Spotlight: Real-world research agendas
UW Law faculty possess deep expertise in legal research with theoretical stakes and direct practical relevance for how law reflects and shapes our everyday lives.
Whether research projects involve archives, interviews or island-states, many professors are driven by the impact of their scholarship on the world beyond the ivory tower.
Explore some of the highlights from faculty research agendas that are driving discourse and influencing legal issues around today's most important topics.
Raising the Bar
As Associate Dean for Experiential Education and professor of law, Christine Cimini is on the frontlines of student lawyering, leading students to greater skills and deeper insights about the practice of law as well as inspiring our faculty to incorporate experiential education and insights throughout the traditional doctrinal curriculum.
Cimini directs UW Law’s Mediation Clinic and plays a key role in educating the local bar, raising UW’s profile locally and nationally. Professor Cimini also maintains an active research agenda, most recently studying how lawyers impact social change.
In their current work-in-progress, “Lawyering’s Effect on Social Change: An Immigration Enforcement Case Study,” Cimini and co-author Doug Smith obtained thousands of internal documents from federal agencies documenting the creation, rise and ultimate demise of the controversial immigration enforcement program known as “Secure Communities.” Analyzing these documents and interviewing critical actors allowed Cimini and Smith to delve into a timely and contextually rich example of the impact lawyering strategies can have on policy outcomes.
The authors identified correlations between strategic actions by lawyers and activists and governmental responses to those strategies. Doing so allowed Cimini and Smith to develop a construct of effective lawyering that utilizes recursive, interactive and synergistic interplay among available resources and strategies.
This work holds tremendous importance for current policy debates over the status of immigrants, and it offers systemic solutions in service of marginalized communities whose many vulnerable individuals often otherwise lack access to justice.
Professor Jennifer Fan has long been interested in the question of whether corporations can and should change the world for the better, and if so, through what means. In a time of increasingly partisan politics and lack of centralized regulation on emerging issues, corporations have played — and in fact are now being expected to play — a larger societal role, Fan argues.
In an article on “Woke Capital,” she cites a range of issues of social concern that corporations can no longer remain neutral on, from immigrants’ rights and gun control to the LGBTQ rights movements. Her scholarship considers how companies, public and private, address larger societal issues using a variety of legal levers, some of which have profound implications for how new technologies are developed, and some of which involve labor relations and employee activism.
Drawing on her prior practice as an attorney in Silicon Valley and conducting extensive on-the-ground research including interviews with key industry participants, Professor Fan examines ways in which the regulation of entrepreneurship and innovation changes, noting in her work how norm-shifting and social movements may play a role in forcing some of that legal change.
Professor Fan has a particular interest in gender. In “Innovating Inclusion: The Impact of Women on Private Company Boards,” she considers how private companies can diversify their ranks by increasing the number of women serving on their boards, and she argues that companies have a duty — an “innovation imperative” — to do so.
As the director of UW Law’s highly celebrated Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, Fan brings her insights and real-world understanding into her classrooms and the pages of all of her scholarship.
Professor Bob Gomulkiewicz draws on his significant experience in the software industry in his focus on the role contracts play alongside copyrights in advancing innovation and creativity in the modern information economy.
For his forthcoming article, “Contracts Mattered as Much as Copyrights,” Gomulkiewicz used his time as a Herchel Smith Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge to conduct archival research that provided historical perspective on the contemporary intersections of copyright and contracts. He draws a line from clickwrap-licensing and the forms of contracts everyday consumers encounter many times a day, every day, to the Enlightenment-era English copyright law that would provide the basis for our own.
Gomulkiewicz is the author of a well-respected casebook “Licensing Intellectual Property” as well many articles, including work on open-source software licensing, the enforceability of software license agreements and the ways patent exhaustion could affect copyright’s first sale doctrine.
“Professor G,” as his students affectionately call him, weds his teaching and scholarship effectively in his courses on the law of software and an intellectual property licensing course that is routinely full.
Professor Shannon Weeks McCormack’s work focuses on the taxation of the American family.
It highlights the growing inequities that have resulted from Congress’ failure to adapt the tax laws to reflect the evolution and diversification of modern family arrangements. This failure results in the over-privileging of the increasingly rare sole-earner model at the expense of dual-earner and single-parent models, which are increasingly prevalent today.
Tax laws don’t keep up with social behavior, in other words, which matters given how these laws often translate into dollars in the real world. McCormack’s work shows how the tax laws have almost entirely failed to grapple in any meaningful way with cohabitant, blended and other family models that fall out of the “traditional” mold.
Drawing on diverse philosophical approaches to justice and feminist theory, McCormack’s body of scholarship reflects the values of equity and progressivism, and it highlights various political and sociocultural commitments currently entrenched in contemporary tax policy.
McCormack argues that at a minimum, tax policy must learn to see the ways in which its own assumptions and models often obscure — but should reveal — fiscally significant and outdated notions about contemporary families.
Head Above Water
Law Lecturer Lauren Sancken explores how vulnerable communities may, and in many cases must, respond to climate change impacts in the absence of governing legal frameworks.
Climate change poses an existential threat to small island nations that are at risk of losing their territories to sea-level rise and severe weather events. These countries must contemplate how to retain their sovereignty if and when their island territories cease to exist.
Without the guidance of a comprehensive legal regime, small island nations must navigate how to choose, design, and finance options for adaptation, including the option to relocate, in order to preserve their sovereignty.
Sancken is currently researching global climate migration as well as the financial mechanisms available to small island nations to design adaptation responses that will preserve their sovereignty. Sancken’s work, while anchored by political and constitutional theories of the nation-state and its citizens, approaches climate change in a pragmatic way, exploring conditions on the ground and studying a global situation that evolves practically in real-time with often dire consequences for large populations.
Sancken is co-authoring a book chapter on “Climate Migration” for the Routledge Handbook of International Environmental Law (2nd ed. forthcoming 2020). This chapter explores the phenomenon of ‘climate-induced migration,’ identifies the sociological and legal uncertainties that surround it, and suggests pathways forward for protecting climate migrants.
Sancken’s work consists of scholarly articles as well as policy papers, including a white paper entitled “Financing Climate Adaptation and Resettlement Options for Small Island Developing States,” using the Republic of the Marshall Islands as a case study.