The Five-Minute Interview: Law Professor Ron Rotunda

Posted: June 11, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Ronald Rotunda
Ron Rotunda
Photo by Evan Cantwell

When people need legal advice, they consult a lawyer. When lawyers need advice, they seek out Mason law professor Ron Rotunda.

Since his days working for the Senate Watergate Committee, Rotunda has been called upon by the U.S. government, major law firms and others to weigh in on issues of national importance, making him one of the most-often cited law professors in the United States. As the author of textbooks on legal ethics and constitutional law, Rotunda has influenced generations of lawyers and influenced decades of legal opinion.

He has been interviewed on legal issues for radio and television, and has been seen and heard on Nightline, the O’Reilly Factor, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CNN and NPR.

A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, where he was a member of the Law Review, Rotunda clerked for Judge Walter R. Mansfield of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, practiced law in Washington, D.C., served as assistant majority counsel for the Watergate Committee and was the Albert E. Jenner Jr. Professor of Law at the University of Illinois. He holds the rank of University Professor in the School of Law.

You have been featured on numerous news programs. Is there any journalist in particular you have enjoyed working with?

I have found all the journalists to be very professional and fun to work with. They want to understand the legal issues, and they make the necessary effort to do that. They are similar to really enthusiastic law students, so I like that.

I suppose I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Dan Schorr, who wrote a very nice preface to one of my books.

You are known for your bow ties. What is it you like about them?

The advantage of bow ties is that when I spill something, it lands on my shirt instead of my tie. Ties are much more expensive to clean than a shirt. Hence, long ties (which require dry cleaning) tempt fate and virtually dare me to spill something on them. Sadly, I too often accept the dare. Hence, bow ties. (For similar reasons — spilling things — I’m not allowed to use indelible ink in my fountain pen; I can only use washable ink.)

How many bow ties do you own?

Several dozen. Several of the ties are for special occasions — such as St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, etc. There are some lawyer’s ties (one showing sharks with briefcases). Many people never notice that some of the designs have meanings. But I know.

What do you think is (are) the most pressing legal issue(s) facing the country today?

Courts must be vigilant in protecting our civil liberties, because new technology will create news ways of violating our privacy.

Technology and market forces are also changing the nature of legal practice. That will affect not only lawyers but also clients. Law firms are becoming massive in size; lawyers are outsourcing legal research to India. An Australian law firm is now listed on a stock exchange. American law forbids that, but there are powerful market forces that may change that in the near future.

Is that really you pictured with science fiction author Arthur C. Clark on your web site?

The photograph is real — unlike some of the others on my web site. I met Arthur Clark on a cruise ship. The meeting was not accidental: We were both on a cruise to see a solar eclipse. I love to read science fiction novels, and Arthur has written some of the best. I’m a big fan.

If I wasn’t talking to you right now, I’d be … working. But when I put that aside, I’m normally reading or getting frustrated with a new computer gadget that I bought or a new computer program that I want to try.

I wish people would take more notice of … the inner good that lies in all of us.

The last book I enjoyed was … Harold Bloom’s “The Western Canon: The Books and Schools of the Ages.” He published it in 1994, but I just got around to it. It is an amazing critical analysis of the great authors of the West, from 2000 BC to the present.

A high point of my career so far has been … My high point is yet to come.

I’m very bad at … golf, tennis — anything that involves a ball — whether moving or not moving.

In a nutshell, my philosophy is … dream no small dreams, and don’t be afraid to fail.

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