When I arrived at the University of Chicago Law School, I was determined to write onto the Law Review and in desperate need of a faculty advisor to help me with my paper. Not knowing any better, I knocked on the door of the one of the most prominent and prolific legal scholars in the country, Cass Sunstein. (I was enjoying his Environmental Law class immensely and had been paying particular attention to an odd situation that might allow a party to game the environmental impact statement process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).) After I knocked, he looked up from his computer. I introduced myself, explained I was looking for a paper advisor, and said that I was interested in doing a paper on NEPA. He could have said he was busy, or ignored me. Instead, he quickly said that I should email him a short 2 page proposal, and looked back down to resume his typing at a furious pace. I soon did email him a proposal, and, in perhaps the most polite email I had ever received in my life (a Sunstein trait), he offered to be my paper advisor. He signed off his email, as I now chose to sign off mine, with a “Thanks.”
In the end, I made law review, became a law professor, published three articles early in my career with the benefit of his commentary and help, and now owe much of my analysis on environmental law and administrative law to his (and the University of Chicago’s) demand for “thinking” and “ideas.” I have always appreciated Sunstein’s interest in data, his amazing kindness to his students, and teaching style (much of which I try to emulate, with attribution).
As a student and early in my academic career our conversations and emails were always short and academic in nature, but on student awards day of my 3L year (Sunstein won the best teacher award), he sat next to my partner Andrea and me. I was pleased that we’d finally get to have a more casual chat, outside the context of, for example, federal agency interpretation of statutes. But while we did discuss the merits of vegetarianism, he soon found out that Andrea was friends with his first dog Bear since Andrea studied in the Law Library stacks, where Bear hid, when she was an undergrad at Chicago. Thus, Andrea stole my thunder, and they both leaned over me discussing their dear departed friend Bear. Both Andrea and I recall this story fondly.
This post is meant to be a simple thanks to Professor Sunstein who, along with Douglas Baird and Gerry Rosenberg, helped stimulate my scholarly endeavors. Sunstein left Chicago for Harvard Law, and now heads the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama Administration. Needless to say, it is exciting to see so many University of Chicago folks in the Obama Administration. Cass Sunstein is profiled in this week’s NY Times Magazine Article entitled Cass Sunstein Wants to Nudge Us. The article makes me long for the “Life of the Mind” at the University of Chicago where I was an undergraduate and where I received my law degree.
Finally, I’m sure all of my former professors do not remember their interactions with me, but I hope that at least some of my students feel that I’ve benefited them in some small way.