A Festschrift Honoring Michael Meltsner

fest•schrift: a volume of writings by different authors presented as a tribute or memorial especially to a scholar.

Biography and list of Professor Meltsner's work


Introduction 

Be Like Mike: A Festschrift Honoring the Life and Work of Professor Michael Meltsner

Daniel S. Medwed*

*Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, Northeastern University School of Law

It was a true privilege to organize this symposium in honor of a legendary, even revolutionary figure in legal circles: Michael Meltsner.  

The following tributes from Carol Steiker, Rose Zoltek-Jick, Margaret Burnham, Mark Brodin, Evan Mandery and Corinna Lain tell just part of the story of Michael’s marvelous career not only because he has led a life of unusual richness that is difficult to distill into a series of essays, but because he continues to generate new, meaty chapters.

Hired by Thurgood Marshall in the 1960s to join the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP, Michael fought to desegregate hospitals in the Jim Crow South.  He also served as the architect of the game plan that led to the abolition of capital punishment for a brief period of time in the 1970s.  His focus on the discriminatory impact of the death penalty’s application, rather than the morality of the “ultimate” punishment, has salience today and remains a vibrant advocacy tool in the continued fight for abolition.  He later emerged as a pioneer in the nascent movement toward clinical legal education before becoming dean of Northeastern University School of Law in the 1980s.

Michael’s capacity for professional reinvention is astonishing.  After his deanship, he engaged in teaching, research and writing.  But he did not stop there, as so many of us do.  He became a therapist committed to helping married couples work through their differences; he wrote plays; and he developed a knack for producing spirited op-eds.  From my own mid-career perch, I view Michael as a template for personal and professional growth: a beacon leading me outside my professional comfort zone, encouraging me to evolve and take on new challenges—and, in the process, remain fully engaged.

Michael is one of the first people I consult when working on a new writing project.  And one of the few who will offer honest feedback, including harsh critiques when warranted. He is my co-author on numerous op-ed pieces, and my companion during coffee breaks across the river in Cambridge.   Most of all, he is my friend.

Please enjoy these links to tributes from other scholars:

Michael has lived his life in the law with passion, marrying scholarship and activism, lawyering and educating lawyers, defying silos of genre, convention and conceptions as to what defines a career...
Michael leaves us with words of hope—words that give me strength in my own work to keep shining a harsh and unrelenting light on the pernicious practice of state execution...
Michael, at the ripe old age of 32, was already a civil rights legend...
Michael is chock full of core values. An unwavering commitment to justice and equality. A rejection of legal constructs that allow the law to dodge those moral imperatives. A determination to make a difference...
...in his spare time—when he wasn’t overturning the death penalty or representing Muhammad Ali or deaning or bringing families back together, Michael was one of the pioneers of clinical legal education...
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