Elizabeth “Ginger” Hayes Patterson returned to the staff AALS as Associate Director, a position she has held twice previously under former Executive Directors Carl Monk and Susan Prager. A 1973 graduate of The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she practiced law with Hogan and Hartson in Washington, D.C. earlier in her career.
Patterson joined the faculty of Georgetown University Law Center in 1980 where she served as Associate Dean for the JD and graduate programs from 1993-97. Over her career, Patterson held the position of Chair of the D.C. Public Service (Utilities) Commission and was a Commissioner of the D.C. Public Service Commission. She also served as Treasurer of the D.C. Bar and served on the editorial board of its publication, Washington Lawyer.
AALS is pleased to welcome back Ginger Patterson and recently sat down with her to discuss her prior experiences with the association and her vision for the position today.
Can you give me a little bit of your background in legal education and public service?
I had my introduction to legal education when I was asked to teach conflict of laws, on an adjunct basis, at my alma mater The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law. The person hired to teach the course had become very ill just as the semester was to begin. I knew before then that I wanted to teach in a law school, so this seemed a great opportunity for me to get some experience. I had taught before—I was a French and Spanish high school teacher in Washington, D.C. before going to law school.
At the time, I was in Litigation at Hogan and Hartson, my husband, Jerome, and I had our 14-month old daughter, Sala, and I was pregnant with our son, Malcolm. The only time I could teach the course was from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings, so that’s what I did. It was grueling, but in the end, I loved it so much that I knew I was going to end up in the classroom.
In terms of public service, I have always been involved with local and national social service agencies here in D.C., starting while I was at my first job after clerking, at Hogan. I served and held leadership positions on a number of boards, helping those organizations formulate policies and procedures to ensure that the work they were doing was effective. I also served on a number of D.C. Bar committees and on local and federal government committees or commissions.
You recently joined AALS staff as Associate Director, a position you have held before at AALS. How would you describe the position?
I see the position first as being a resource for the Executive Director and the staff. The experience of being in the legal academy, especially if you had an administrative position in a law school, gives you an understanding of the issues that come up in the course of formulating AALS policy and programs. It’s important to have two people, myself and Executive Director Judy Areen, who have both had those experiences and who are sensitive to how faculty, administrators, and staff might react to various programs or initiatives that we’re considering.
The Associate Director is also responsible for coordination of specific programs, like the Scholarly Papers Competition or the Workshop at the Faculty Recruitment Conference. AALS is primarily a volunteer organization when it comes to our programming—we have a staff, but a small staff. The success of our meetings and workshops really depends on faculty volunteers. Our job is to assist those members in formulating, planning, and implementing programs.
How has it changed since your previous appointments to the position?
There are two very obvious changes: when I was here before, from 2005-07 and 2009-10, my title was Deputy Director. Now it’s Associate Director. But the positions are essentially the same.
Secondly, I officially retired in 2013 and I am working only part time for AALS. It means the portfolio is not as broad as it was. For example, I will not be as deeply involved in the Membership Review process as I was in the past. I may sit in on committee meetings and review documents beforehand but I will not be involved in the production of those documents.
More broadly, how has legal education changed during your time here and throughout your career?
The biggest change from 1980, when I started teaching, to the present is in the demographic makeup of the legal academy. Women deans and deans of color were rare in 1980; while there is still room for improvement, this has changed significantly. For example, during the 1980-1981 academic year, there were about three women deans; there are now over 60 women deans. Likewise, women and people of color are present as students in much greater numbers than in 1980. Students of color comprised a little less than nine percent of law school enrollment in 1980 and they comprised a little less than 27 percent of law school enrollment in the fall of 2013.
Another major change is curricular. When I started teaching in 1980, I was on a faculty and at a school that had an extensive clinical program—Georgetown had the largest clinical program in the country. So clinical legal education has always, in my mind, been a crucial and central part of legal education generally. What has changed over the years is that there is now much more emphasis on experiential learning throughout the legal academy. Some of that emphasis has resulted from external pressures—some practitioners feel that we should be doing more in law schools to prepare students in a practical vein. But there is also concern that we not abandon the teaching of doctrine and analytical skills. As with most things in life, it’s not either/or. It’s both/and. The major difference I see is that there’s more “and” in the area of experiential teaching and learning.
What has remained the same?
We are operating law schools and our fundamental job is to prepare our students for a wide variety of positions. What happens every single day is teaching and learning, informed and enriched by scholarship. That’s fundamental; that’s the same. But how we’re doing it has changed. Methodologies have changed, from the large class lecture to a variety of formats. In addition, I now see a greater emphasis on assessment and outcomes.
What is it about AALS and legal education that made you want to return to this position?
First of all, it has to do with my view of the law. I can relate to President Testy’s Q & A in the spring issue of AALS News, in which she talked about how she developed her sense of the law. Like her, I am also a first-generation college graduate, so education, for me generally, has been crucial. It has represented movement out of poverty and into a wide, broad-ranging life. So education, whether legal or not, to me, is crucial not only for surviving but thriving in the world—particularly the fast-paced world that we’re in now.
Legal education is important because law is important, particularly in our society. Law impacts everyone in many ways both obvious and subtle, and law has been and can be a vehicle for so much good in our society and the world. But it can be a source of injustice as well. Because of the importance of law in our society and in the world, I see legal education as important to the maintenance of law and the protection of human and individual rights. That’s why I returned to legal education.
I returned to AALS because I’ve always found that it’s a place where the staff is committed to legal education and committed to accomplishing whatever task is necessary to support legal education. AALS provides a vehicle for faculty members, as well, to interact on a national level. When you’re active in your sections and on committees, you’re interacting not only with people in your immediate subject area, but with people from around the country and from different kinds of schools. It’s a perpetual learning process provided by an organization that brings faculty together from all over the country and sometimes the world.
What is your specific focus in this position and what do you hope to accomplish during this tenure?
I’ve always had an interest in issues relating to the pipeline to law school. When I was with AALS previously, I was working on some pipeline programs. I see the AALS “Before the JD” project as related to pipeline—it’s looking at what is happening at an undergraduate level that has resulted in a decline in interest in law school over the last 40 years among college freshmen. I plan to be involved with that project.
Apart from that, my focus is on doing everything I can to assist Judy Areen and the AALS staff in serving the legal academy.
Can you tell me about your first interactions with AALS as a law professor?
That’s easy—it was in 1981 at the conclusion of my first year of teaching. I was teaching contracts and conflicts at the time, and AALS sponsored a conference on contracts at the University of Wisconsin. It was the first large meeting of contracts faculty in something like 10 or more years, which meant that everybody came. All of the major casebooks, all of the hornbooks, were represented by one or more of their authors. It was a wonderful opportunity for me, as a new faculty member, to hear the best and the brightest in the contracts teaching profession. But I also found significant value in the informal moments, when we’d go out for coffee or an unplanned meal, in the interaction with people who had been teaching for 30 or so years. Just listening to them talk about what it meant to teach, interacting with students, and to hear their goals was invaluable. I felt that it launched me into the profession.
I think this is an example of the best of what AALS has to offer.
In what other capacities have you engaged with AALS throughout your career?
I was a member of the Committee on Recruitment and Retention of Minority Law Teachers in the 1990s. I later became chair of that committee. I co-chaired a 2000 Task Force on Racial Diversity, with Professor David Chambers of the University of Michigan. Among Task Force members were liaisons from the American Bar Association, the Society of American Law Teachers, the Law School Admissions Council, and the American Council on Education. Each of the members of the Task Force were brilliant and dedicated. I found that to be a very rich experience.
I also have served on the Nominating Committee for AALS leadership and on various planning committees. I’ve been involved with the association in some way or another since 1990.
And what changes have you noticed with AALS over the years?
I notice an increase in the size of the Communications staff and with that a concomitant increase in the kind and extensiveness of communications with our member schools and faculty, as well as those outside the legal academy.