AALS Triennial Award

Professor Herma Hill Kay to Receive 2015 AALS Triennial Award for Lifetime Service to Legal Education and the Law


Herma Hill Kay

The Association of American Law Schools is proud to announce Professor Herma Hill Kay as the 2015 recipient of the AALS Triennial Award for Lifetime Service to Legal Education and to the Law. The award will be given during the 2016 AALS Annual Meeting in New York at the Opening Plenary Program on Thursday, January 7. This award recognizes the service of individuals who have devoted their careers to legal education and to the law. Professor Kay will be the fourth Triennial Award recipient. Previous recipients were Professor of Law and Counselor to the President, Vice Dean Norman Dorsen of New York University (2006); Judge, Professor, and former Dean Guido Calabresi of Yale Law School (2009); and the late Professor Derrick Bell of New York University School of Law (2012).
Professor Kay received her undergraduate degree at Southern Methodist University before attending law school at the University of Chicago. After graduating third in her class in 1959, she clerked for Justice Roger Traynor of the California Supreme Court.
Professor Kay started her legal education career at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law in 1960, at a time when there were only a few women law professors in the U.S. She became dean of the law school in 1992 and served in that position until 2000. Spanning more than 50 years, Professor Kay’s career at UC Berkeley has been defined by her enormous contributions to teaching, scholarship, and leadership.
Professor Kay has been an active and effective participant in the women’s rights movement. She served on the California Governor’s Commission on the Family which encouraged the adoption of no-fault divorce in the state. Based on the committee’s recommendation, California became the first state to adopt a law of that kind in 1970. She also co-authored the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (UMDA) which has now become the standard for no-fault divorce nationwide. In addition, she testified in favor of California’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Professor Kay’s contributions to scholarship on family law and conflict of laws have also been considerable. She has completed and is preparing for publication a book on women law professors in the United States during the twentieth century, with an emphasis on the first fourteen such women who began teaching prior to 1960. She also served as the principal author on two casebooks: “Text, Cases and Materials on Sex-Based Discrimination” and “Conflict of Laws: Cases-Comments-Questions.”
Professor Kay has been widely recognized for her teaching and public service. At the 2015 AALS Annual Meeting, she was presented the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award by Justice Ginsburg herself. “I couldn’t imagine anyone in the world I would rather have receive this award than Herma Hill Kay,” Justice Ginsburg said. “She’s a grand human in all respects.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presents the Section on Women in Legal Education's Lifetime Achievement Award to Professor Herma Hill Kay at the 2015 AALS Annual Meeting

In 1999, the Boalt Hall Women’s Association created a fellowship in Kay’s name for students pursuing public interest work benefitting women. In 2003, the Boalt Hall Alumni Association presented her with its first Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award. For her enormous success as a law teacher, she has received the UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award and the Society of American Law Teachers Teaching Award.
Over the years, Professor Kay has held a number of important leadership positions. In 1985, she was elected to the Council of the American Law Institute and served as President of the Association of American Law Schools in 1989. From 1999 to 2001, she served as Secretary of the American Bar Association Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. In all, Professor Kay is the past or present member of 12 different governing or advisory boards including the Order of the Coif and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Several colleagues have spoken about the enormous impact Professor Kay has had on the legal academy and profession:
“She has fought for women in legal education and she has fought for women in the legal system. She has nurtured countless young law professors in the field of family law, sex discrimination, and conflicts. She is a true hero of all that is good about law and legal education.”
– Professor Patricia A. Cain, Santa Clara University School of Law
“A true believer in institutional reform and equity, she persisted through tough years establishing the role of women in the law. From her pioneering scholarship through her service in a long menu of AALS posts, Herma led the way.”
– Professor Robert C. Berring, University of California, Berkeley School of Law
“Professor Kay has been a tireless advocate for equality and justice in the law, typically working behind the scenes and through consensus-building rather than direct confrontation. Her work on women law professors exemplifies how she bridges academia and social change. She has used positions of power…to make change as an insider, improving immeasurably the institutions relating to law reform and legal education of which she has been a part. Through these efforts, she has made legal education more open to women and minorities, and the law more just and fair.”
– Professor Katharine T. Bartlett, Duke University School of Law