Scholarship Rewarded

Admittance to The Order of the Coif confirms excellence of faculty and students

By Jessica Ronky Haddad, ’93

Will Warwick and Lindsey S. Vann, with Dean Wendy Perdue and Associate Dean Clark Williams, are among the Class of 2012 admitted to The Order of the Coif.

The University of Richmond School of Law joined the ranks of the nation’s most elite law schools this spring when it was admitted to The Order of the Coif. Richmond Law’s membership in this prestigious honorary scholastic society represents an important confirmation of something that those intimately familiar with the school already know: It is a place of scholarly excellence.

“Coif is the elite honor society for legal education—the only honor society for legal education—that is recognized nationally,” explains Dean Wendy Perdue. “Member schools are recognized as the most scholarly of the law schools in the country.”

The Order of the Coif is the equivalent of the Phi Beta Kappa for law schools, Perdue explains. “There are not a lot of ways a school can demonstrate, in a relatively objective way, its scholarly excellence,” she says. “In my mind, this is more significant than U.S. News rankings, which are somewhat random and not a particularly good indication of actual excellence. Coif is a true marker of excellence. People in legal education understand what it means.”

“Coif is a true marker of excellence. People in legal education understand what it means.”

Only 82 of the 200 law schools in the United States are members of The Order of the Coif, which was established as a legal honor society in the United States in 1902 and takes its name from a medieval English society from which judges of the Court of Common Pleas were selected.

In the past 12 years, Coif has accepted only four other new member schools. It has not admitted a law school to its ranks since 2008, and Richmond Law was the only new member admitted during the latest application cycle.

To become a member, a school must submit an extensive application that is reviewed carefully by the Coif’s executive committee. Once the executive committee accepts the application, current member schools vote on the candidate school. On March 29, Perdue received word that the votes were unanimous in favor of admitting Richmond Law.

Faculty scholarship with impact

Central to the Coif application is a bibliography of faculty publications from the past five years. From 2007 through 2011, Richmond Law faculty produced more than 150 books, book chapters, law review articles, and other scholarly works. In the past five years, the faculty has published 32 articles in the top 50 journals, with 22 of those in the top 25 journals. That’s all from a small group of 31 faculty who are tenured or tenure-track, or hold research chairs.

The Order of
the Coif

Facts from our application

  • Richmond Law was founded in 1870, has operated continuously since 1890, and has had multiple site evaluations since the ABA granted it full approval in 1930.
  • Between September and November 2011, the law school hosted three national conferences, each of which attracted national experts and more than a hundred participants:
    • “Public Employment in Times of Crisis” explored the full range of labor and employment issues related to public employment.
    • “The State of the Family 2011” focused on issues of technology and family law.
    • “Everything but the Merits: Analyzing the Procedural Aspects of the Healthcare Litigation” focused on procedural aspects of the numerous challenges to the federal healthcare litigation.
  • In the past five years, 11 of 31 faculty have published in the top 50 journals; 10 have published in the top 25 journals.
  • Six students have published articles outside Richmond law journals in the past two years.
  • In the past three years, faculty members have presented at workshops, panels, and symposia at Columbia, Stanford, Yale, University of Chicago, Northwestern, Duke, University of Virginia, Berkeley, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, George Washington, Fordham, and the Brookings Institute, to name just a few.

Publications are as varied as Kevin Walsh’s “Partial Unconstitutionality” in New York University Law Review (2010), Shari Motro’s “Preglimony” in Stanford Law Review (2011), and Christopher Cotropia and Jim Gibson’s “The Upside of Intellectual Property’s Downside” in UCLA Law Review (2010). Books include numerous university press publications, treatises, and monographs by faculty such as Hamilton Bryson, Ron Bacigal, David Epstein, and Ann Hodges, among others.

Corinna Barrett Lain, associate dean for faculty development and professor of law, helped to compile the bibliography and was amazed by the final list. “I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the faculty was publishing, but even I was surprised by the number and quality of ambitious projects that the faculty had undertaken in the last several years,” she says. “Our scholarly productivity extends to virtually every faculty member.

“Our junior faculty are quite remarkable because they are publishing at the upper echelons of the publishing world and law school institutions,” Lain says. “But we also see tremendous talent and scholarly productivity in the senior faculty. It is because of the senior faculty and their engagement that we have a robust intellectual atmosphere in which the junior faculty have been able to thrive.”

Lain cites the late Bob Shepherd, a well-known scholar on family law, and Ron Bacigal, an expert in Virginia criminal law. “I had Ron’s books on my desktop as a young prosecutor,” she says. “I came here knowing what a powerhouse the University of Richmond School of Law had in its faculty. In order to be the type of school that Order of the Coif grants membership to, the faculty as a whole have to shine and they have to shine beyond what other very accomplished faculties are doing.”

As impressive as the bibliography of publications is, it doesn’t tell the whole story. “Coif looks beyond the list of publications,” says Perdue, “and seeks evidence that scholarship has influence and impact. Richmond easily met that standard.” She cites Walsh’s 2012 Stanford Law Review article, “The Ghost That Slayed the Mandate,” which examines Virginia v. Sebelius, a federal lawsuit in which Virginia seeks the invalidation of President Obama’s signature legislative initiative of healthcare reform. In less than a week, the paper was the most downloaded paper in several categories of papers posted in the prior 60 days on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Similarly, Motro’s “Preglimony” was not only on the SSRN top 10 downloaded papers list in five different categories, but also coined a new term and opened a previously unexplored area of discussion among academics, lawyers, and policy makers.

The impact of Richmond faculty’s scholarship extends well beyond academia. Take Williams Chair in Law Professor Carl Tobias, for example. Not only has Tobias published 13 law review articles since 2009, but he also shares his scholarship beyond the confines of the legal community. He has published numerous op-ed pieces in newspapers across the country and seems to be quoted almost daily in media reports about the federal judicial selection process.

“What I attempt to do is capitalize on my legal scholarship to explain to non-lawyers legal concepts through publishing op-eds and working with reporters,” he explains.

A culture of collaboration

Richmond Law encourages a culture of supportive, collaborative scholarship among its faculty members, says Gibson, director of the Intellectual Property Institute and recently elected president of the law school’s Coif chapter. Since joining the faculty in 2002, he has published six law review articles and is working on another.

“Not a single word that I write leaves the building until a number of my colleagues have read it,” he says. “There’s no doubt in my mind that any success I’ve had in my scholarship is due in huge part to the fact that I have colleagues who are willing to help me.”

This emphasis on collaborative scholarship does not exist everywhere, observes Perdue. At some schools it is much more common for scholarship to be a solitary effort. “Richmond’s approach is different, and you can see the results,” she observes.

The collaborative approach comes with high expectations for faculty. Professor Daniel Murphy, who just retired after teaching at Richmond since 1976, notes that Richmond requires four quality published pieces in order to meet the minimum standard for tenure. “That’s a very high standard nationally,” he observed, “but it really does help to push people along.”

Strength of the student body

In awarding a new chapter, Order of the Coif considers the strength of a law school’s student body as well as its faculty. The excellence of the law school’s students is reflected in many ways, from the impressive number of students who get clerkships to the number of students who publish “authored” articles in venues beyond Richmond Law journals.

“One of the things you see at Richmond is a number of students who are interested in not only the intellectual discourse with professors, but also in making intellectual contributions of their own,” says Lain. “They write great papers and they want to be published. And many explicitly say, ‘I am inspired by this professor’s work.’”

Once a school becomes a member of Coif, it may award individual membership to students in the top 10 percent of its graduating class. In addition, the top 10 percent of students in the previous two graduating classes may become members. The law school celebrated its admittance into The Order of the Coif and presented certificates to the top 2010, 2011, and 2012 graduates during a special event on June 26.

Tiffany E. C. Mansfield

“Employers at top law firms know what Coif means and know what a distinction it is,” says Gibson, who was awarded Coif membership at the University of Virginia School of Law. “Being able to add that to your resume is helpful.”

Because most faculty members publish in the areas in which they also are teaching, students benefit greatly from this scholarship. “The teaching informs the scholarship issues that come up in the course of classroom discussion and conversely, the depth someone has acquired in a particular area comes through in their teaching,” Murphy says.

Bacigal believes that “scholarship and teaching are like the Yin and the Yang. To appreciate the full complexity of theories, you must submerge yourself in reading and writing. To be able to teach effectively, you must be able to reduce great complexities to basic fundamentals that all can grasp.”

Jessica Ronky Haddad is a Richmond writer and editor.