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Training Tomorrow’s Legal Scholars

January 03, 2023

Penn Carey Law’s interdisciplinary faculty cultivates an enriching atmosphere for emerging legal academics.

At the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, our competitive academic fellowships give emerging scholars space to delve deeply into their areas of expertise and develop essential research and pedagogical skills. During their time at Penn, fellows engage directly with world-class faculty on cutting-edge and cross-disciplinary legal issues, positioning them well for careers as innovative legal thought leaders.

Among the fellowship opportunities at Penn Carey Law is the Sharswood Fellowship. Established by the University of Pennsylvania Law Review in 2007, the Sharswood Fellowship, named in honor of George Sharswood, supports burgeoning legal scholars for two years as they develop their research and teach an innovative new course built around their work. Alums of the Sharswood Fellowship go on to secure tenure-track positions at institutions across the country.

“Our goal is to find talented scholars, at the inception of their careers, and to nurture and support them,” said Kimberly Kessler Ferzan L’95, Chair of the Academic Careers Committee. “Given the expertise of Penn Carey Law faculty across a wide range of subjects, we attract a dazzling array of researchers, and it is fun to have these dynamic, engaged minds pulling us in different directions each year.”

Leading Legal Historians

From 2020-2022, the Sharswood Fellowship supported academics Felipe Ford Cole and Brittany Farr as they each worked to develop their respective scholarship. Both legal historians, Cole and Farr were able to collaborate with the esteemed network of legal historians on Penn Carey Law’s faculty during their Fellowship terms.

“At this moment of embarking on a career in legal history, I was lucky enough to coincide with this really incredible confluence of legal historians at Penn,” Cole said. “To sit in the same halls as them and have them as interlocutors and colleagues for two years was a really incredible experience, because it’s rare that there are that many legal historians in one place. I think Penn is very unusual in that regard.”

The legal historians at Penn specialize in a diverse array of topics, creating a rich amalgam of expertise that spans the legal history field. Among the legal historians on Penn Carey Law’s faculty are: Arlin M. Adams Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History Sally Gordon, Professor of Law and History Sophia Z. Lee, Professor of Law and History Serena Mayeri, Presidential Professor of Law Shaun Ossei-Owusu LPS’08, and Seaman Family University Professor Karen M. Tani L’07, G’11.

Moreover, Cole and Farr noted that other interdisciplinary experts at Penn, such as William A. Schnader Professor of Law and Deputy Dean David Hoffman, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights Dorothy E. Roberts, and S. Samuel Arsht Professor of Corporate Law David Arthur Skeel, also had enormous impacts on their work.

Across all disciplines, the collaborative nature of the Penn Carey Law faculty helped to cultivate a truly inclusive space for the generation and exploration of new legal ideas.

“The Sharswood Fellowship gave me so much time and space to write, and the faculty really treated me like a potential future colleague. They were very welcoming and willing to engage with my work and ideas,” Farr said. “It was a perfect place for me, as a historian, to start diving into the legal scholarship that I wanted to do. Being at Penn and having such a kind, supportive group of legal academics was very instrumental.”

Felipe Ford Cole

Sharswood Fellow 2020-2022; Assistant Professor at Boston College Law School

Felipe Ford Cole is an Assistant Professor at Boston College Law School. In his research, Cole expounds upon the ways in which the law shapes the balance between sovereign power and the power conferred to private capital in local, national, and international contexts. As a comparative legal historian, Cole’s work focuses on the historical evolution of this balance in the U.S. and Latin America.

Felipe Ford Cole Felipe Ford Cole“Unshackling Cities,” forthcoming in the University of Chicago Law Review, discusses how cities are impacted by the demands of the municipal debt market. In it, Cole argues that cities are “constrained by the expectations and structural power of municipal creditors,” and he challenges the traditional interpretation of “Dillon’s rule,” calling instead for a need to rethink approaches to expanding local power.

For Cole, the contemporary moment is one of “a great deal of opportunity,” especially concerning law and social change. Accordingly, Cole encourages anyone considering a career in legal academia to reflect on what personally motivates them in their line of study.

“The consciousness that you’re bringing to legal scholarship matters,” Cole said. “It’s a wonderful life and career solving these intractable questions — or at least trying to — but it’s all the better when you really sort out what your motivations are and stick to them, because knowing what’s important to you is what helps guide you through the process of applying to fellowships, doing a fellowship, going on the market, and then spending your first year as a law professor. These are things that are very tough, but if you know what’s motivating and driving you, then it becomes an easier process.”

Brittany Farr

Sharswood Fellow 2020-2022; Assistant Professor of Law at NYU School of Law

Brittany Farr is an Assistant Professor of Law at NYU School of Law. In her research, Farr focuses on enslaved and free African Americans’ use of contract law during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her work interrogates the ways in which contract law mediated African Americans’ relationship to bodily autonomy, economic freedom, and legal agency both during and after slavery.

Brittany Farr Brittany FarrCurrently, Farr is working on a project that builds on the work she started as a Sharswood Fellow pertaining to contract breaches that sharecroppers experienced in the Jim Crow South. As part of this research, she has been looking at Freedmen’s Bureau records to analyze the theories of contract that freed people used to bring claims against exploitative employers. Her article, “Breach by Violence: The Forgotten History of Sharecropper Litigation in the Post-Slavery South,” was recently published in the UCLA Law Review.

For Farr, one of the most enjoyable aspects of working in academia is having the freedom to pursue ideas that pique her curiosity. Like Cole, Farr advises anyone considering a career in academia is to take time to think about what drives their personal and intellectual interests.

“Keep track of and pursue the ideas that you think are really exciting to you,” Farr said. “Whatever that idea is, you’re going to have to work on it for years and years…so it has to be something you care a lot about in order to be able to sustain that interest.”

Discover the breadth of pioneering scholarship produced by the Penn Carey Law community.