December 16, 2020 Member Spotlight

Member Spotlight: Robert E. Lutz

By Robert E. Lutz

Tell us a little bit about your career.

I was the first of my family to graduate from college, to obtain a graduate degree (J.D.), and was fortunate to attend college and law school on scholarships. With my law school and undergraduate accomplishments, I felt I had many options as I contemplated my future fifty years ago. When I graduated from law school, I was interested in many facets of the law and initially felt I wanted to expose myself in some depth to all of them. This, of course, posed challenges constrained by time, opportunity, and the vagaries of life and career.

After law school at University of California at Berkeley, I was a law clerk to Chief Judge Edward J. Schwartz of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. During my clerkship, I had the remarkable experience of also teaching a law school course on Environmental Law as an adjunct professor at California Western Law School in San Diego. From clerking, I accepted an Associate Lawyer position with the then Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro. While there for several years as a litigator, I received an opportunity via a Volkswagen Fellowship to spend some time in Bonn, Germany, researching and writing about “International Environmental Law” at the office-library of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (“IUCN”). So Itook a several-month leave of absence from the firm and published what was then considered a seminal/ groundbreaking article, Robert E. Lutz, “The Laws of Environmental Management: A Comparative Study”, 24 American Journal of Comparative Law 447-520 (1976).

Returning to law practice as a litigator at Pillsbury, I was able to work on some international litigation issues and domestic environmental cases. Having good training in the quality law practice environment at Pillsbury, I was enticed to apply my skills and knowledge to conduct research and prepare a report for the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ”, an agency in the Executive Office of the President). The task was to prepare a legal analysis of possible environmental impacts from a Presidential proposal to expand off-shore oil development in the U.S. outer continental shelf (“OCS”). I went to DC thinking that the experience would expose me to a lot of valuable experiences and, when the report was completed, I pursued opportunities in the newly-developed legal area of Energy Law. I was fortunate to be quickly offered a position with the newly-created Federal Energy Administration (a predecessor of the Department of Energy) to serve as Regional Deputy Counsel. I worked there to hire lawyers and create a law office to address the regulatory and policy issues involved. I received many valuable lessons in a short time related to administration/management, policy development, enforcement discretion, and regulatory review.

A short time later, I was recruited by the University of Southern California to teach in the Schools of Public Policy and the Law School, conduct interdisciplinary research as the lawyer member of university research grants, and create and manage an Institute for Coastal Law & Management (sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Sea Grant Program). While in that position, I also flew weekly to Sacramento to teach Environmental Law courses at the University of the Pacific-McGeorge School of Law as an adjunct professor. After several years at USC in these multiple roles, I was exhausted from the sheer workload and responsibilities. Longing for a position in which I would be exclusively committed to the requirements and activities of one discipline, but from which I could explore others, I accepted an appointment to teach at Southwestern Law School, where I have been an active (tenured; and now Emeritus) professor of a variety of domestic law, international (private and public) law and practice subjects for the last forty-plus years.

Having settled there and achieved tenure, I began to turn much of my attention externally. Commencing in the early-1980s, I enjoyed a Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the University of Munich’s Institute for Public International Law to study and write about transnational environmental law regimes.and  was appointed the Editor-in-Chief of The International Lawyer, the flagship publication of the ABA International Law Section.I then dedicated myself to pioneering a variety of initiatives focused on the newly-recognized “globalization/internationalism” of legal practice and academia. In doing so, I created, organized, directed, and taught in the first ABA-accredited law school program in the People’s Republic of China, at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou (1983); co-founded the State Bar of Californias International Law Section was the founder and editor of its two publications: the California International Practitioner and the California International Law Newsletter; created and edited the “Year [of International Law] in Review” (an analysis of developments relevant to international practice in the U.S., published annually by SIL and focused on 50-60 areas of international private and public law practice; and was elected chair of the ABA’s International Law Section (2001-02).

Since then, I have contented myself by sitting on private and non-profit boards and advisory committees to U.S. governmental agencies, arbitrating international public and private disputes, serving on a multitude of professional committees, and academically exploring, writing, teaching, and speaking on a variety of topics. In that latter regard, I recently converted to emeritus status and teach an occasional course at Southwestern and, via a Fulbright Scholar grant, conduct research and teach in Eastern Europe at Moldova State University’s Law Faculty.

Is your career what you had planned when you started law school?

When I entered law school, I did so with the goal of eventually becoming directly involved with academia, primarily as a professor who would write articles and books examining policies focused on the U.S. and its international legal relations. Although I had several great opportunities to attend graduate school for a year or two to expand my knowledge in international subjects, the Vietnam War and Draft loomed over me (and many others) with no deferments allowed for graduate study. Accordingly, I opted to go to law school first before enjoying the luxury of further study in the field of international law and foreign relations. Thus, even though my ultimate goal was clear, the pathway to achieving it confronted many detours along the way. I intended to pursue graduate study after I established myself as a lawyer, but the law drew me in a variety of other interesting directions. With semi-retirement as my current status, I may now find the time and will to pursue some form of graduate study or concentrate on a transnational law consulting and international arbitration practice.

What has been the highlight of your career?

I have been blessed with a number of personal achievements, each in some way is related to my desire to pursue projects in “uncharted waters” or be the “first” to accomplish something, in other words to make a difference in the status quo. In law school, the challenge was to contribute to the social awakening about mankind’s responsibility for the condition and sustenance of the environment by founding a student law journal, the Ecology Law Quarterly. As a young lawyer, I revived The International Lawyer (the flagship legal journal of the ABA International Law Section) and later founded the “Year-in-Review of International Legal Developments,” an annual assessment of domestic and international legal developments impacting U.S. practitioners. All three today are major publications in their fields.

As a practitioner, I enjoyed an active international arbitration career of international private commercial and international public law (e.g., NAFTA) cases and consulting on transnational enforcement cases. As an academic and having taught in a variety of institutions both here and abroad, I gained a lot from my interactions with students and colleagues in the teaching process. Witnessing student growth and their successes is exhilarating and personally satisfying. Publishing my scholarship and developing programs of study are also highlights.

My service to the profession is a cornerstone of my career: I have served as the Chair of ABA International Law Section; Chair of the ABA Standing Committee on International Trade in Legal Services; the Chair of Section of International Law of the Association of American Law Schools; Chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s International Law Committee; co-founded the California Bar Association’s International Law Section and am currently on the Executive Committee of the California Lawyers Association’s International Law Section, the successor organization. I was also a US member of the NAFTA Advisory Committee on Private Commercial Dispute Resolution, remain as a member of the Advisory Committee on International Law to the U.S. State Department’s Legal Adviser, and have been a member of the ABA’s Center for Professional Responsibility’s Committees on Professional Regulation, and Professionalism, and the Commission on Ethics 20/20.

Capping my career, I was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award of the ABA Section of International Law (2016) and the Warren Christopher “Lawyer of the Year” Award (2014), from the California Bar. 

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

No, I wouldn’t change much. My route to my goals was not direct and somewhat circuitous, but I gained much experience and knowledge along the way. Once I settled into my position at Southwestern Law School teaching international subjects and conducting a modest transnational law consulting and arbitration practice, my focus was sharper and my ability to use my practice and service experiences in teaching and developing courses (and vice versa) was invaluable.

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

Law is a wonderful profession--whether you represent private clients, governmental entities, or the public interest. It is intellectually challenging, ever-changing, and can provide great satisfaction. The tools you obtain in the legal educational process for analyzing facts and situations will stand you in good stead for virtually any post-law school career you choose, including non-legal ones. I would offer a cautionary note, however: the legal profession’s private practice models are changing and the profession in some cases is not as lucrative as before; due to the impact of technology which has taken over and automated aspects of legal representation, there appears a diminishing pool of jobs available to those entering the legal workforce, ensuring that there will be substantial competition for good positions.

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

Some changes I see today from when I embarked on a legal career almost fifty years ago:

  1. More gender and racial diversity (but not enough) in law schools and in practice. 
  2. Improvements in research by virtue of technology (use of computers and internet)—the Westlaw “key” system, on which I was initially trained, to the word-search approach enabled by computers provides quick and thorough searches of cases, depositions, etc.
  3. E-filing, eDiscovery, ecommerce, and artificial intelligence (AI) are also playing a role
  4. Negotiations, depositions, even court hearings and certainly arbitration hearings, can be conducted without in-person presence via internet video-conferencing; other practice innovations necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic have enlarged the acceptability of “distance judging” and other judicial functions
  5. U.S. law firm export of legal services; now many US law firms have offices located abroad
  6. Paralegal assistants have taken over the provision of certain kinds of legal practice functions in some jurisdictions
  7. For academia, there seems to be less outreach-funding of policy studies by government and by foundations
  8. The costs of post-high school education, particularly law school, have sky-rocketed
  9. Changes in billing practices by law firms
  10. Growth of size and role of in-house counsel in legal practice
  11. Changes in attitudes (and some legal profession structures) about non-lawyer participation in legal business (e.g., non-lawyer ownership of legal practices; investors “funding” of litigation, arbitration) 

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

I believe it was in 1973 or 1974, when my law professor and mentor, Prof. Ira Michael Heyman (who later became Chancellor of UC Berkeley and even later became Secretary-General of the Smithsonian) encouraged me to join him in the Environmental Controls Committee of the ABA Business Law Section. I joined the ABA International Law Section in 1975 or 1976, when I realized its international foci on both international commercial practice and public international law concerns were appealing. I was selected in a competition to be editor-in-chief of The International Lawyer in 1983, and after that I was permanently attached to that Section serving on the Council and as chair of many Committees, Task Forces, and Working Groups-- Presidential appointment in the greater ABA (e.g., Commission on Ethics 20/20; Executive Committee of the Center for Human Rights; Standing Committees of Professionalism, Professional Regulation, and International Trade in Legal Services [“ITILS” as Chair]).

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

Being elected to serve as Chair of the International Law Section in 2001-2002 would have to be a major highlight. I took the office less than a month before 9/11 and held our first seasonal meeting less than a month after 9/11 in Mexico. The challenges were great then as it was administratively complicated because of staff shortages and I was 3,000 miles away (in Los Angeles) from the DC office.

Other highlights would include my editorship for four years of The International Lawyer, being the founder-organizer and first editor of the “Year-in-Review,” the chairmanship of ITILS, and the co-chairmanship of the SLD’s International Committee are all fond and current memories.

Memorable also was my service on the Center of Human Rights Executive Committee, for which I co-organized and spoke on panels and championed the ABA’s high-level engagement in the UN Council of Human Rights’ “International Forum on Business and Human Rights” in Geneva.

Additional highlights of my many years in the ABA must also include my work with the Center for Professional Responsibility’s entities on a variety of ethical issues. That included: the Commission on Ethics 20/20, Standing Committees on ITILS, Professionalism and Professional Regulation, as well as the SIL International Ethics Committee.

Serving as the liaison from the ABA to the American Law Institute’s RESTATEMENT (fourth) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States was a great learning experience, and organizing and participating in international legal exchanges (ILEX) with foreign bars and law societies (e.g., Australia-New Zealand; China; Cuba; Guatemala-Costa Rica; India; Lebanon-Syria-Iran; Moldova-Ukraine-Belarus) is yet another area of memorable highlights.

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

I always wanted to learn the law and practice it in some fashion. But I also enjoyed sports, and in my youth I thought I might be good enough to play baseball professionally. I played with some very talented athletes with whom I was competitive and who went on to star in the major leagues. However, when I got to college, I realized my efforts were better spent and rewarded in academia. I dedicated myself to being a good student while enjoying occasional interludes of sport.


Robert E. Lutz is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Legal Studies at Southwestern Law School.   He is a graduate of the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley School of Law (“Berkeley Law”), a member of the California Bar, current Co-chair of the SLD International Committee, former Chair of ABA Section of International Law, former Chair of the ABA Standing Committee of International Trade in Legal Services, a co-founder of the California Bar’s International Law Section, and an Executive Committee member of the California Lawyers Association’s International Law and Immigration Section.   He is a recipient of the Fulbright and von Humboldt Scholar Fellowships, a consultant on transnational legal and investment issues, and an arbitrator/mediator of public and private international disputes.