Law professor develops big-data approach to patent value

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

LAWRENCE — Patents have long been used by inventors to protect their creations, but for just as long it has been exceedingly difficult to accurately determine the value of patents. Even today, to value a patent in a rigorous manner is expensive, requires the hiring of patent law and economics experts, and takes a long time.

A University of Kansas law professor and his University of Washington co-author have just published a study that offers a new and powerful method to evaluate patents, either individually or grouped together into gigantic portfolios. Their new approach, based on network and big-data analysis, can instantly determine which patents are the most important, whether overall, or by owner, inventor, attorney, patent examiner or technology. Doing so allows the authors to probe for answers to previously unanswerable questions about patent law, and their novel approach to “patent analytics” has the potential to open up a new area of legal study of patents, innovation, economics and policy.

Andrew Torrance, the Earl B. Schurtz Research Professor at the KU School of Law, and Jevin West, a professor at the University of Washington Information School, have co-authored “All Patents Great and Small: A Big Data Network Approach to Valuation”, which was published March 27 in the University of Virginia Journal of Law and Technology. The article outlines the powerful methods of network analysis they used to explore and organize one of the biggest patent data sets ever compiled. Among their findings, they reveal that litigated patents tend to be much more valuable than those not litigated and that the value of litigated patents tends to rise strongly with the level of court in which litigation occurs. For example, patents litigated in federal district court (the lowest level) are, on average, more than five times more valuable than unlitigated patents, and patents that reach the U.S. Supreme Court are, on average, more than eight times more valuable.

When Torrance and West plotted the average value of litigated patents on a map depicting all the federal judicial districts in the U.S., they discovered something surprising. Not only do the average values of litigated patents vary widely from district to district (Nevada and Connecticut host litigation of extremely valuable patents), they also noticed that the largest concentration of districts with litigated patents of especially high value, occurs in a “patent hotspot” in the southern central portion of the U.S., comprising Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas. By contrast, the northern central U.S. districts tended to host litigations of low-value patents, forming a sort of “patent tundra.” Received wisdom would suggest that districts on the East and West coasts would see litigation of the most valuable patents, while the middle of the country would be “patent flyover country.” However, careful and powerful analysis of big patent data decisively refutes this assumption.

Torrance and West take advantage of huge sets of patent data made available by the United States Patent & Trademark Office. These data sets include detailed information about every U.S. patent issued from 1976 to the present. Determining patent value has been extremely difficult, given the complex nature of patent documents, the overwhelming amount of data and the traditional reliance on the opinions of patent “experts.” Instead, Torrance and West used algorithms developed to analyze vast amounts of data, including patent citation data.

“The mountain of data available on patents has become so large it’s just not possible for any individual, however brilliant, to understand, let alone master, it,” Torrance said. “What we’re doing could be called ‘big patent data analysis.’”

The approach not only can answer questions that were previously simply not answerable, it can help formulate new research questions. For example, few people would have thought to ask why valuable patents tend to be litigated in courts in Kansas and Colorado before the study, because it was widely assumed patents in the heartland were of low value. Now that the study has revealed the opposite to be true, Torrance and West intend to investigate what factors might explain the rich vein of patent gold that seems to run through federal courts in the south central region of the country.

Being able to judge the value of patents can have significant influence on the field of patent law. What has always been an expensive, slow, even artisanal process can now be done quickly, cheaply and efficiently, Torrance said, and can help patent holders, or anyone else interested in patent value, determine which ones are worth defending, which are not worth litigating, which ones to buy, sell or license and much more. Their analysis even sheds light on which inventors, law firms and patent examiners give rise to the most or least valuable patents.

“It could educate people on where the best places to litigate are. It may show we should change the laws on where it’s possible to litigate patents,” Torrance said of big-data patent analysis. “We’ve only looked at a limited set of questions so far, but the results of our first study encourage us to test a number of other basic assumptions in patent law, some of which may end up being unsupported. We think big patent data network analysis is a valuable way to probe those assumptions. It’s imperative to find out as much as we can about inventing and patenting so that we can better understand and foster innovation, which, we believe, is one of the best hopes for progress in the big issues facing humanity, like alleviating poverty, curing disease and protecting the environment.”

Interest in patent analytics and big patent data have recently reached a fever pitch. In March 2017 alone, Torrance was invited to share his expertise in the area at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, the government of Canada, in Ottawa, Canada, and to the government of Ontario in Toronto, Canada. Other attendees included leading legal analytics companies, patent-holding corporations, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and patent offices in Britain, Canada and the United States. He and West have also been invited by Cambridge University Press to contribute a chapter on patent analytics to a forthcoming book on legal analytics, and their study was recently listed on Social Science Research Network's top-10 download list for Intellectual Property: Empirical Studies eJournal.

A burgeoning field, data analytics in regard to law could open a new avenue of careers for aspiring lawyers and even change some of the skills deemed valuable in the law. The field has long been viewed as an art in which rhetorical and writing skills, for the purposes of producing strong, persuasive arguments, were considered the most valuable traits, Torrance said. But in the era of big data, complex algorithms and computer programming – the fundamentals for legal analytics – mathematical, scientific and computer science abilities are likely to rise in importance.

“There is a commonly held view that students who enter law school do so, in part, to avoid math,” Torrance said with a laugh. “But you cannot outrun math. It’s even finding its way into the law now. It was inevitable that mathematical analysis would eventually reach the law. Now it’s about to hit like a tidal wave. Math and science have always been required for patent law, so it’s no surprise that patent law is at the forefront of this trend. Patent law has always generated mountains of data, so it’s ripe for patent analytics. I think we’re going to find some very fascinating patterns in patent data, leading to the realization that we really don’t understand this area nearly as well as we thought we did. Big data and powerful analytic methods are throwing open the frontiers of patent law to a new generation of exploration. I can’t wait to be surprised by the findings that lie in wait for us. The level of interest in patent analytics and big patent data is exploding. We used to work on this research in the academic shadows, but suddenly a spotlight is shining on this area."

Law professor to be inducted into Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame

Friday, April 07, 2017

LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas law professor and former KU journalism dean will be inducted into the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame.

Mike Kautsch, a media law expert and one-time journalist who has long championed government transparency, will receive the award during the Kansas Press Association’s annual convention today, April 7, in Topeka.

“His service to the journalism profession is both wide and deep,” the association reported. “For KPA, he has served for years as a media law consultant. Whenever KPA has had a need for assistance, Mike has always been there, giving prompt and reasoned advice as KPA and others try to strengthen the state’s open government laws.”

Kautsch was instrumental in the drive to establish a reporter’s privilege in Kansas, working with state revisors of statutes, legislators, KPA staff and the state’s other media associations to pass that law in 2010. The shield law allows reporters to protect the identities of confidential sources without fear of prosecution.

After 18 years at the KU William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications, the final 10 spent as dean, Kautsch joined the KU law faculty in 1997 and launched the school’s Media, Law and Policy program. He continues to lead the program, now called Media, Law and Technology, writes about freedom of expression and freedom of information, and teaches courses such as Media and the First Amendment, Copyright Law and Digital Works, and Digital Privacy Rights in an Open Society. He has received a number of awards for teaching and advising KU students.

“I have felt privileged over the years to work with students and interact with KPA members and others who share my deep interest in the First Amendment and related areas of law,” Kautsch said.

Kautsch testifies before Kansas legislative committees on media-related bills, participates annually in planning and presenting a national Media and the Law Seminar in Kansas City and chairs the Media Bar Committee of the Kansas Bar Association. He is a charter member of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government and served for six years as a gubernatorial appointee to the Kansas Humanities Council board of directors. He is routinely quoted by major news outlets covering media law issues.

An Omaha native, Kautsch holds degrees in journalism and law from the University of Iowa. He worked as a reporter at the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Atlanta Journal prior to his career in higher education.

Kautsch and his wife, Elaine, live in Lawrence and have two grown children.

Former Wichita Eagle editor W. Davis “Buzz” Merritt Jr. will also be inducted.

KU law school launches homeland security graduate program

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas has announced the addition of three new degree programs to its Leavenworth offerings. The new programs include a Master of Science in Homeland Security: Law and Policy, Master of Science in Business and Organizational Leadership, and a Professional Science Master or Certificate in Environmental Assessment. In the fall of 2017, a total of six master’s degree programs will be taught either in the city of Leavenworth or at Fort Leavenworth.

“Each program provides a unique educational opportunity that aligns with existing military training, additional skill qualifications, and also meets the workforce demands of the public and private sectors,” said David Cook, vice chancellor, KU Edwards Campus.

With accelerated coursework and evening classes, students in Leavenworth can complete a KU master’s degree in as few as 10 months. The programs and class schedules are designed to meet the needs of professional and military careers.

“You get the prestige of a KU degree with a tailored learning experience, which is helpful for those who are juggling the military and civilian worlds. The flexibility and accessibility of these programs make it easy to become successful,” said Maj. John Fulton of the U.S. Marine Corps, who is pursuing a Master of Engineering in Project Management.

KU is an ideal partner for military personnel as they pursue their educational and career goals. For the sixth year in a row, Military Times ranked KU among the best colleges in the country for veterans.

The courses integrate both active military and civilian students, fostering rich learning opportunities and a dynamic educational environment. These programs also fill needs in quickly evolving and high-growth fields.

KU began offering courses in Leavenworth in the fall of 2016. The new programs will complement three existing offerings:

  • Master of Engineering in Project Management
  • Master of Science in Business - Supply Chain Management and Logistics
  • Master of Arts in Global and International Studies - Interagency Track

KU’s numerous online undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs are also available to individuals in Leavenworth. This includes the Military Transition Undergraduate Certificate, which helps military personnel prepare for and start a civilian career.

The Master of Science in Homeland Security: Law and Policy is pending approval by the Kansas Board of Regents and acquiescence by the American Bar Association.

To learn more about the programs in Leavenworth, visit

KU team wins national award in business law competition

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

LAWRENCE – A team of University of Kansas law students captured the Best Draft Award at the national championship rounds of the 2017 Transactional LawMeet.

Aspiring transactional lawyers Jake Ediger of Topeka, Justine Koehle of Woodland, California, and Alison Kryzer of Wichita competed at nationals March 31 in New York City after winning a regional finalist title in Kansas City, Missouri. Their purchase agreement for the buyer’s side of the competition’s mock business transaction was deemed best in the nation. 

“I am proud of our team for our hard work and dedication, and taking home the prize for best draft was a nice reward for the countless hours spent,” Ediger said. “Transactional LawMeet is perhaps one of the most practical and useful experiences I’ve had at KU Law. The skills gained from the contract drafting and negotiations will be directly applicable in my legal career.”

Transactional LawMeet teams represented either the buyers or sellers of a business. Over the course of two months, they drafted a purchase agreement, interviewed their clients and marked up opposing teams’ drafts. In February, 84 teams met at seven regional sites to negotiate a resolution. Two teams from each region were selected to compete in the national rounds. In New York, KU competed with teams from 11 other law schools, including UCLA, Georgia, Notre Dame and San Diego.

Competition judges included partners from leading law firms, corporate general counsels and other senior practitioners. They chose finalists after evaluating which teams most adeptly combined their lawyering skills, drafting, marking-up and negotiating techniques with their knowledge of corporate and other facets of business law and business sense to develop innovative solutions to negotiate a draft agreement.

“The national rounds were a great opportunity to gain feedback from experienced practitioners,” Kryzer said. “Each judge saw something new or different, so it helped to understand the nuances of the problem.”

Adjunct law professor Ken Lynn, Class of 1981, coached the team in preparation for the competition.

“I feel very lucky that KU Law is dedicated to supporting students interested in business and transactional law,” Koehle said. “I know we wouldn’t have achieved the same success without our faculty advisers and coaches.”

Photo: Alison Kryzer, Jake Ediger and Justine Koehle, pictured with professors Ken Lynn and Webb Hecker, won the Best Draft Award at the national championship rounds of the 2017 Transactional LawMeet in New York City.

Law professor part of effort to improve international arbitration cases

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

LAWRENCE — In international arbitration cases, billions of dollars and the validity of government regulations can be at stake, so it is imperative parties are able to choose the best arbitrator to settle their disputes. A University of Kansas law professor is part of a project working to improve the information available to parties in such cases, making the process fairer and more efficient and increasing the diversity of people deciding international arbitration cases.

Christopher Drahozal, the John M. Rounds Professor of Law, is a member of the board of directors of Arbitrator Intelligence, Inc., also known as AI, an entity affiliated with Penn State University that aims to promote fairness, transparency and accountability in the arbitrator selection process. When disputes arise under international treaties, contracts and investment deals, the parties often choose to submit the dispute to arbitration, where an independent third-party rules on the case, instead of the traditional court system.

“Arbitration is different from litigation in court because in arbitration the parties pick the person who resolves their dispute (the arbitrator). But arbitration can become less fair if one party has better information about prospective arbitrators than the other,” Drahozal said. “AI seeks to equalize the information available to parties selecting arbitrators by collecting and disseminating feedback on how international arbitrators manage and decide cases.”

The centerpiece of AI’s innovation is the Arbitrator Intelligence Questionnaire, or AIQ. The AIQ is a questionnaire is designed to be administered to parties at the end of a case to collect information on how the arbitrator managed and decided the case. In February, AI posted the AIQ for public comment on its webpage, and the public comment period closed March 17. AI then will incorporate the feedback into a version of the AIQ it plans to make publicly available in June.

The AIQ is designed to gather unbiased information about the arbitrator by asking parties a series of specific, typically objective questions. AI will then make the information available to parties who are seeking to select arbitrators through AI Reports, which will be a substantial improvement over the current method of gathering information about prospective arbitrators, which is through ad hoc person-to-person phone calls.

“More, and more accurate, information will empower parties, counsel, institutions and even arbitrators, to make better-informed choices in selecting arbitrators and constituting tribunals,” said Catherine Rogers, professor at Penn State Law School and founder of Arbitrator Intelligence. “It will also reduce information asymmetries that undermine the fairness of arbitrator appointments and will facilitate greater diversity by allowing newer arbitrators meaningful opportunities to establish reputations based on their actual performance.”

AI will roll out the AIQ beginning in June with events in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Peru, Panama and Mexico. By beginning in locations other than the traditional centers of arbitration in Europe and the United States, the rollout plan reflects AI’s goal of increasing the diversity of international arbitrators, Drahozal said. A recent survey by Berwin Leighton Paisner on diversity in international arbitration found that 92 percent of respondents wanted more information about new and less well-known arbitrators, and 81 percent wanted to give feedback about arbitrators at the end of cases. The 2015 Queen Mary Survey found one of the worst characteristics about of the process was “lack of insight into arbitrators’ efficiency,” and a majority of responses about improving the process listed providing more information about arbitrators, how they are appointed and their decision making.

Multinational treaties, contracts, investment and other cases can have significant stakes, both financially for the parties involved and for everyday citizens. Improving the information available about the arbitrators who decide the cases can improve the process for all involved.

“There are literally billions of dollars at stake in these cases,” Drahozal said. “In international arbitration, it’s not just about the money, but government regulations can be at stake as well. Having better information about the arbitrators deciding these cases will be very beneficial.”

Law school communications director named Employee of the Month

Friday, March 31, 2017

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas has announced the January Employees of the Month:


Name: Joanne Eden

Title: Grant officer, Office of Research

What that means: Eden is a team lead and supervises five staff members. They manage more than 900 sponsored awards, each with unique and specific attributes. Eden manages her team to correctly monitor and process all necessary budget allocations, payroll and non-payroll cost transfers, revenue balancing, financial reporting and much more. Eden is thorough, meticulous and understands her work thoroughly. She takes the time with her team to ensure that they understand the scope of their work.

Notable: Eden has such extensive experience that she is the “go-to” person for every aspect of post-award services. One person said, “We often joke that she contains more knowledge in her pinky than the rest of us put together collectively. That sounds like hyperbole, but in reality it’s so very true.” She is known to be able to untangle even the most complicated and layered problems. She is consulted by not only colleagues at the Office of Research but by procurement teams, contract officers, other grant officers as well as coordinators throughout campus.

Eden handles her work with grace and humor. She has a calm demeanor that has built strong relationships with her team and with the shared service centers. She takes the time to educate others on campus about the questions they encounter. She makes sure others have the resources needed to manage their grants.

Eden never forgets a birthday, frequently brings in fresh flowers to brighten the work area and keeps a tradition of keeping the office refrigerator stocked with ice cream. When the work load gets overwhelming, a sweet treat is there as a pick-me-up for her team and others.


Name: Mindie Paget

Title: Director of communications and marketing for the School of Law. 

What this means: In this role, Paget is charged with managing all of the communications and publications for the law school. Her tasks run the gamut from writing basic press releases to developing an overarching communications plan, to creating artwork for promotional posters.    Paget was instrumental in initiating the School of Law’s social media presence through Facebook and Twitter as well as continuing to maintain the school’s office website. Paget is responsible for producing the KU Law alumni magazine twice a year and has done a stellar job.  Her marketing and communications skills has clearly helped elevate the law school.

Notable: Paget is always willing to help with a project outside of her direct area. She is often called upon for her creative input, design skills and communication savvy.  Paget is always open to new ideas and requests for help.  In addition to running all law school's communications, she is the school’s events photographer, social media coordinator and creative director.  With limited resources, Paget does an amazing job. She is an expert writer and editor, a fantastic designer and a skilled digital strategist.

Paget is the perfect blend of professional, forthright and personable.  Paget is described by a colleague as “the friendliest person you will meet,” and another said Paget makes the law school a more pleasant work environment.  Paget is a true team player, bringing enthusiasm and reliability together graciously. As a supervisor, she provides support and guidance, empowers others and supports professional development.  

Law school to honor 4 with Distinguished Alumni Award

Monday, April 03, 2017

LAWRENCE — A veteran, a state government leader, a CEO and a managing partner will be recognized with the University of Kansas School of Law’s highest honor.

Kansas City attorney and U.S. Navy veteran Heywood Davis, Class of 1958; former Kansas Lt. Gov. Thomas Docking, Class of 1980; president and CEO of Wolfe Properties R. Dean Wolfe, Class of 1969, and six-time “Best Lawyers in America” recipient Marie Woodbury, Class of 1979, will receive the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award, which celebrates graduates for their professional achievements, contributions to the legal field and service to their communities and the university. The awards will be presented at a private dinner April 8 in Lawrence. 

After serving in the U.S. Navy, Heywood “Woody” Davis returned to his alma mater, KU, to earn his law degree. Davis served as editor-in-chief of the Kansas Law Review and was named to the Order of the Coif. After graduation, he clerked for Justice Charles E. Whittaker on the U.S. Supreme Court, then returned to Kansas City to practice law. He started as an associate with Armstrong, Teasdale, Schlafly, Davis & Dicus and currently serves as senior partner at Davis, Sands & Collins.

Thomas Docking completed his bachelor’s in political science and economics at KU in 1976 and his law degree and Master of Business Administration in 1980. He began his tax, business and estate planning practice at Regan & McGannon in Wichita. He was elected lieutenant governor of Kansas under Gov. John Carlin in 1982, serving for four years, and now practices at the Law Offices of Morris Laing. A dedicated community servant, Docking has served on numerous boards, including the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Wichita Water Conservation Task Force and the KU Endowment Association’s Far Above Campaign.

R. Dean Wolfe graduated from KU Law in 1969, then joined the law firm of Hoskins, King, McGannon & Hahn in Kansas City, specializing in tax, estate planning and commercial law. He was hired as a staff attorney for The May Department Stores Company in 1972. Wolfe was promoted to executive vice president of acquisitions and real estate in 1996 and elected to May’s board of directors in 1997, helping expand the company into 27 regional malls across the country with a market value of $17 billion. After his retirement from May, Wolfe founded Wolfe Properties LLC in 2005 and currently serves as president and CEO.

Marie Woodbury graduated from Georgetown University with an international affairs degree in 1973. She completed her law degree in 1979 at KU, where she was named to the Order of the Coif and served as articles editor of the Kansas Law Review. She began her legal career at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, specializing in pharmaceutical and medical device litigation. Woodbury received numerous professional honors before retiring from Shook after nearly 40 years. She is a six-time recipient of the Best Lawyers in America distinction, was named one of 25 Women Who Mean Business by the Kansas City Business Journal and was recognized among the Top 50 Women Super Lawyers in Missouri and Kansas.

View previous Distinguished Alumni Award recipients on the law school’s website.

The law school will also recognize James Woods Green Medallion honorees and members of the Dean’s Club. Named after the school’s first dean, the Medallion recognizes the school’s major financial supporters. This year’s honorees include:

  • Martin Bauer, Class of 1975, and Ann Bauer
  • John P. Bowman, Class of 1980
  • Mitchell Chaney, Class of 1981, and Susan Chaney
  • Tim Connell, Class of 1978
  • Dave Dillon
  • Perle and Catherine Frazee Foundation
  • Thomas K. Jones, Class of 1974, and Patricia L. Jones
  • The Kansas Bar Foundation
  • Lawrence Memorial Hospital
  • Linda L. Lee, Class of 1973
  • Chris McKenzie, Class of 1982, and Manuela Albuquerque
  • Tim O’Brien, Class of 1983, and Melinda O’Brien
  • Payne & Jones Foundation
  • Scott Sayler, Class of 1986, and Nancy Sayler
  • Scott Strohm, Class of 1995, and Tracy Strohm
  • Professor Ellen E. Sward, KU School of Law
  • James R. Walters, Class of 1975.

KU law team finishes 2nd in national Indian law moot court competition

Thursday, March 09, 2017

LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas School of Law team brought home second place after rising to compete in the final round of the 2017 National Native American Law Students Association Moot Court Competition.

KU law students Megan Carroll, of Wichita, and Bill Madden, of Topeka, placed second in the NNALSA competition held March 4-5 at the University of California-Los Angeles. Carroll also won the award for second-best oral advocate out of 128 competitors. Two additional KU teams competed at the event, including Will Easley, of Overland Park, and Nikki Marcotte, of Manhattan, as well as Nick Hayes, of Lawrence, and Ben Stringer, of Jacksonville, Florida.

This is the third year in a row a KU team has advanced to the finals of the NNALSA competition, capturing the national title in 2016 and placing second in 2015. The competition tests students’ knowledge of Indian law by evaluating their legal writing and oral advocacy skills. Students submit written briefs and participate in a simulated courtroom experience.

“There were 64 teams at this year’s competition, making these accomplishments truly impressive,” said Professor Elizabeth Kronk Warner, team coach and director of KU’s Tribal Law & Government Center. “Megan and Bill did an exceptionally good job, and several judges and spectators remarked that they were some of the finest advocates they had ever seen.”

Teams prepared for the competition by researching and preparing their written briefs, participating in practice rounds and receiving feedback from faculty judges and teammates.

“This was an amazing experience from start to finish,” Carroll said. “Throughout the practice period, my confidence often wavered. However, at the beginning of the second day of arguments, Professor Kronk Warner told me that she had no doubt in my abilities, she was already proud of all of us, and to go have fun in the rounds. I could not imagine having a better coach at the competition.”

Jason Harmon, a 2015 KU law graduate who participated in the NNALSA competition as a student, helped Kronk Warner coach the teams, and more than a dozen faculty and staff judged practice rounds. “I’m lucky to attend a university where the faculty are so personally invested in the success of their students,” Madden said. “The NNALSA tournament was a fantastic experience, and I’m proud to have had the opportunity to represent our school.”

“Given the presence of several federally recognized tribes in Kansas, participating in this competition is a wonderful opportunity for our students,” Kronk Warner said. “Students learn and improve upon their legal research, writing and oral advocacy skills while learning federal Indian law, which is so crucial to this region.”

With more than 60 teams, this year’s competition was one of the largest moot court competitions in the country. Carroll and Madden defeated two teams from Columbia University in New York City and another from Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the advanced rounds. The final rounds were judged by accomplished Indian law scholars and judges.

Law professor, practicing lawyer pens memoir on attaining third degree at age 72

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

LAWRENCE — Plenty of people go back to school at a nontraditional age. But most of them don’t take classes for a doctorate at a school in which they are also a professor. Or while they are practicing law full-time. Or at the age of 72.

But that’s exactly what Bruce Hopkins did when he decided to get an SJD at the University of Kansas School of Law, where he also serves as a professor from practice. He details his experiences in having the same young people as students and classmates, attending classes with professors many years his junior and answering why he was doing such a thing to just about everyone in his new memoir “SJD: What’s the Point of Three (Law Degrees)? The Adventures of an Older Lawyer Who Returned to Law School for the Third Degree.”

A well-established and respected lawyer in the field of tax-exempt and nonprofit law, Hopkins is no stranger to the classroom or writing. Approaching his 50th year in practicing law, he has written more than 30 books, most of them on all manner of tax-exempt or nonprofit legal topics. He earned his first two law degrees from George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. He practiced there for many years, often thinking about getting the SJD, or Scientiae Juridicae Doctor, commonly known as the equivalent of a Ph.D. in law. But at the time George Washington and Georgetown did not offer it. He considered Harvard, but the commute proved impractical.

About 20 years ago he moved to the Kansas City area and began practicing his specialty there. In 2008, he became an adjunct professor at KU, eventually becoming professor from practice in 2015.

“It’s an odd thing,” Hopkins said of the decision to go back to school. “I’d wanted to do this for a long time. Part of it was like a mountain climber looking at a mountain. It was right there. I’d wanted to do it for a while, so I did.”

He didn’t want to have regrets or excuses about age, lack of time or money or fears of flunking out of the school at which he teaches to get in his way, although he admits many of those reservations did enter his mind. In 2013, he enrolled in classes while still teaching his class on nonprofit organizations and law and while practicing law in Kansas City.

The book begins by addressing the question he gets most often: Why? Why would he possibly consider doing this, many asked. Many lawyers didn’t even know the degree existed and told him he was wasting his time and money. Fellow lawyers had told him they’d sworn they’d never attend another law class after completing their degree and passing the bar. As one can imagine, there were many unique happenings, which he outlines in the memoir.

“The problem was I was about 72 years old, which seems young now,” Hopkins said with a laugh. “One of the peculiar things was teaching here (at KU) while also being a student. There was some overlap.”

Students would be sitting next to him as peers during one class, then be sitting in front of him learning from him in another. The professors who taught his classes were all younger than him. And he had the same challenges as any other student, writing papers, completing assignments, taking tests and taking courses such as banking law and tax procedure, which proved to be exceedingly difficult, he said.

Throughout the chapters of “SJD” he tells of his adventures, from telling his boss at his old firm he was seeking the degree, to class assignments all the way to the culmination at his graduation party, returning again in the final chapter to the question of why. The experience was “exhilarating,” Hopkins said, not only teaching him more about the law, but giving him a new appreciation for law professors and opening him up to the perspectives of today’s students.

“It’s given me a different attitude toward my students,” Hopkins said of gaining his third degree. “Honestly, it’s given me a different look at them and changed our discussions. We now sit around and discuss things like they’re budding lawyers, not just people who are there to hear me lecture.”

The idea to write a memoir about his unique experiences was only natural, given that he’s written more than 30 books already. But the style was completely different than his legal books and his monthly newsletter on tax-exempt law. No stranger to writing, he was still daunted by the idea of writing a dissertation. He did, and defended it in front of Stephen Mazza, dean of the KU School of Law, and Michael Hoeflich, the John H. and John M. Kane Distinguished Professor of Law and former KU Law dean, both of whom the book is dedicated to.

“You don’t want to be interrogated by Professor Hoeflich if you can avoid it. It was both fun and kind of terrifying,” Hopkins said.

But the dissertation was successfully defended, and true to his prolific writing career, Hopkins has already expanded it into another book, which will be published soon. Mazza served as his adviser, and Hoeflich was impressed enough to agree to write an introduction for the book. He writes of being surprised that someone of Hopkins’ stature would be enrolled in his class for credit.

“Frankly it never occurred to me that a senior lawyer would have the intellectual curiosity, drive and sheer stamina to do a full-time doctoral program, carry on a full legal practice and supervise a publishing mini-empire,” Hoeflich wrote. “And yet that is precisely how I would characterize Bruce Hopkins. He is one of the most remarkable men and lawyers I have ever known.”

With the third degree now obtained, Hopkins says it was well worth the time and effort, though he jokes that he is glad the field does not offer a fourth degree. A memoir now published, he plans to continue representing nonprofit organizations, scientific and religious organizations, charities and schools and writing.

“It’s one of those things. If you want to do it you find the time,” he said of writing. “The first thing I do when I get to the office is write. And I do it as long as I can get away with it. The book is designed, at least in part, to get people thinking. It doesn’t have to be an SJD, or even going back to school, but seeing something you want and going after it. There’s something about the degree that sort of freed me. I don’t think I could’ve written a book like this 20 years ago. Some of the things I say I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to say then.”


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23rd in the nation for most-improved employment rates
One-third of full-time faculty have written casebooks and treatises
25th nationwide for lowest debt at graduation
21st: “Best Schools for Practical Training”
77 percent of upper-level law classes have 25 or fewer students
National Champions: 2016 National Native American Law Students Association Moot Court Competition
#19 moot court program in the nation
#17 “best value” law school in the nation — National Jurist Magazine
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