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The University of Houston Law Center Faculty

Renee  Knake Jefferson



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 an award-winning scholar and seasoned professional with more than a decade of executive leadership experience in higher education, including oversight as trustee of an R1 public research university. She is the author of five books and more than 30 academic articles in leading journals including 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. Her book, Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court, has been called “an excellent contribution” by the Library Journal and praised in numerous reviews. Jefferson’s work is regularly cited in range of media including the Associated Press, Bloomberg Law, CNN, Houston Chronicle, New York Times, Newsweek, Politico, Slate, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. 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 2019, she held the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in Australia. At the Law Center, she teaches Constitutional Law, Professional Responsibility, and a writing seminar on Gender, Power, Law, and Leadership.

Prior to joining the University of Houston faculty in 2016, she 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, Professor Jefferson was a scholar-in-residence at Stanford Law School's Center on the Legal Profession and a visiting scholar at the American Bar Foundation.

An internationally recognized expert on professional responsibility and legal ethics, Professor Jefferson 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 Congress about judicial recusal and financial disclosures.

Professor Jefferson has been selected for a range of leadership roles nationally and internationally. She currently sits on the board of directors for the International Association of Legal Ethics. 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, including Lawyer Lies and Political Speech published by the Yale Law Journal Forum.

Professor Jefferson has received numerous awards for her teaching and research related to entrepreneurship and innovation in legal services, including a significant grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. 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.