Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Meet Gillian E. Metzger, Professor and Vice Dean at Columbia Law School

by Nina Hart

Meet Gillian E. Metzger, the Stanley H. Fuld Professor of Law and Vice Dean at Columbia Law School. Below, she discusses her longstanding enthusiasm for administrative law, as well as her insights about current issues facing practitioners.

1.  What led you to a career in law?

I was torn between academia and wanting to have a more practical impact on the things I cared about. What I love about the law is that you can do both. In fact, one of the great things about law is the number of things you can do—it is a unique profession in that way. Prior to law school, I worked for a union for a year, and then got my Master’s in Philosophy from Oxford.

2.  What experiences with administrative or regulatory law have you had?

Before law school, I worked for a city government for a few years. After graduating, I clerked for Judge Patricia Wald on the D.C. Circuit. I have taught Administrative Law for 11 years, written about it, and advise a number of nonprofit groups.

3.  How did you become interested in studying and teaching administrative law?

I have always been fascinated by government and how it works, and the idea of government being a tool for addressing problems. How do you make government work, and make effective solutions? When I was clerking, I realized that, although I may not have loved every aspect of the FERC cases, I did find the minutiae of regulatory cases fascinating.

4.  How would you characterize the dialogue between academics and practitioners with regards to administrative law? Are there ways to improve how professors, agencies, and advocates work together to shape or change administrative law? Are there specific issues related to regulation development or review that you think warrant a greater degree of collaboration between academics and practitioners?

I think in the context of administrative law, the dialogue is interesting. There are groups like the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), of which I am a public member, that link practitioners—government and private practice—and academics. In the DC legal world, people move to government and firms and back, which creates many connections. As a result, I think there is a level of communication that may be unusual.

It is also the case that, within the academic field of administrative law, there are different camps. There are those who are more oriented toward what is considered traditional administrative law practice, and they interface the most with practitioners. There are other academics that are more interested in theories of regulation and public choice, issues of institutional design, and economics or cognitive and behavioral approaches. These issues have a lot of bearing for practice, but these academics interface more with people involved in policy and government regulation such as Cass Sunstein.

Organizations such as ACUS are critical to improving communication. The different ACUS committees, in which all government officials, academics, and private practitioners work together, provide a lot of context to the legal issues under consideration. Other areas that could benefit from greater collaboration are approaches to enforcement and the OIRA review process. This is particularly true in an era of what is clearly going to be one of diminished resources, which presents a big challenge for regulation and government. It would be useful for more academics to focus on this challenge.

5.  What do you think is the biggest challenge facing administrative law practitioners?

We are working in a world of increasing resource constraints, and practitioners necessarily face the challenge of prioritization while continuing to ensure effective government.

6.  For law students or new attorneys considering a career in administrative law, what do you think would be a good way of familiarizing themselves with the field?

It is great for students to take substantive area courses. What can be learned in administrative law can also be learned in those courses, but they also allow students to engage more with a particular field. Clerking for any circuit is a great experience because it constantly exposes you to different issues. There are a number of areas that are not traditionally thought of as within administrative law, such as financial regulation, but these areas are a major challenge for administrative law. A number of law schools, such as Columbia Law School, have extensive resources related to administrative law and these other areas. Students should take advantage of this synergy, and explore the areas that interest them.

7.  Outside of the law, what are your favorite activities or hobbies?

I have two children who—I don’t know if they would want to be known as an “activity” or “hobby”—keep me busy!


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