Fond farewell: Law professor retires after 36-year career

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

Two numbers -- 36 and 20 -- stand out in the career of University of Michigan Law School Professor Lawrence Waggoner. He is ending a 36-year teaching career and concluding 20 years of work on one of law's guiding documents.

The teaching career came to an end on Dec. 6 when Waggoner taught his last Trusts and Estates class at the law school.

In a time-honored Michigan Law School tradition, Waggoner was "clapped out" by students and fellow law faculty on his last day. They heartily applauded in recognition of his contributions to both education and legal scholarship.

At the same time that Waggoner wraps up his teaching career, his 20-year participation in the Restatement of Property: Wills and Other Donative Transfers for the American Law Institute comes to an end

The third and final volume of the Restatement from the ALI includes sections modernizing the law of future interests and recognizes issues arising from advances in reproductive science, including posthumous conception and sperm and egg donations. The ALI's press release on the third volume can be found at Earlier volumes of the Restatement were published in 1999 and 2003.

After graduating from University of Michigan Law School in 1963, Lawrence Waggoner traveled the world, serving as an officer in the U.S. Army from 1966-1968 and earning a doctorate from Oxford as a Fulbright Scholar.

But he returned to U-M for good in 1974 and launched a long, successful career as an academic. The Lewis M. Simes Professor of Law, Waggoner is the nation's most recognizable authority on trust and estate law. Media figures like Jane Bryant Quinn regularly quote him on the subject.

Throughout his career, Waggoner has juggled his dual occupations.

"The roles of teacher and scholar have been inseparable for me," he says. "The law reform work I do on the Restatement has an impact on how I teach. The things I learn in the classroom -- teachers learn from students, as well -- have an influence on the Restatement."

Will he miss the interaction with students? "Yes, I really love our students. I think they're terrific."

The American Law Institute drafts, discusses, revises and publishes Restatements of law and model statutes that are influential in courts and legislatures. In recent years the Institute's influence has even become international in scope.

As the "reporter" for the Restatement, Waggoner assembles and researches the early drafts, which are then intensively reviewed.

"Every Restatement goes through several layers of review before it even goes to the full membership for review," says Waggoner. "The members of the Institute are not just law professors. They are also judges and leading practitioners at both the federal and state level. "

The origin of the Restatements was as aggregations of the law on a subject, without interpretation or suggestions.

"The Restatements started out to synthesize the law," Waggoner says. "But now they are basically what the Institute thinks the law should be."

He has also been involved in drafting Uniform Statutes with the Uniform Law Commission. He was the reporter for the Uniform Probate Code, which is the basis for the Michigan Probate Code (known as the Estates and Protected Individuals Code).

The Restatements don't have any legal power in and of themselves.

"The only power the Restatements have is the power of persuasion," Waggoner says, "and that depends on them being persuasive."

Published: Thu, Dec 29, 2011