February 1, 2011
Tuesdays with Torts Masters: Victor Schwartz
Victor E. Schwartz chairs the Public Policy Group at Shook, Hardy & Bacon. He co-authors the nation’s leading torts casebook, Prosser, Wade & Schwartz’s Torts (11th ed. 2005), and authors Comparative Negligence, the principal text on the subject. Victor is former dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Law, and currently serves on its Board of Visitors. During his academic career, Victor litigated cases on behalf of plaintiffs, and secured the first punitive damages award in the Midwest against a manufacturer of a defective product. Today, Victor serves as general counsel to the American Tort Reform Association, and co-chairs the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Civil Justice Task Force. He was a recipient of The Jeffersonian Award, ALEC’s highest honor bestowed on persons in the private sector. Victor served on the advisory committees of all three of the American Law Institute’s Restatement (Third) of Torts projects: Products Liability, Apportionment of Liability, and General Principles. Victor chaired the federal government’s Inter-Agency Task Force on Product Liability and the Department of Commerce’s Inter-Agency Task Force on Insurance and Accident Compensation. He was awarded the Secretary of Commerce’s Medal of Excellence for his service.
Here's my conversation with Victor:
Q: Why did you apply to law school? Where did you go to law school, and why did you select that school?
When I was about 11 years old, I watched the Army-McCarthy hearings on television. I found this “show” riveting. I saw all of these lawyers involved and decided if and when I grow up, I want to do something like that and be part of it. I went to Columbia Law School and chose it because I thought a degree from that school would provide a solid calling card for a good job. No one in my family had been a lawyer. My dad died with I was ten. I realized that I had to make my own entrance into the law based on my own merits.
Q: Who was your Torts professor, and what was your experience as a Tort student?
I had two torts professors, Willis Reese and Alfred Hill. Willis Reese made the law of torts into an organized system. He was funny and made class a memorable experience. Professor Hill saw tort law as pure vapor. There were no “real” rules. Tort law was like biting into cotton candy. It was there, but it really was not. He had a drier sense of humor than Professor Reese, but he was a great educator. Each professor had a totally different vision of the subject. In sum, my experience as a torts student was an outstanding one and helped me as a torts professor.
Q: How did you become interested in teaching law and Torts in particular?
I became interested in teaching law while serving as a law clerk to the Honorable Charles M. Metzner. Judge Metzner was a respected Federal Judge in the Southern District of New York. Part of my job was to read briefs on both sides in a case and draft opinions of law. The goal was finding a fair and just result, not representing any particular party. Through the course of the two year clerkship, I looked for a vehicle where I could continue to search for the right answer and teaching seemed to be the best vehicle to achieve that goal. My torts professors inspired me to learn more about the subject, but what I liked about it most was that it was organic, always changing and not wedded to interpretation of statutes.
Q: When did you begin teaching Torts, and how has the course and the Torts professoriate changed since then?
I began teaching torts in 1967 at the young age of 26. Most professors at the time focused on the substantive law of torts, the reasons behind the rules, whether the rules were sound in their contents and whether they should be changed. There was a beginning of a focus on alternatives to the tort system such as no-fault compensation in the area of automobile accidents. In 2011, a significant number of torts professors believe that the “students can learn the rules on their own” and the focus of those professors is on law and economics and broader public policy considerations.
Q: What do you see as your major accomplishments as a Torts scholar (and former teacher)?
With the invaluable help and guidance of the late Dean John W. Wade, we were able to preserve and expand the use of the torts case book founded by William L. Prosser. Often when a great professor dies who is author of a case book, the case book has a rather brief shelf life. John and I began working together on the 6th edition, which was published in 1976. My new co-authors Professor Kathy Kelly and Dean David Partlet are a terrific team. We finished the 12 edition last May and it was published last year 2010.
A challenge has been to work in the so-called real world of the practice of law as a former torts scholar. I utilized what I have learned as a scholar in a practical way. I had the wise guidance of the lawyers in my practice group, other lawyers in the firm, and staff. I have been able to blend scholarship with practical results that some have found worthwhile. We have been part of the enactment of almost 200 state legislative initiatives, bills that have passed the Congress of the U.S. and have been signed into law, amicus briefs that have affected the outcome of cases in the Supreme Court of the United States and in state Supreme Courts with the help of colleagues, I have continued to write law review articles. All has been a lot of fun. It has been a privilege to be part of two different worlds, academia and practice.
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