald Hutchins (Dean, University of Maryland Carey School of Law) to serve three-year terms on the AALS Executive Committee.   

  • Erwin Chemerinsky
  • AALS President-elect Melanie D. Wilson (Washington and Lee) and new Executive Committee member Anthony W. Crowell (New York Law School)

Thank you to all AALS section chairs, moderators, speakers, and committee members for your contributions to the planning, programming, and support of a successful Annual Meeting. 

Special thanks to the following committees:

Program Committee

  • Robert B. (Bobby) Ahdieh, Texas A&M University School of Law  
  • Cassandra L. Hill, Northern Illinois University College of Law 
  • Michael J. Kaufman, Santa Clara University School of Law  
  • Jennifer Mnookin, University of California, Los Angeles School of Law  
  • Angela I. Onwuachi-Willig, Boston University School of Law, Chair  
  • John K. Pierre, Southern University Law Center  
  • Peter B. (Bo) Rutledge, University of Georgia School of Law 

Committee to Review Scholarly Papers

  • Martin H. Belsky, University of Akron School of Law  
  • Talia Gillis, Columbia Law School  
  • Andrew Guzman, University of Southern California, Gould School of Law, Chair  
  • Sarah B. Lawsky, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law  
  • Troy A. McKenzie, New York University School of Law  
  • Sidney D. Watson, Saint Louis University School of Law 

Planning Committee for 2023 Workshop for Pretenured Law School Teachers of Color

  • Mario L. Barnes, University of California, Irvine School of Law, Chair  
  • Juan F. Perea, Loyola University Chicago School of Law  
  • Crystal Yang, Harvard Law School 

Committee on Arc of Career Programs

  • Michèle Alexandre, Loyola University Chicago School of Law 
  • Danya Bowen Matthew, The George Washington University Law School, Chair  
  • Catherine M. Brooks, Creighton University School of Law 
  • Myrisha Lewis, William & Mary Law School  
  • Tony M. Massaro, The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law  
  • Jennifer Oliva, University of California, Hastings College of the Law 
  • Natalya Shnitser, Boston College Law School  
  • Kyle C. Velte, University of Kansas School of Law 

Planning Committee for the 2023 Deans Forum Program

  • Kathleen M. Boozang, Seton Hall University School of Law  
  • Judith F. Daar, Northern Kentucky University, Salmon P. Chase College of Law  
  • James R. Hackney, Jr., Northeastern University School of Law  
  • Kevin R. Johnson, University of California, Davis School of Law, Chair  
  • Mark D. West, The University of Michigan Law School 

Committee on Sections

  • Kerry Abrams, Duke University School of Law  
  • Jeremy W. Bock, Tulane University School of Law  
  • Wendy-Adele Humphrey, Texas Tech University School of Law  
  • Wayne A. Logan, Florida State University College of Law  
  • Emilio R. Longoria, St. Mary’s University of San Antonio School of Law  
  • Eugene Mazo, Seton Hall University School of Law  
  • Carol A. Needham, Saint Louis University School of Law, Chair  
  • Eboni S. Nelson, University of Connecticut School of Law  
  • Matthew Sipe, University of Baltimore School of Law  
  • Michael E. Waterstone, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles  

Deans Steering Committee

  • Mark C. Alexander, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law  
  • Michael Barry, South Texas College of Law Houston  
  • April Barton, Thomas R. Kline School of Law of Duquesne University  
  • Lolita Buckner Inniss, University of Colorado Law School  
  • Erwin Chemerinsky, University of California, Berkeley School of Law  
  • Danielle Conway, The Pennsylvania State University – Dickinson Law  
  • Anthony Crowell, New York Law School  
  • Daniel M. Filler, Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law  
  • Garry W. Jenkins, University of Minnesota Law School, Chair  
  • Elizabeth Kronk Warner, University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law  
  • Tamara F. Lawson, University of Washington School of Law  
  • Melanie Leslie, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law  
  • Reneé McDonald Hutchins, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law  
  • Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Boston University School of Law  
  • Hari Osofsky, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law  
  • Austen L. Parrish, University of California, Irvine School of Law  
  • Jacob H. Rooksby, Gonzaga University School of Law 
  • Jennifer Rosato Perea, DePaul University College of Law 
  • Sudha N. Setty, City University of New York School of Law  
  • Kevin Washburn, University of Iowa College of Law   
  • Melanie D. Wilson, Washington and Lee University School of Law