November 27, 2019 MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

Member Spotlight: William B. T. Mock

By William B. T. Mock

Tell us a little bit about your career.

I have been a law professor since 1983, tenured since 1987, teaching at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. At John Marshall, I have served as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and have often chaired the faculty’s Executive Committee. Along the way, I founded the international law center, two LL.M. programs, a technology law journal, and several international sister-school relationships. As part of those relationships, I have taught repeatedly at the law faculty of the University of Cagliari in Sardinia, Italy, and the Facultad Libre de Derecho Monterrey in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. I teach and write my scholarship primarily in the areas of international law, including human rights law, and corporate/securities law, with strong interdisciplinary emphasis on information theory and game theory.

Prior to law school, I was a high school mathematics teacher. It was clear to me from that experience that I loved teaching, so this position informed my decision to become a law professor.

After graduating from law school, I worked for a boutique law firm near the White House, practicing antitrust, international trade, and securities law, primarily in federal appeals litigation. Some cases on which I worked produced significant Supreme Court decisions, including what was at the time the largest antitrust case in history, Zenith v. Matsushita. I also worked on aspects of the savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s and the early phases of interstate banking.

Subsequently, I was hired by Baker & McKenzie to co-found the world’s first in-firm professional skills training department, effectively founding a new industry. I stayed in that position for two years before becoming a faculty member at John Marshall.

In August 2019, John Marshall merged into the University of Illinois at Chicago, thus becoming the first and only public law school in the nation’s third-largest city. As chair of John Marshall’s faculty for the past two years, I have been heavily engaged in this transition.

Is it what you had planned when you started law school?

When I entered law school in the mid-1970s, I had two primary ambitions, both of which I have been fortunate to fulfill.

One ambition was to focus on international law, environmental law, or both, as I saw these being as important as legal growth areas and for society as a whole. Given this focus on global and regulatory issues, I went to Georgetown for my law studies and quickly found myself getting opportunities to study and work on international law issues. Since then, international law and human rights law have been central to my career.

My other ambition was to return to teaching by becoming a law professor. As already mentioned, I have been most fortunate to be able to make legal education my life-long career, and I have never regretted this choice.

What has been the highlight of your career?

I will have to split this question into two components, as I have had both professional and personal highlights in my career.

Professionally, the highlight has been my human rights work at the United Nations, which has come in two phases. In 1984, I was one of 31 international law experts and scholars who drafted something called the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was subsequently adopted by the UN General Assembly as an interpretive supplement to one of the fundamental documents of international human rights law.

Building on that experience, I have for the past five years represented the ABA before the UN Open-Ended-Working Group on Ageing. The OEWGA has been debating whether to prepare a new global human rights treaty to protect older persons, similar to the protections offered to other groups in the 1981 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 2008 International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities.

Personally, the highlight of my career has been my involvement with the University of Cagliari in Sardinia, Italy. I first visited Sardinia during my sabbatical in 1998, when I taught and researched at the University for four months. Since then, I have returned roughly every two to three years, both to teach and to research for periods of one to four months at a time. The experience led to a co-edited book on European Union human rights law (Mock & Demuro, Human Rights in Europe: Commentary on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Carolina Academic Press 2010), and other research projects. I also have many good friends on the Cagliari law faculty.

If you could go back to the beginning of your legal career, would you have done anything differently?

Not much, since I feel that I have been extraordinarily fortunate in how my career has turned out. Given the benefits of hindsight, I simply wish that I had worried less and enjoyed life and friendships more.

What advice would you give to someone considering law school today?

As a law professor, I have the opportunity to give such advice all the time. What I usually say is:

  1. Find what you love, whether or not it is law, then pursue that. Too many young people want to go to law school for the wrong reasons and discover that they are unhappy after huge investments of both time and money.
  2. Whatever you do, do it with all the gusto you can bring. There is no point in doing something half-heartedly, walking wearily along a path that isn’t your own. 
  3.  Be the person you want to be even while you are in law school because the habits you develop in law school will stay with you after you graduate. That’s true whether you tend to stress out, cut corners on your homework, or find ways to make time for friends and family.

What were the biggest changes you saw in the legal profession over the course of your career?

One of the biggest changes has been the degree of competition the profession has experienced from non-lawyers and non-traditional models. Traditional legal work in real estate is now done by mortgage companies and paralegals. Traditional estate planning work is now done by computer programs. Traditional legal work in dispute settlement has been shifted to non-lawyer mediators and arbitrators. In some cases, routine legal work has been outsourced to other countries or to artificial intelligence programs. Today’s law graduate faces a very different set of career pressures than did those of us who graduated from law school decades ago.

When did you first become a member of the ABA and why did you decide to join?

I joined very early in my career, though the exact details are lost to history. I didn’t become an active member at the time, instead serving as chair of a section of the Chicago Bar Association, then as chair of a section of the Illinois State Bar Association. About a decade ago, I began to focus on the ABA, both because it seemed like a logical next step and because I have a strong belief in public service. In my case, that has been expressed as service to the legal profession.

What has been the highlight of your work with the ABA?

The highlight of my work with the ABA has been my work as the ABA Liaison to the UN OEWGA, described earlier. It has been a huge honor to represent the entire ABA in discussions that have the potential to shape the legal rights of a global population that current numbers over 600 million people and is expected to rise to more than 1.5 billion people in the next thirty years. Given the ABA’s strong focus on the Rule of Law and access to justice, I view my role as working to ensure that if the OEWGA process does result in a new global human rights treaty it strongly reflects these key ABA values.

It is also a great pleasure to me that this work at the UN so strongly reflects the SLD’s focus on the rights and dignities of older persons, both within our profession and in society at large.

If you had not become a lawyer, what do you think you would have done?

This is a surprisingly difficult question for me because I have always had a very wide array of interests. In college, I was an English major and a mathematics minor, with significant other coursework in comparative religions and physics. Law, including academic law, offers the opportunity for wide-ranging intellectual activity, making it a natural home for me. If I couldn’t be a lawyer, I would probably be doing something creative related to science. Two possibilities that come to mind are working in cosmology, which has always fascinated me, and writing science fiction, which I currently enjoy doing in my spare time.

Author

William B. T.  Mock, since joining the UIC John Marshall Law School, has served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Chair of the Faculty Executive Committee, and Chair of Strategic Planning. He founded the Center for International & Comparative Studies and its LLM programs in Comparative Legal Studies and International Business & Trade Law. He was the co-founder of the Journal of Computer and Information Law, has coached dozens of moot court teams, and has often served as faculty advisor for the International Law Society. Professor Mock's publications are largely in the field of international law, including aspects of both transparency and game theory. Most recently, he published a book that he and an Italian law professor edited on the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.