Once Miriam Seifter began taking classes at Harvard Law School, she knew she was interested in becoming a law professor some day.
Before arriving at the University of Wisconsin Law School, she put together an impressive resume, including clerkships at the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and working for a private law firm in San Francisco.
“Being in academia now, rather than in an advocacy setting, allows me to be more reflective about the law,” said Seifter, who teaches courses in administrative law, property law and energy law. “And I hope that my varied experience helps me be a better law professor.”
As for specializing in administrative law – which some may find dry – she said it was one of her favorite classes in law school and one that the D.C. Circuit specializes in.
“You tell people you study administrative law and their eyes may start to glaze with boredom,” said Seifter, who served as a clerk to Chief Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated earlier this year by President Barack Obama for the U.S. Supreme Court. “But there are a lot of really fascinating issues involving the separation of powers, Due Process, interest group politics and federalism. It’s also very practical, because at some point agencies and regulations affect us all.”
Her time working with Judge Garland, as well as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, allows Seifter to share with students how to successfully dissect unfamiliar cases.
“As a law clerk you get a lot of practice analyzing cases on topics that are new to you. I think it’s a helpful skill for law students and attorneys to develop — figuring out quickly what a dispute is really about and what the hard questions are,” she said.
Seifter loves teaching, although the learning goes both ways.
“You always learn from your students. I definitely learn from mine. Students come in with fresh eyes and so many different perspectives,” she said.
UW Law School is a great fit for Seifter.
“I have long admired the UW and its law school,” she said. “The law school has a wonderful faculty community and a strong interdisciplinary tradition. There is so much going on here, both at the law school and across the university.”
Wisconsin Law Journal: What makes your work important to you?
Miriam Seifter: I value thinking constructively about the law, both in my teaching and my scholarship. For me, the difference between academia and my prior work in law practice has been the opportunity to take time to reflect about the legal system. Writing and teaching are opportunities to figure out where the problems are (and aren’t) and what better would look like. Teaching is a special privilege. Our students are wonderful — smart, thoughtful and genuinely kind.
WLJ: Who is your hero in the legal field?
Seifter: My legal heroes are the two judges for whom I clerked, Chief Judge Merrick Garland and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Both are devoted public servants, fair to the core, and staggeringly hard workers. Justice Ginsburg’s lifetime of work toward equality — as a litigant, a law professor and a jurist — is evidence of how substantially a single person can change the world. I’m so happy that Judge Garland, too, has been nominated to serve on the Supreme Court. His professionalism, even-handedness and commitment to finding common ground would make him a tremendous justice.
WLJ: What do you do outside of work to deal with stress from the office?
Seifter: I love what I do, and even when the hours are long, I don’t find it stressful. I feel very lucky to be able to say that. My favorite things to do when I’m not at work are to spend time with my family and to spend time outdoors. My husband and I have a toddler and a baby who are the sweetest and most hilarious little people on the planet (I’m biased). And I love to run, bike, swim and cheer for college sports. My 2-year-old says things like “Nigel Hayes from way downtown!”
WLJ: What’s one thing many people get wrong about what you do?
Seifter: People think Administrative Law is boring. It does have a very boring name. But it’s really the study of how government works and how power should be allocated in society. What could be more interesting than that?
WLJ: What’s your favorite memory from law school?
Seifter: Intramural basketball … and graduation.
WLJ: Is there a certain case that stands out to you?
Seifter: I think that Morrison v. Olson is a rich case for understanding the federal executive branch. On a lighter note, when I teach statutory interpretation, I like teaching Yates v. United States, in which the question is whether a fish is a “tangible object” within the meaning of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The opinions are short and clear and feature what must be an all-time record for fish puns.