February 25, 2015
Tulane Law Professor Ed Sherman offers historical context for Kafka’s The Trial during his seminar on law and literature, as Alex Johnson (L ’16) listens.
Professor Ed Sherman, newly appointed to the David Boies Distinguished Chair in Law, pioneered Alternative Dispute Resolution techniques. He gets quoted on the twists and turns of the BP litigation and other landmark lawsuits by numerous media, from The New York Times and NPR to fuelfix.com. He writes law journal articles untangling the complexities of class actions and mass disasters.
But on a January Monday, Sherman was exploring Kafka.
During the spring semester, he’s teaching a seminar called “The Legal System, Legal Profession and Justice” with Robert Sloan, former executive vice president and general counsel of Entergy. The second reading assignment was The Trial, Kafka’s 1925 novel about a falsely accused man whose nightmarish encounter with the legal system epitomizes the term “Kafkaesque.”
“If you had to describe the plot in one or two sentences, what would you say?” Sherman asked to stimulate discussion. “Is it the disintegration of K?” he nudged, referring to Joseph K, the book’s main character. “Is this essentially a metaphor for the legal system?”
After more than five decades as a lawyer — some 48 years of it spent teaching law — Sherman understands some of the legal system’s deepest complexities and has been widely involved in working to improve it. His varied career has included defending the Ku Klux Klan’s free-speech rights to march on public streets (he hates the KKK but believes in the First Amendment); represented service members as a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps; mediated numerous consumer disputes; written seven books and nearly 100 scholarly articles and book reviews; and testified many dozens of times on whether suits should be designated as class actions.
It’s a fitting tribute that Sherman should hold the David Boies Chair, which was endowed by the renowned trial attorney who, among many notable clients, represented the U.S. Justice Department in its antitrust case against Microsoft, Vice President Al Gore during the 2000 election recount in Florida and plaintiffs who got California’s ban on same-sex marriage overturned.
Two of Boies’ children are Tulane Law graduates, Jonathan Boies (L ’97), who attended during Sherman’s deanship, and the late Caryl Louise Boies Reilly (L ’87).
“I’m pleased to have the chair that has David Boies’ name on it. He’s one of our great lawyers,” Sherman said. “He’s demonstrated great lawyering skills but also a lot of concern about issues.”
Tulane Law student Claire Galley (L ’16), co-instructor Bob Sloan and Tulane Law Professor Ed Sherman enjoy a student’s discussion of Kafka’s novel The Trial.
Sherman came to Tulane as dean in 1996 after 19 years at the University of Texas School of Law. He served until 2001 and has continued to teach a range of classes, including alternative dispute resolution, civil procedure, complex litigation, international law and arbitration, constitution law, military law and national security law.
He’s known across the United States for his teaching, writing and extensive leadership with American Bar Association task forces on, among other topics, disaster insurance coverage, asbestos and class actions. The ABA twice honored him with major awards for his work.
Internationally, he has been a visiting professor in Dublin, Ireland; Tokyo, Japan; and Sydney, Australia. And he worked on drafting a new civil procedure code for the Republic of Vietnam on a USAID project.
As dean, he helped increase Tulane Law’s study-abroad programs, including reaching out to Central America and Asia. “The world has really expanded. Tulane was really on the early part of that,” he said.
In addition to the Boies Chair, Sherman holds the Moise F. Steeg Jr. Professorship. He previously held a W.R. Irby Chair.
Dean David Meyer called the Boies Chair appointment “a well-deserved recognition of Dean Sherman's extraordinary contributions as a scholar and a fitting capstone to his exceptionally distinguished career at Tulane.”
Sherman said he plans to retire from teaching after the spring semester. But, as a professor emeritus, he’ll continue writing a treatise on complex litigation, supervising doctoral students and serving as reporter for a Louisiana Law Institute task force that’s writing a new arbitration law.
In the meantime, the law and literature seminar plans to cover Herman Melville’s Billy Budd; a new book on the late-19th-century Dreyfus case involving a French Army officer convicted of selling military secrets to Germany; and The Reader, whose author, Humboldt University Professor Bernhard Schlink, is scheduled to present Tulane’s Eason-Weinmann Lecture March 24.
For the course’s final writing requirement, students can produce a traditional paper or a fictional work, such as a short story or play that deals with jurisprudential issues raised during the class.
Attorney and author Janet McKnight (L ’09) completed that assignment in 2007 by writing a short story set in a fictional country at the beginning of a civil war sparked by the government's repression of an ethnic minority. It was published as a finalist in the New York Law Journal’s 2008 Fiction Writing Contest.
She said Sherman’s class “helped to shape the course of my writing career by introducing the idea that legal themes can be expressed and explored through fiction.”
After post-graduate work in London, she has returned to New Orleans and is compiling an anthology of short stories related to human rights, a project she credited to “Professor Sherman’s inspiring teaching.”
“I feel honored to have taken his seminar and been introduced to the value of interdisciplinary studies and to a truly well-rounded legal education at Tulane,” she said.