UW Law remembers Robert H. Aronson
When UW Law Professor Emeritus Robert Aronson died on June 4, 2021, at the age of 73, he left behind many legacies.
Among his accomplishments, Aronson authored The Law of Evidence in Washington, along with numerous works on ethics and professional responsibility. He served as an associate dean at UW Law, was a three-time UW Law Professor of the Year, served as President of the Pac-10 Conference, and chaired the UW Faculty Senate.
He also introduced humanities-related coursework to the law curriculum; worked tirelessly to identify, recruit and mentor underrepresented students; pioneered clinical law education at the UW; and was instrumental in requiring a public service requirement for graduation from law school.
Making today’s UW Law
To former UW Law Dean Wallace Loh, who became the first Asian-America law-school dean in U.S. history in 1990, Aronson was a one-time rival for the UW Law deanship who became his greatest ally in transforming UW Law into the values-driven institution it is today.
“I sensed that he and I together could transform the law school,” Loh said. The transformation? Introduce a clinical component to what was then a totally classroom-based education, mandate a requirement for public service for every graduate, and pursue a vigorous commitment to student diversity — all hallmarks of today’s UW Law.
Rob was instrumental in helping bring UW Law into the 21st century.”
From teacher to colleague
Aronson was a mentor, as both a professor and colleague, said Kimberly Ambrose, teaching professor and director of UW Law’s Tools For Change: Race and Justice Clinic. Aronson helped her feel valued and welcomed — first as a UW Law student who “didn’t love law school” and later as a faculty member who was unsure about whether she fit in at UW Law.
“Rob was just so supportive,” Ambrose said. “He did so many things, like inviting me to come speak in his class about juvenile justice. To have this professor that I had respected as my teacher reach out to me and ask for my expertise was really reassuring. It made me feel welcomed, which was very helpful in keeping me here. Mentoring others, bringing others along with him — those things were very important to Rob.”
Promoting clinical legal education
To Jacqueline McMurtrie, UW Law’s Betts, Patterson & Mines Emerita Professor and founder of the Washington Innocence Project, Aronson was a friend, mentor and tireless advocate for clinical education at a time when it was still controversial.
“Rob was a huge supporter of clinical legal education,” McMurtrie said. “He’d been a role model for me because of his work in the field of evidence and also in the field of professional responsibility. But he also became a really beloved colleague and friend. He so strongly believed that his role was to support students in their education by ensuring that they would be really ethical and competent and excellent advocates for their clients.”
A tireless advocate
Aronson was a tireless advocate for increasing diversity at UW Law, said Sandra Madrid, UW Law former assistant dean for Students and Community Outreach and founding member and first chair of the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington,. Aronson volunteered to offer an undergraduate seminar for underrepresented students, including students of color and LGBTQ students, with the express purpose of encouraging them to consider UW Law, Madrid said.
“It wouldn’t be unusual for him at all to write a letter or pick up the phone and talk to students about why they should come to the law school,” Madrid said. “As an undergraduate student, receiving a call from an associate dean, that’s pretty awesome. I know it made a difference. It was very impactful. I can’t tell you how many of those students went on to apply to law school — not only at the UW, but across the country, because of his influence. No matter how busy he was, or what he was involved in he always had time to work with the students that I was working with.”
A love of athletics
To almost everyone who knew him, Aronson shared his love of athletics. As an undergrad, he played soccer, lacrosse and football at the University of Virginia. In later years, he was an avid golfer.
Jenny Aronson, JD ’20, remembers her father coaching her and her sisters’ soccer teams. The family had season tickets to the Seattle Storm, and she remembers how her dad knew the story of every player and his passion for promoting equity for women’s sports. It was a passion he put to good use as president of the Pac-10 Athletic Conference, where Jenny said he worked hard to fight the win-at-all-costs mentality of college sports programs.
Helping others find their way
Aronson was driven by the belief in doing the right thing, Madrid said.
“I don't think he ever looked for accolades, although he got them from all different avenues,” she said. “I think he did it because that was the generosity of his heart. The way he could understand where students were coming from, and making every effort to see them succeed, was amazing. He was just invaluable in helping students find their way.”