Class of 2014 Professor of Law Laura A. Heymann is the 2012 recipient of the College of William & Mary’s Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award. She is the first law professor to achieve this honor. Heymann will receive the Award at a ceremony February 3 as part of the College’s Charter Day celebration.
The Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award was established in 1970 to recognize annually a faculty member at the College with fewer than 10 years of service whose “personal character, concern as a teacher, and influence has demonstrated the stimulation and inspiration of learning for the betterment of the individual and society as exemplified by the life of Thomas Jefferson.”
“Professor Heymann is an outstanding choice for this award,” says Law School Dean Davison M. Douglas. “Her dedication to her students, her commitment to both the Law School and College, and her recognition as a leader in her academic field make her a natural choice for the law school’s inaugural recipient. We are very proud of Professor Heymann and look forward to watching her career continue to flourish.”
Heymann, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley School of Law and Yale University, joined the faculty in 2005. She was selected by the 2008 graduating class as the recipient of the Walter L. Williams, Jr., Memorial Teaching Award. In 2011, the College of William & Mary conferred tenure on her and promoted her to Professor of Law.
Heymann teaches Torts to first-year students as well as intellectual property courses to upper-level students. Although her research interests lie primarily in the fields of copyright law and trademark law, she notes that each of her classes affords her the opportunity to highlight the ambiguities and complexities of the law. “I look forward to the first day of class each semester,” Heymann says. “I want to help students understand that the practice of law often involves questioning assumptions and exercising judgment. Should someone who causes an accident be held legally responsible for the injuries that result? Should the law protect the logo a company uses to sell running shoes? When might advising a client not to pursue a case be the right thing to do? I’m delighted when students really engage with such issues – even more so when our conversation causes a student (or me) to think about things in a different or more nuanced way.”
Technology plays a central role in each of Heymann’s class sessions. In Torts, that might involve showing photographs of the parties in a negligence case or a video of a defective car exploding. In Copyright Law, students hear clips of the songs at the heart of an infringement case, look at the sheet music for each, and then decide which type of presentation would be more compelling to a jury. “In every class, my goal is to make the cases come alive for my students,” says Heymann. “I want them to see that the cases we’re studying together are not mere academic exercises but involve real clients with real problems. And it’s not a one-way street: students will often alert me to great material for future classes.”
This sense of shared experience and the community that William & Mary creates among its students and faculty are particularly appreciated by Heymann. “I know that many of my colleagues hear from students long after they’ve graduated with updates on their personal and professional accomplishments,” she said. “I’m grateful that they let us know how they’re doing. And when students report that a legal issue that we studied in class has become the focus of one of their work assignments, I think I’m as excited as they are.”
“Professor Heymann is sincerely committed to enhancing the experience of every student,” says Emily J. Powell ‘09, who was in Heymann’s Fall 2006 Torts class. “She demonstrates this not only through well-prepared lectures, but also by encouraging students to understand the policies that underlie the law, to connect legal concepts to students’ every day experiences, and to explore and engage in other aspects of law school and the legal field.”
Jacqueline Chung ’08 points to Heymann as a role model for her own career. “Professor Heymann taught me, by her own example, about the importance of professionalism, preparedness and hard work. I believe that I am a better attorney today because of the lessons I learned from her.”
William & Mary Law School Professor Trotter Hardy, who also teaches intellectual property courses, says Heymann’s teaching is exceptional. “In a law school with very high standards for teaching, Laura stands out among the best. She is a superb scholar as well. When we asked academics around the country to review her work, many commented on how substantial and mature her scholarly contribution to the field of intellectual property has been.”
Heymann’s scholarship is already having a significant impact in the academic community, says Paul Marcus, Haynes Professor of Law. “As a scholar, her achievements are so impressive it is hard to imagine she has been with us for such a relatively short period,” he says.
Heymann hopes that her research provides a useful contribution to the ongoing debates in intellectual property law. “I’m very happy when other scholars and practitioners respond to my work. It’s wonderful to be part of the discussion about the future of intellectual property law and to engage with -- and learn from -- the leading academics in the field. But there is something special about overhearing students debating a legal issue or having a student send me a news article that reminded him or her of something we discussed in class. One of my favorite things is when students suddenly realize that they have the tools to analyze some tort, copyright, or trademark issue they’ve read about in the news. That’s a real ‘light bulb’ moment, and when it happens, I feel as if I’ve done my job.”