Faculty Profile: A Conversation With Professor Rebecca Green

  • Rebecca Green
    Rebecca Green  Rebecca Green is Professor of the Practice of Law and Co-Director of the Election Law Program, a joint project of the Law School and the National Center for State Courts.  Colonial Photography
  • Rebecca Green
    Rebecca Green  Green holds class on a spring day in the law school's courtyard.  Photo by David F. Morrill
  • Rebecca Green
    Rebecca Green  Election Law Society students Allison Davis '16 and Ashley Eick '16 helped answer voters’ questions during Election Day 2013.  Photo by David F. Morrill
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Rebecca Green’s career path proves that maintaining diverse interests and keeping an open mind can lead to unexpected and rewarding outcomes. Originally intending to practice international trade law, she began to focus on media law and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as a law student at Harvard. She has since become involved in election law, a major focus of her teaching, scholarship, and work as Professor of Practice and co-director of William & Mary’s Election Law Program (ELP).

During college, Green spent a semester in Beijing and lived in Taiwan after graduation, exploring her interest in Chinese language and history. She went on to earn a master’s degree in Chinese legal history from Harvard and then worked in Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) assisting in U.S.-China trade negotiations during the Clinton administration. Impressed by the attorneys at USTR, particularly by then-U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky, Green chose to pursue a law degree.

“I entered law school relatively late, at age 28,” Green says. “I found it an incredibly stimulating experience.”

At Harvard Law, Green took international trade courses, but became increasingly interested in privacy law, intellectual property law, and Internet law—all components of media law. She also mediated in small-claims court during her 1L year and later became training director of the Harvard Mediation Program.

Green began her legal career at Hill & Barlow in Boston, a firm with an in-house literary agency and prominent media law practice. She represented journalists and authors and pursued her interest in ADR, assisting with arbitrations and mediating civil cases pro bono in Boston Municipal Court.

After a move to Williamsburg, Green began teaching privacy law, media law, and ADR at William & Mary. Always open to new opportunities, she jumped at the opportunity to take on election law when the opportunity arose. Asked to manage William & Mary’s Election Law Program in 2008 while then-professor Davison Douglas took sabbatical, she became its permanent co-director the following year. Despite the steep learning curve to teach election law, Green notes that the active community of scholars in the field and her fascination with the subject made it an ideal challenge.

Given her background, Green’s scholarship approaches election law in unique ways. She researches the intersection of privacy and election law by examining such topics as election administration transparency and political privacy. Drawing on her background in ADR, Green has also written about the use of ADR in election disputes. One of her first articles argued that, contrary to popular assumptions, mediation can play an effective role in post-election disputes.

“I argued that while ADR might not be suitable for outcome-determinative post-election disputes, process disputes—of which there are many in post-election clashes—can benefit from mediated approaches,” she says.

A current research project examines transparency in elections. Green argues that as voting undergoes dramatic transformation in this country and as our information architecture rapidly changes, states should revisit outdated election transparency statutes—ideally well before Election Day.

“As election data becomes increasingly digitized, opportunities for election transparency widen,” Green says. “However, greater transparency can be a double-edged sword as individuals and organizations increasingly use election data not for election oversight but for purposes that could threaten political participation.”

As co-director of ELP, Green helps coordinate the program’s many activities. She supervises the nationally recognized State of Elections blog, a student blog with original stories covering election law topics in the 50 states. On statewide and national election days, Green also supervises students running a non-partisan voter assistance hotline called VOTEline. “It’s a great opportunity for students to learn about Virginia election administration and see how that process works,” she says.

In 2010, ELP received a grant to run election law “war games” in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Virginia (three important swing states in the 2012 election). According to Green, the war game simulations had a twofold purpose: to educate state judges on election law topics in advance of the 2012 election and to troubleshoot state election laws in an effort to prompt reform.

Under Green’s supervision, William & Mary students developed the simulation facts and drafted the briefs, which practicing state election lawyers used to argue in moot court format at state judicial conferences. The exercises proved useful in educating hundreds of state judges about election law topics and providing election administrators a window into nightmare scenarios to fix before Election Day. Videos and written materials from the War Games are available at the ELP’s resource page, www.electionlawissues.org.

Green notes other activities of the ELP: after the 2012 election, President Obama established the Presidential Commission on Election Administration to evaluate and improve election processes.  The President appointed two of ELP’s advisory board members, Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, to co-chair the Commission. After the Commission’s formation, under Green’s supervision, five William & Mary Law election law students have conducted research for the Commission, which will issue its final report this spring.

Green also supervises student writing projects on election law topics. Last year, Green and Professor Jayne Barnard supervised two students writing an amicus brief on a felon disenfranchisement case in federal district court in Richmond. Green also supervised a group of students in drafting an ABA Standing Committee on Election Law-sponsored report on election delays in 2012. This year, Green is supervising five students drafting an ABA-commissioned white paper on election reform that will serve as the basis for a series of ABA town hall meetings around the country.

Green is also active in connecting William & Mary Law students with opportunities in the election law field. “Most people assume practicing election law means representing candidates or campaigns,” Green says. “While this is indeed one aspect of the field, it’s much broader than that, such as advising individuals, companies, and organizations on political giving and lobbying; representing plaintiffs and defendants in voting rights matters; and working with state and local governments to ensure that elections run smoothly.”

She continues, “Ten years ago, only a small cadre of lawyers practiced in this field. Since Bush v. Gore in 2000, the field has exploded.”

Campaign finance, lobbying, election administration, campaign and nonprofit work are just some of the many opportunities for law students with experience in election law. To help law students gain this experience, ELP offers a wide range of election law courses and independent writing and blogging opportunities; maintains an internship and job database of organizations and individuals in the field; runs an annual networking event in Washington, D.C., to connect students with alumni and election law professionals; and runs an election law speaker series bringing high-level election law practitioners to campus.

Green is dedicated to opening election law opportunities to interested students. “In addition to helping students access the wealth of internship and job opportunities in this field, I see a higher purpose as well: helping William & Mary students become sophisticated and knowledgeable democratic citizens.”

About William & Mary Law School

Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation.  Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.