Patti Alleva, B.A. ’76, J.D. ’79, is among the nation’s best law professors, according to a new Harvard University Press publication called What the Best Law Teachers Do. Alleva, who teaches at the University of North Dakota School of Law, credits Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz, a former professor and dean of Hofstra Law, as one of her inspirations.
“The joy I find in teaching procedure today I attribute in part to then-professor of law Stuart Rabinowitz, whose indefatigable passion for helping us to learn about the importance of process, coupled with his impressive command and articulation of the subject, made the procedural rules come alive with meaning,” she says.
A Phi Beta Kappa member and summa cum laude graduate who majored in American history, Alleva, the Rodney & Betty Webb Professor of Law, also drew inspiration from her undergraduate experience at Hofstra.
“Professor Michael D’Innocenzo was (and is) an educator extraordinaire,” she says. “A person of boundless enthusiasm for teaching, learning and living, Professor D’Innocenzo made the study of American history a wondrous journey into the past with present significance. He exemplified teaching as socially significant action, inspiring students to use the lessons of history as springboards for improving the future.”
Alleva is one of just 26 law professors included in What the Best Law Teachers Do, which is the result of a four-year study undertaken by prominent legal scholars who set out to identify the methods, strategies and personal traits of professors whose students achieve exceptional learning.
And her pedagogical prowess has been continually celebrated closer to home. She is a two-time recipient of the University of North Dakota’s Lydia & Arthur Saiki Prize for Graduate or Professional Teaching Excellence (1989, 2006), a UND Bush Foundation Teaching Scholar, and a multiple winner of UND’s outstanding student organization advisor award.
Alleva serves as the Faculty Mentor for Teaching and Learning Enhancement at UND School of Law. She teaches Civil Procedure, Federal Courts, Advanced Civil Litigation, and Professional Visions, an innovative capstone law and literature course that she designed to explore professional identity and judgment, in part, by turning literary characters into hypothetical clients. She also co-coordinates Professional Foundations, a new faculty team-taught first-year course created to help law students develop the habit of professional self-reflection.
Teaching and learning and legal education reform are hot-button issues on which Alleva presents nationally. A recent law review article that she co-authored with University of Denver Sturm College of Law Associate Professor Laura Rovner titled “Seeking Integrity: Learning Integratively from Classroom Controversy” was featured on The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog. And Alleva’s latest piece, an invited essay titled “Respect Is Key to Teaching, And Also to Learning,” appears in the National Law Journal’s September 2014 special report on law schools.
Before joining the UND faculty in 1987, Alleva practiced law for six years at a major firm in New York City. “I enjoyed practice immensely, and learned from some of the best … but to ignore the call of the academy would have been even more difficult,” she says. “I wanted to become a professor, in part, to help change the way law was traditionally taught. The time had come to truly teach ‘lawyering’ as well as ‘law’ — that is, to intentionally teach to the law student as ‘whole person’ in more of the liberal arts spirit that I had experienced so profoundly at Hofstra. This, to me, meant exploring the interpersonal and emotional sides of professional being in addition to the logical and analytical sides that had long been the classic focus of legal education.”
Asked what advice she has for law students and undergrads considering law school, Alleva offers the following: “Studying law is a serious and noble undertaking. Come prepared to think deeply and deliberately, to work hard and to re-examine who you are in light of the professional goals and obligations lawyers assume and aspire to. The ultimate reward — that law degree — should be evidence of newfound capacities to problem-solve and make a difference for the people you represent — a difference that sometimes only a lawyer can make.”