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Richardson energizes property law as Gamm Scholar

April 23, 2015

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During a March 27 Property Roundtable panel with law Professor Lee Anne Fennell (left) from the University of Chicago, Tulane Professor Sally Brown Richardson discussed her work in progress “Reframing Ameliorative Waste.” The paper has been accepted for presentation at the Junior Faculty Forum sponsored by Harvard, Stanford and Yale law schools in June.

In just three years on the Tulane Law faculty, Professor Sally Brown Richardson has struck an enviable balance: she travels easily among the top property law scholars in the United States — and she’s one of the most popular teachers in the building.

Her secret? She fosters scholarship by exploring novel property perspectives with enthusiasm that engages scholars and students alike.

For her innovative and distinctive work, Richardson recently was named the newest Gordon Gamm Faculty Scholar, an award to support early-career Tulane professors, made possible by a gift from retired trial lawyer Gordon Gamm (L ’70) and his wife, Grace. 

Richardson’s research has obvious current applications along with being forward-thinking. For instance, one of her latest projects examines ways that technology complicates divorce: Do spouses have a right to read each other’s texts and emails? That’s a tricky issue in community property states, where anything written during a marriage is community property and jointly owned. And when a couple splits, can spouses use correspondence against each other to uncover hidden assets, secure spousal support and gain child custody?

A seminar Richardson started teaching at Tulane in the spring explores cutting-edge property topics beyond basic ownership and possession: Should someone be able to own part of the moon — or outer space? Whom can Louisiana landowners sue when they lose their property to coastal erosion? What about your iCloud data — does Apple get ownership or do you? Who owns the Earth’s stratosphere, where Google flies balloons that host wireless networks from the sky? 

Richardson teaches both civil and common law, and her creative approach to learning makes her a favorite among students. They pack her classes, and for two years running they’ve put their money on her as the upper-class professor they’d most like to see teach in a Halloween costume, for a Phi Alpha Delta fundraiser benefitting a local homeless shelter. 

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Professor Sally Richardson, faculty sponsor for Tulane’s Civil Law Society and Federal Bar Association student chapter, meets with incoming students during fall 2014 orientation.

“What sets Professor Richardson apart is her enthusiasm,” said Jeff Gelpi (L ’15), who took Richardson’s two civil law property classes. “I’ve never seen another professor as excited about a subject. She made learning fun.”

Dean David Meyer said Richardson was a natural choice as the second Gamm Scholar recipient.

“Sally Richardson is doing creative work that has powerful potential payoff in contemporary society,” Meyer said. “The resources made available as the Gamm Faculty Scholar will enable her to bring that work to wider audiences on the national stage and to raise Tulane’s visibility and impact.”   

With support from Gamm Scholar resources, Richardson is bringing top property law scholars to campus.

“The Gordon Gamm Faculty Scholar position creates the opportunity for me to simultaneously network with top scholars in the field and present my own scholarship,” Richardson said. “It's an incredible opportunity that allows me to further develop my work while also enhancing the intellectual life at Tulane.”

She organized the inaugural Tulane Property Roundtable, which in late March drew scholars from universities across the United States to discuss their works in progress, covering topics such as ways private property ownership can maximize social welfare; individual ownership rights on Indian reservations; and restrictions on using land for high-risk activities. 

“The first roundtable was terrific,” Richardson said. “It was great exchange of different points of view on different trends in property law.”

She’s aiming for a second roundtable and is working on the annual conference of the American Society of Comparative Law Younger Comparativists Committee, which Tulane will host for the first time in 2016. Members of the Younger Comparativists Committee are in their first decade of teaching, and their annual meeting draws more than 100 scholars to debate public and private comparative law issues.

Her paper "Reframing Ameliorative Waste" recently was selected for presentation in June at the Junior Faculty Forum, a premier showcase sponsored annually by Harvard, Stanford and Yale law schools. Papers are chosen through nationwide blind judging for the workshop, where rising academic stars receive feedback from senior scholars.

Richardson’s other recent writing includes an article rethinking adverse possession that’s forthcoming in the Houston Law Review and a new edition of the textbook Community Property in the United States that she co-authored.

Before attending law school at Louisiana State University, Richardson spent a year as deputy communications director for then-U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, whom she also had worked for while an undergraduate at Georgetown University. Richardson clerked for Judge W. Eugene Davis on the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals and handled energy regulation and litigation at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s Washington, D.C., office prior to joining the Tulane faculty and focusing on property.

Along with making her classes fresh and fun, she has helped encourage students’ extracurricular involvement as faculty adviser to Tulane’s Civil Law Society and the Federal Bar Association student chapter. 

“Professor Richardson is hands-down the best professor I’ve had at Tulane Law,” said Janet Kearney (L ’15), who’s taken three classes with her. “She is energetic about her subject and an incredibly clear communicator. She is also a strong supporter outside the classroom. She is willing to mentor her students, serve as a reference or just be a listening ear.”

Richardson succeeds Professor Saru Matambanadzo, the law school’s inaugural Gordon Gamm Faculty Scholar, who drew on support from the Gamms in hosting a major academic conference on law and inequality in November 2014.


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