Renee Knake Jefferson
Professor of Law and the Joanne and Larry Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics
Director, Law Center Outcomes and Assessments
Professor Renee Knake Jefferson is a seasoned professional with more than a decade of executlive leadership experience in higher education, including oversight as trustee of an R1 public research university. She is an award-winning author of four books and numerous academic articles. Her work has been cited in briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court, prestigious law reviews such as the Yale Law Journal, and a range of media including the Associated Press, Bloomberg Law, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, CNN, Houston Chronicle, New York Times, Politico, Slate, and Wall Street Journal. She regularly appears on radio and television news shows, including MSNBC and National Public Radio. She frequently consults and testifies as an expert on lawyer and judicial ethics matters.
Professor Jefferson earned her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. She holds the Joanne and Larry Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics and is a professor of law at the University of Houston Law Center. Her current administrative leadership includes an appointment as the director of Outcomes and Assessments. In this role, she is responsible for leading the development and implementation of the Law Center's compliance with the American Bar Association standards on learning outcomes and assessment of student learning. At the Law Center, Professor Jefferson teaches Constitutional Law, Professional Responsibility, and a seminar on Gender, Law, Leadership, and Power. In 2019, she held the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in Australia.
Prior to joining the University of Houston faculty in 2016, Professor Jefferson served as the Foster Swift Professor of Legal Ethics and co-director of the Frank J. Kelley Institute of Ethics and the Legal Profession at Michigan State University College of Law, where she taught for a decade. During her time at Michigan State, she co-founded and secured substantial funding for the law school's inaugural program on technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation in legal services, recently recognized as a top program in the nation. She was appointed to the Michigan State University Board of Trustees in 2019. In 2015, she was a scholar-in-residence at Stanford Law School's Center on the Legal Profession and a visiting scholar at the American Bar Foundation.
Professor Jefferson is an internationally recognized expert on professional responsibility and legal ethics. She has been invited to speak throughout the United States and in countries such as Australia, Canada, England, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates. She is regularly contacted to assist in legal matters involving lawyer discipline and judicial ethics, and has twice testified successfully before the Texas Supreme Court Special Court of Review to support reversal of discipline charges against judges. She also has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary.
She is an author of three casebooks—Professional Responsibility: A Contemporary Approach (West Publishing, 4th Edition 2020); Gender, Power, Leadership and Law (West Publishing 2019); and Legal Ethics for the Real World: Building Skills Through Case Study (Foundation Press 2018)—along with more than 20 scholarly articles including publications in the Fordham Law Review, Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, Illinois Law Review, Ohio State Law Journal, Washington & Lee Law Review, Washington Law Review, and Yale Law Journal Forum. Professor Jefferson’s most recent book, Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court, has been called “an excellent contribution...and essential for anyone who values diversity” by the Library Journal and praised in numerous reviews.
Professor Jefferson has been selected for a range of leadership roles nationally and internationally. She was elected to the American Law Institute in 2017, and was named a fellow of the American Bar Foundation in 2016. She is a past-Chair for the Association of American Law Schools Section (“AALS”) on Professional Responsibility. She was appointed as the Reporter for the American Bar Association Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services from 2014-16. She served as a delegate to the World Economic Form Global Agenda Councils on Justice (2014-16) and Rule of Law (2013-14).
Her research focuses, in part, on innovation in the regulation of legal services, proposing access to justice reforms. Her article Democratizing the Delivery of Legal Services won the 2012 AALS Professional Responsibility Section paper competition. Her most recent pieces explore tensions between professional conduct rules and free speech/competition values. She also studies the media's portrayal of nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. Her article on this topic, Rethinking Gender Equality in the Legal Profession’s Pipeline to Power: A Study on Media Coverage of Supreme Court Nominees, was selected as a winner of the 2012 AALS New Voices in Gender paper competition.
She has received numerous awards for her work on entrepreneurship and innovation in legal services, including a significant grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation from 2012-14. In 2013, she was named an American Bar Association Journal “Legal Rebel,” an “annual honors program for the change leaders of the legal profession” and a member of the Fastcase 50, an annual award that “recognizes 50 of the smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries, and leaders in the law.” That same year she accepted the Innovation Award from the College of Law Practice Management, honoring “lawyers, law firms, and other deliverers of legal services who are currently engaged in some extraordinary innovative efforts.”
Before her academic career, Professor Jefferson practiced law at Mayer Brown in Chicago and Hunton & Williams in Richmond, where she specialized in commercial litigation, telecommunications, and labor/employment law. She also worked as an Assistant City Attorney for Charlottesville, Virginia.
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