This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Tort reform expert to speak at Law School

Published: October 14, 2004

Reporter Editor

Has the legal system gone crazy with greedy citizens, frivolous lawsuits and reckless lawyers? As the presidential candidates debate the issue of tort reform, members of the UB community will have the opportunity to hear an expert on this issue when Michael McCann, director of the Law, Societies and Justice Program at the University of Washington, speaks at 4 p.m. on Oct. 25 in 545 O'Brian Hall, North Campus.

McCann is one of two distinguished scholars the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy in the UB Law School is bringing to campus as part of the month-long, university-wide celebration of the investiture of John B. Simpson as UB's 14th president.

The other scholar, Annelise Riles, director of the Clarke Program in East Asian Law and Culture at Cornell Law School, will speak on "The Aesthetics of Rule-of-Law Reform: The Case of Japanese Financial Regulation" at 4 p.m. on Monday in 545 O'Brian. The lecture is cosponsored by the Asian Studies Program in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Both lectures will be free of charge and open to the public.

McCann, who also holds an appointment as Gordon Hirabayashi Professor for the Advancement of Citizenship at the University of Washington, will discuss recent trends in tort law and address the role that the media plays in reporting on lawsuits, such as the McDonald's hot coffee case, and the litigation against the tobacco companies, according to Lynn Mather, director of the Baldy Center and professor of law and political science. The lecture, entitled "Distorting the Law: Politics, Media and the Litigation Crisis," which also is the title of McCann's most recent book, is cosponsored by the Law School and the Department of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences.

A former chair of the political science department at the University of Washington, McCann's other books include "Taking Reform Seriously: Perspectives on Public Interest Liberalism" and "Rights at Work: Pay Equity Reform and the Politics of Legal Mobilization," which won both the Pritchett Prize for best book by the Law and Courts section of the American Political Science Association and the Law and Society Association biennial best book prize.

He has published essays in Law & Society Review, Law and Social Inquiry and other journals, as well as in edited books, on such topics as the politics of legal mobilization challenging racial, gender and class discrimination; law and social movements; how the U.S. Supreme Court matters; the politics of cause lawyering; "new property" rights and environmentalism; everyday disputing and legal resistance, and rights consciousness among ordinary citizens.

Among McCann's current projects are finishing a long review essay assessing recent studies of U.S. civil rights politics during the Cold War era, organizing a book collection of essays about law and social movements in comparative perspective and developing a new book project exploring how routine media coverage eviscerates the logic of "public responsibility" advanced by public interest litigation against U.S corporations.

Riles' lecture will address the role of law in Japanese financial regulation, a topic that is particularly important given that Asian financial markets have an extraordinary impact on the rest of the world, Mather points out.

A legal anthropologist, Riles spent 17 months conducting fieldwork in Tokyo, Mather says. "In particular, she studied the derivative market, in which representatives of large financial institutions agree to swap one currency for another at some future date. Her research focuses on the lawyers and bureaucrats who advise the banks handling these transactions," she says.

Riles' talk will provide those with an interest in law, economics and finance in Asia an opportunity to hear from a scholar who studies that topic in great length, Mather adds.

In her lecture, Riles will draw on ethnographic research among one group of Japanese lawyers reforming the financial regulatory to explore one often-ignored dimension of legal knowledge: its aesthetic dimension. She will argue that attention to legal aesthetics explains both the commitments these reforms generate, as well as well as the surprising shield they provide from the forces of globalization, even as they are carried out in the name of market globalization itself.

A specialist in comparative and international law and East Asia-Pacific region legal studies, Riles holds an appointment in the Department of Anthropology at Cornell, as well in the law school. She has taught at Yale Law School and University of the South Pacific, and was a tenured professor on the law faculty at Northwestern University.

She also has served as a consultant to the Fiji Constitutional Review Commission, and as a research fellow at the American Bar Association.

Riles earned a bachelor's degree from Princeton University, a master's degree from the London School of Economics, a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. from Cambridge University.

For more information about the lectures, contact the Baldy Center at 645-2102 or