Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesdays with Torts Masters: David Robertson

Robertson_david_lgDavid W. Robertson is the W. Page Keeton Chair in Tort Law and University Distinguished Professor at the University of Texas at Austin.  He is the author of the classic Admiralty and Federalism (Foundation, 1970), co-author of Cases and Materials on Torts (West, 2nd ed., 1998), and co-author of The Maritime Law of the United States (Carolina 2000) and Cases and Materials on Torts (West, 3d ed., 2004). His numerous articles have appeared in Texas Law Review, Michigan Law Review, Modern Law Review, Law Quarterly Review, Tulane Law Review and elsewhere. He is a member of the American Law Institute and serves on the Advising Board of Editors of the Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce

I recently was able to ask Professor Robertson some questions about his torts experience:

Q:  Why did you apply to law school?  Where did you go to law school, and why did you select that school? 

Late summer, 1958, headed into my 4th year as an undergrad. at LSU, I discover that I have ample credit hours but cannot muster a major  (close in English, French, history, philosophy but not close enough). BUT:  A year in law school will give me a BA with a major in pre-law (and of course w/option to continue law school if 1st year survived [about half flunked out in those years]).  So off to LSU law I went.

Q:  Who was your Torts professor, and what was your experience as a Tort student? 

Wex Smathers Malone, a giant.  A lovely teacher.  A true character.  

Because I had to work in the afternoons to survive [and LSU Law had scheduled 1st-year classes to discourage or prohibit 1st-year students from working] I had to seek special permission to take a shortened load in 1st year and thus had torts (a year-long course) in 2d.  It seemed a little simple to me--what a truly stupid notion that was!--compared to the 2d-year subjects, and at that time I didn't fall in love w/the subject matter.

Q:  How did you become interested in teaching law and Torts in particular? 

After graduation from law school in 1961, I took a job with the U.S. Senate.  As that was reaching its natural (for me anyway) endpoint, I was juggling law firm possibilities and scholarship offers for grad law school at Yale and Harvard--really just trying to find a way to avoid a real job--when Charles Reynard, LSU prof, died.  The LSU law faculty (as I rememer it) had suddenly shrunk from 13 to 12, and Dean Paul M. Hebert called me and asked me to come and fill in  (as an Instructor) for a year or two.  I was hoping to teach contracts and criminal law.  Instead I was assigned History of the Common Law (in Louisiana, a foreign subject), Trusts (which Louisiana law did not recognize until years later), Moot Court (I had never been to court)  and Torts.  It wasn't hard to fall in love with Torts in that context.

Q:  When did you begin teaching Torts, and how has the course and the Torts professoriate changed since then? 

1962.  At most self-described "elite" schools, torts has shrunk from a year-long 6 to a year-long 5 to a semester 4 to a semester 3.  They call this tort reform.  Re professoriate:  "Elite" academies are filled with people who want to use tort law as a basis for social science experiments and theories but who don't care to learn or teach how to DO tort law.  [In the middle of my academic career, I resigned to go into private practice and so have done some tort law and liked it pretty well.]


Q:  What do you see as your major accomplishments as a Torts scholar (and teacher)? 

Question seems premature to me, because I'm still teaching and confidently expecting a major accomplishment at any moment.  Meanwhile, I'll cite the forthcoming 4th edition of a very good (how to do tort law) casebook, a series of articles on factual causation, and maybe 5000 or more alums who generously say I taught them something useful.

- SBS

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Comments

I count myself as among the many alums taught many very useful things by Professor Robertson. He was a wonderful, inspiring teacher. He has also had great success in appellate advocacy outside the classroom, both while he was engaged full-time in private practice and while he was maintaining a full teaching and writing load. And he's a songwriter, guitar player, father, grandfather and many other things to boot.

Posted by: Charles Siegel | Feb 16, 2011 3:02:31 PM

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