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Legal Oral History Project

Regina Austin



Washington, D.C. native and first-born Professor Regina Austin attests to having her parents’ and grandparents’ work ethic. In 1966, she left Washington, D.C. to attend college at the University of Rochester where she graduated in 1970 with a major in History and a minor in English. At Rochester, Professor Austin was very active in the Civil Rights Movement and notes her most memorable event was when she and other black students took over the faculty club.

Professor Austin went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania Law School where she graduated in the top ten percent of her class and was named a member of the Order of the Coif. She was the only black female in her graduating class of 1973. Professor Austin cites some of her most influential professors as Edward Sparer, Martha Field, and Julius Chambers.

Following law school, Professor Austin clerked for Judge Edmund Spaeth in Pennsylvania. After a year of clerking for Judge Spaeth, Professor Austin worked as an Associate for Schnader, Harrison, Segal and Lewis. Between 1974 and 1977 she worked in areas such as: estate planning, business and litigation. Professor Austin spent most of her time working in the litigation department; however, she considers herself to have been more of a “library” litigator than a general litigator. In 1977, Professor Austin decided that she was ready pursue a career that she had pondered since graduating from law school and was hired by the University of Pennsylvania Law School as a professor.

Professor Austin has taught Torts, Insurance, Cultural Conflict and Intentional Torts, Socioeconomic and legal Status of Working Poor, and Environmental Racism. She served as a visiting Professor at Harvard (1989-1990), Stanford (1991) and Brooklyn (1998) law schools. In 1996, Professor Austin was named as a Schnader Professor of Law. Professor Austin considers her most significant achievement as being an institutional actor for the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Professor Austin has written various articles exploring the relevance of culture to the resolution of legal issues, most notably, “Sapphire Bound!”. In 1991, Professor Austin also co-authored, Environmentalism and the Quest for Eco-Justice, one of the seminal articles in environmental racism. In addition, she has done a significant amount of work concerning environmental racism at the National Research Center. Professor Austin says that one of her next endeavors will be to author her own book.