As a professor of law, Gwendolyn Leachman offers her students both an out-of-the-ordinary way of looking at legal topics as well as a singular dedication to inclusiveness.
Leachman joined the University of Wisconsin Law School staff in 2014 to teach labor relations, employment discrimination and torts. She is also a subject-matter expert on legal issues relating to sexual orientation and identity.
Before arriving in Wisconsin, she was a teaching fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. She earned her J.D., along with a Ph.D. in jurisprudence and social policy, from the University of California, Berkley.
Leachman prides herself on her empirical research, something that is not necessarily common in the legal profession. Her preference for this method comes in part from that fact that, even when she was still in law school, she knew she wanted to teach.
“I always did have a passion for helping others learn, and a passion for higher education,” she said.
Her proclivities made the University of Wisconsin almost a natural fit. She noted that the law school is well known for conducting research that combines aspects of sociology and law, which “makes this my absolutely ideal home.”
She said she wishes it were more common that universities concentrated not solely on legal doctrine but also what the law can mean in general for society.
“It shouldn’t be that outrageous, but it’s very unique for a law school to have that as a central point,” she said.
Leachman also considers it important she be someone whom students from minority groups can look up to.
“It’s very important to make sure students are well respected and their views are welcome in the classroom,” Leachman said.
As a doctoral candidate, she won honors for her dissertation examining what litigation has meant for the LGBT movement’s primary goals and message. Leachman is now working on turning that research into a full-length book, which she hopes to be finished within a year or two.
“I’m finding the issues the movement has litigated has been able to dominate the LGBT agenda,” she said of her research.
Leachman’s work beyond the classroom has let her extend her teachings beyond students.
In nominating Leachman, Margaret Raymond, dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School, pointed out that she does not shy away from the media. Leachman, for instance, has used recent events such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2015 on marriage equality “to help explain often complex legal topics to the public.”
Leachman said these occasions also give her a chance to talk about things that are out of the limelight. She said both the media and public tend to turn their attention away from the LGBT movement once it achieves a certain goal, such as securing the right for same-sex couples to marry. In reality, she said, there are far more hurdles to cross.