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Member Spotlight: David Ray Papke

David Ray Papke

Member Spotlight: David Ray Papke mingzhu

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Tell us a little bit about your career.

I have taught at four American law schools and also spent a year as a Fulbright professor in Taiwan. I am at present the oldest full-time faculty member at the Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I teach Jurisprudence, American Legal History, Property, and a range of interdisciplinary courses in law and the humanities. I am also starting my sixth three-year term on the University’s faculty grievance committee. The Provost sends me an email about once a month in which he reminds me of the University’s tenure buy-out options, but I plan to continue in my current position as long as my health holds up.

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

I had no idea during or immediately after law school that I would spend almost all of my career in academia. However, as I looked for (and failed to find) the “right” spot in the profession, I came to realize that I really enjoyed university life. I have since rearranged my CV to make it look like I knew what I was doing all along.

What has been the highlight of your career?

I am proudest of the seven books I have authored or edited. The Pullman Case: The Clash of Labor and Capital in Industrial America (University Press of Kansas, 1999) has had the most sales and received the best reviews, but Heretics in the Temple: Americans Who Reject the Nation’s Legal Faith (New York University Press, 1998) is my personal favorite. Conducting research on the Hoosier socialist Eugene Debs for a chapter in the latter was a formative political experience for me.

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

If I could start over, I’d work for a few years between college and law school. I really needed some “seasoning.” Then, too, if I had known that academia would be in my future, I would have worked harder on law review during law school and also sought a clerkship with a federal judge afterwards. Law review and/or a clerkship greatly improve one’s chances of being hired as a law professor.

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

Brace yourself for hard work, but go anyway. Once you are enrolled, don’t settle for just learning as many rules as you can. Try instead to develop a personal jurisprudence or way of thinking critically about law. This jurisprudence can serve as a rudder in your legal career, and it can always be refined and readjusted on as your career moves along.

What are the biggest changes you have seen in the legal profession over the course of your career?

Almost all lawyers now work in one institutional setting or another. This means bureaucracy and hierarchy will play bigger roles than most lawyers want, and the likelihood of alienation from one’s work, workplace, and fellow workers increases. Alas, drug and alcohol problems are common among members of the bar, and the stress of being a lawyer must be a contributing factor.

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

Although I have been a member of the ABA for many years, my most significant ABA activity has come in recent years in the Senior Lawyers Division. I have enjoyed being a member of the Division’s Book Board and also of the Editorial Board for Experience, the quarterly publication of the Division. Working with jennifer rose and Gabriella Filisko while publishing several articles in Experience has been nothing short of delightful. I have never worked with editors who have been as supportive of my writing.

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

It’s hard for me to imagine myself as something other than a professor, but I have always enjoyed writing. I tried my hand at writing fiction when I was young, but I wasn’t good enough to have made a career of it. Perhaps I could have been a journalist, writing more for magazines and journals than for newspapers and television newscasts. I know we are all supposed to learn from the past, but in general I prefer to think about not what might have been but rather what might happen next.

What courses do you most enjoy teaching?

I have taught Property to 1Ls for over twenty years, and I greatly enjoy the enthusiasm and nervous energy of beginning law students. Their anxiety, it seems to me, has justifiably amped up during the pandemic. Beyond Property, my various upper-level electives in Jurisprudence, Legal History, and Law & Literature usually relate in one way or another to my research and writing. Some people – both inside and outside of academics – see teaching on the one hand and research and writing on the other as an either/or kind of thing. In reality, a great overlap exists between successful teaching and successful research and writing. In the best of all worlds, a law professor wants to master both.

What is the area of your greatest scholarly interest?

I have published law review articles concerning topics in bankruptcy, constitutional law, family law, sales, and various other legal subject areas, but I am especially engaged by questions concerning law’s role in American culture. The nation is often described as the world’s most “legalistic,” but what exactly does that mean? Americans are not particularly law-abiding, and studies have shown Americans don’t know the law especially well. The key, I think, is the way Americans profess great allegiance to the law as a guide for their personal affairs and for their society as a whole. Alexis de Tocqueville observed many years ago that virtually every social issue in the United States eventually becomes a legal question.

What scholarly work are you pursuing at the present?

I am currently researching the relationship of law and ageism in American life. The United States has one of the most ageist societies in the world. Older Americans are not only subjected to discrimination in employment, health care, housing, and other areas but also are injured by widespread negative assumptions and stereotypes. These assumptions and stereotypes are in fact so powerful that many older Americans begin blaming themselves for their problems and think they are somehow unworthy of public life. Law and legal institutions might combat these problems, but in many ways law and legal institutions also create and encourage ageism.