The College of William & Mary's Board of Visitors approved promotions to several faculty members this spring. Among them, the Law School's Michael Stein was promoted from associate professor to professor and awarded tenure.
Stein, whose scholarship explores issues in disability law, employment discrimination, bioethics, and legal history, joined the William & Mary law faculty in 2000.
"I've always wanted to teach," says Stein, recalling the path that led him to becoming a law professor. "It was just not clear to me whether it would be law or history." As an undergraduate at New York University in his native Manhattan, Stein majored in politics with a double minor in religion and medieval and renaissance studies. A course on the history of the common law, taught by the distinguished medievalist Norman F. Cantor, set Stein on the road to law school and the study of legal history.
After earning his J.D. at Harvard, Stein clerked for Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr., of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and also practiced law for five years at a Wall Street firm. He did commercial litigation by day and devoted whatever night and weekend time he had available to pro bono work. "I went to law school to become a law teacher," he recalls. "I practiced law mostly for the sake of gaining experience so that I would feel more credible in the classroom and be able to relate real-life experiences to my students."
The next chapter in Stein's journey to becoming a law professor had a distinctly historical flavor. With the help of a prestigious W.M. Tapp Studentship in Law, he matriculated at Cambridge University where he earned a Ph.D. in English legal history. His dissertation explored employer/employee liability for personal injuries during the Victorian era.
When asked to describe what he does in a few words, Stein says that he is "at core, an employment and an anti-discrimination lawyer. Most of the time," he says, "I view things through the lens of disability or civil rights, although now I am moving more toward a human rights and international perspective. Sometimes, my focus can be strictly historical."
In 2004-05, Stein was a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Law School and held fellowships in both the Human Rights and the East Asian Legal Studies Program. His time there was funded by an American Council of Learned Societies Andrew W. Mellon Junior Faculty Fellowship and by a grant from Harvard Law School.
Stein is currently working at the United Nations on a human rights convention for persons with disabilities, as well as some interdisciplinary research projects concerning disability issues in the Asia-Pacific rim. He recently addressed the Japan Diet (Parliament) about their disability-related employment laws, and consults with other governments on similar issues.
"Wiliam & Mary is a wonderful and encouraging environment, especially for junior faculty," notes Stein. For someone who was drawn to teaching at an early age, it is hardly surprising that he is also very enthusiastic when asked about those he teaches. Students at William & Mary, he says, are "just wonderful to teach. They are also really nice people."