Researching Law Volume 30 Issue 1 - Page 2

VOL 2 9 | N O 2 | FALL 2 018
Fostering the Next Gen eration of Scholars:
Three Decades of the ABF Doctoral
and Postdoctoral Fellowship Programs
In 1987, the American Bar Foundation (ABF) established the first Doctoral Dissertation
Fellowship in Law and Social Science for Ph.D. students whose research focused on
sociolegal studies and social scientific approaches to law, legal processes and legal
institutions. In the same year, the ABF launched fellowships for students from minority
backgrounds to combat the lack of minority scholars involved in the empirical investigation
of law. Thirty-one years later, the ABF’s fellowship program continues to thrive and has
expanded into a robust program that helps foster the next generation of prominent
sociolegal scholars.
Fostering new generations
of scholars is an idea that
first began at the ABF in the
late 1970s, following the
commission of an outside
report by current ABF Research
Professor Emeritus, Jack Heinz,
that called for a more rigorous
research program at the ABF
and stronger integration
of its work with the wider
sociolegal research community.
Encouraged by Heinz’ report,
ABF Executive Director at the
time, William “Bill” Felstiner,
met with Terence Halliday
(current ABF Research Professor
and former Research Associate
at the ABF), Ray Solomon
(former Associate Director
and a Research Fellow at the
ABF and current University
Professor of Law and Dean
Emeritus at Rutgers University)
and the wider ABF faculty to
brainstorm ways to enliven the
Foundation’s intellectual and
social atmosphere.
“We wanted a critical mass of
scholars on the ground, and
postdoctoral scholars offered
a way to increase that density
of social and intellectual life,”
Felstiner explained.
While many graduate students
worked at the Foundation
as research associates in the
1960s and 70s and wrote
dissertations on ABF supported
research, such as Halliday, the
ABF had no formal doctoral
and postdoctoral fellowship
program. Felstiner and other
members of the faculty hoped
that housing scholars in the
early stages of their careers
might broaden and enrich
the Foundation’s disciplinary
“Of course, in addition to
augmenting intellectual
exchanges at the ABF, we
wanted to nurture new
generations of socio-legal
scholars. Bringing first rate
doctoral or postdoctoral
students who were already
working on law promised a
double payoff — in the short
term an injection of more life
day to day and, in the longterm, a stream of top-flight
scholars flowing into sociolegal research.”
So, in 1987, the ABF first began
offering highly competitive
fellowships for exemplary
doctoral students, which helped
to expand the Foundation’s
scholarly community and
bring in top students working
in law who would later
contribute to sociolegal
scholarship and become
future intellectual leaders. The
ABF has since continued to
support strong doctoral and
postdoctoral fellowships and
expanded the program by
establishing new partnerships
with prestigious national
organizations, such as the
National Science Foundation
(NSF) and AccessLex Institute
(a Washington D.C.-based
nonprofit conducting research
on critical issues in legal
education), and top universities
like Northwestern University
Today, the ABF offers three
distinct fellowships for postdoctoral and doctoral students:
1. The ABF/NSF Doctoral
Fellowship in Law &
Inequality, which is
funded by the National
Science Foundation
for scholars pursuing
innovative empirical and
interdisciplinary research
on law and inequality.
2. The ABF/NU Doctoral
Fellowship, which is
sponsored by Northwestern
University to encourage
original and significant
research on law, legal
processes, and legal
3. The ABF/AccessLex Institute
Doctoral Fellowship in Legal
& Higher Education, which is
supported by funding from
AccessLex Institute and
committed to supporting the
work of scholars studying
issues of access, affordability
and value in legal and higher
Scholars awarded these
fellowships work in residence
for one to two years and
become immersed in the ABF’s
intellectual community by
attending weekly seminars,
giving presentations of
their work, and engaging in
substantive conversations with
faculty and mentors outside
the organization who help to
expand their perspectives and
influence the direction of their


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