By Zahr K. Said
Associate Dean of Research & Faculty Development
Professor of Law

Professor Said outside William H. Gates Hall.

The University of Washington School of Law has shown courage and heart in facing head-on the challenges of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and in focusing on community service, cutting-edge legal knowledge, and the advancement of social and racial justice. The past year has created widespread challenges for legal education and scholarship. By finding in this crisis new opportunities for connection, scholarly inquiry and increasing access to justice, UW Law also finds some reasons for cautious optimism.

In March as our city, and eventually our nation, entered lockdown, the school’s agility was apparent in its decisive pivot to online instruction. A team-taught course, “Law in the Time of COVID-19,” became the first in the country to dedicate a full term to studying the legal issues raised by the pandemic. It offered students an opportunity to do pro bono service projects in hard-hit areas, and reflected the school’s emphases on service and equity. It morphed into a summerlong experiential course, “Lawyering in the Time of COVID-19,” which directly served community needs.  Throughout the spring, speakers on human rights and the pandemic-era risks faced by the most vulnerable explored the law’s capacity to empower and assist others. 

The national reckoning with police brutality and systemic racism was also keenly felt at UW Law, where members of the community engaged in peaceful protest, mobilized to reform or reimagine policing, and joined in efforts to dismantle racism through study, reflection and increased community dialogue. Under the leadership of William Covington, newly appointed Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, UW Law celebrated the noble legacy of the late Congressman John Lewis, whose advocacy for the Voting Rights Act seemed especially deserving of honor.  In this election year beset by so many diverse challenges, faculty produced notable research and commentary on election law, and collaborated to defend information integrity. 

After a summer of working diligently to revamp their courses for Zoom, faculty showed equal measures of devotion and innovation in their efforts to provide incoming students with a top-tier experience in law school. Faculty launched national conversations on how to make the core legal curriculum more progressive and adopted new, lower-cost casebooks or wrote their own. The renowned Gallagher Law Library collected resources for those seeking a new way to deliver instruction at a lower cost for students.

In the midst of the epidemiological and electoral turmoil, there were still articles to write and books to finish. Faculty turned to the law of child welfare, immigration, innovation policy, police reform, firearm regulation, and taxation, along with significant efforts in constitutional and election law.

In this paradoxical moment of both more time and less time, it is all the more important to define our work meaningfully in service of our mission as a premier public university. We hope you will join us in a collective recommitment to the communities around us here in the Pacific Northwest, and to the spirit of inquiry in which we have embarked this academic year in pursuit of equity and transformation. We hope that our work will produce insights in print, and excellent, ethical, inspired lawyers out in the real world. We hope that our clinical outreach will serve our communities with compassion and impact.

Finally, we hope that you remain healthy and that we are afforded the safe opportunity to collaborate and celebrate with you again in person soon.

Zahr K. Said holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard University, a J.D. from Columbia (where she was a Kent Scholar and served as Articles Editor for the Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts) and a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley (magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa). Said's research applies humanistic methods, theories and texts to problems in legal doctrine and policy. Her work has appeared in the Lewis and Clark Law Review, the Iowa Law Review, the Cardozo Law Review, the North Carolina Law Review, the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology, the Stanford Technology Law Review and the Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts, among others.