Marjorie D. Rombauer: Legal writing and research pioneer, much-loved colleague

Professor Emerita Marjorie D. Rombauer ‘60, widely considered the founding mother of the field of legal writing, passed away this Friday. A pioneer in legal research and writing education, Rombauer’s career spanned over three decades as a beloved professor, respected scholar and leader in legal education and the justice system.

“Marjorie was a giant in her field,” said Penny Hazelton, UW School of Law emerita professor and former associate dean for Library and Information Systems. “Her intellect and strong desire to help her students learn to be outstanding lawyers, combined with her kindness and humanity, made her a wonderful role model for her students and colleagues.”

Rombauer’s influence extended well beyond the classroom. After joining the UW faculty in 1960, she embarked on a long campaign to transform the teaching of legal writing into a professional discipline. At a time when most law schools’ writing instruction was taught by upper level students, she established a rigorous program taught by full-time faculty that integrated legal analysis, research and writing. The program gained national recognition and provided credibility for the teaching of legal research and writing.

Her textbook, “Legal Problem Solving: Analysis, Research and Writing,” became the one of the leading casebooks in the subject and was the standard text for many years. “Her textbook remains a bold statement integrating legal thinking, research and reasoning into a coherent whole… [building on that textbook] she designed an innovative program,”  wrote Robert Berring, a leading expert in the field. “The world was not ready. Legal education was not prepared to escape from its old paradigm. Now the time has come.”

At UW School of Law, Rombauer led the way for women in the law student body and in the faculty. She was the first non-librarian, tenured female faculty member at the law school, and later as interim dean became the first woman to hold the post at UW Law. An expert in debtor-creditor law, Rombauer was a frequent panelist for Washington CLE programs and the author of “Creditors' Remedies-Debtors' Relief.”

She also taught in the Uniform Commercial Code field and Japanese law. Relatively late in life, Rombauer decided to learn Japanese due to her interest in commercial law issues related to trade with Japan, and devoted many years to that study.

“Professor Rombauer’s teaching and scholarship informed generations of law students and faculty members,” said Dean Kellye Testy. “As hard as we try, it is impossible to capture all that she was and all that she did for our students, our school and our profession.”

Rombauer’s influence reached far across the law community. She was a key force in founding the Association of American Law Schools Section on Legal Writing, Reasoning and Research, the first organization of its kind, and spoke at many workshops and conferences. She was also a member of the Washington Law Revision Commission, serving as its chair from 1990-1995, and helped author important legislation in the state of Washington.

She received numerous honors over the years, including the Washington State Bar Association’s Award of Honor and Merit for her work in drafting and securing enactment of the 1987 Enforcement of Judgments Act and an award for Distinguished Service to the Profession from the Association of American Law Schools in 1993. In 2000, alumni voted her one of ten outstanding teachers in the law school's first 100 years.

The lasting impact Rombauer made on those around her is clear. “My debt to her is immeasurable. She gave great advice, when asked, with a sparkle in her eyes and abiding good humor,” said Lynn Bahrych ’85. “There were only two women on the law faculty while I was there, so I was especially grateful every day for the example she set for how women could succeed in the then male-dominated world of law. She succeeded by being, very simply, the best at whatever she did.”