Faculty Profiles

Jon Michaels

Jon D. Michaels

Professor of Law
B.A. Williams College, 1998
B.A. University of Oxford, 2000
M.A. University of Oxford, 2006
J.D. Yale, 2003
UCLA Faculty Since 2008

LAW 561A/B - Architects of American Democracy: The Role of Lawyers in Times of National Crisis.

Throughout history, lawyers drawn to public service have played significant roles in advancing our civic, moral, socio-economic, and political development.  Today’s America is shaped—for better or worse—by their contributions: their pursuit of justice and security, their design of regulatory and welfare programs, their investigations of corruption, and their diagnoses of social maladies.  

This seminar examines five pivotal moments that illustrate both the lawyers’ influence on those moments and the professional and ethical challenges engendered by the lawyers’ participation (often on two or more sides of a given problem, crisis, or controversy).

Specifically, this seminar will explore

(1) Lawyering in the Aftermath of World War II, with particular focus on the Nuremberg tribunal and lawyers’ roles in prosecuting and defending war criminals;

(2) Watergate Lawyering, with particular focus on the role of lawyers in investigating and challenging (as well as, again, defending) Executive privilege;

(3) “War on Terror” Lawyering, with particular focus on advancing and questioning the U.S. Government’s prosecution of the post-9/11 War on Terror; and,

(4) Lawyering in the Wake of the Global Financial Meltdown of 2008, with particular focus on questions of organizational conflicts of interest, dissimilar treatment of similarly situated firms, and the tradeoffs among speed, accountability, and transparency in times of economic crisis.    

(5) Lawyering in the Age of Trump, with particular focus on questions of presidential conflicts of interest, efforts to discredit or delegitimize coordinate branches, and initiatives to disable key quasi-constitutional institutions (including the bureaucracy, the intelligence community, and even NATO).  

The topics selected will furnish us with myriad opportunities to examine and critically analyze the role of lawyers from a variety of perspectives—as legislative counsel, Justice Department officials, appointed members of presidential commissions, “revolving door” lawyers with ties to the private sector, private attorneys general, partisan advocates, U.S. judges, and jurists serving on international tribunals.  We will investigate and discuss what tools, insights, and objectives the lawyers had, what tensions, if any, existed between their assigned responsibilities (or personal commitments) and their professional obligations, and how their efforts in this civic space affected everyday lawyers practicing in less “rarified” contexts.

Each of the five topics is quite broad, but the assignments will focus our attention and provide a common foundation for our discussions and inquiries.  Accordingly, there is no expectation that students will have engaged in any prior study of these topics.  Students will, however, be expected to actively participate and contribute, and should appreciate that our inquiries will undoubtedly invite consideration of sensitive and controversial questions (which we will, of course, address with civility and respect).

Dates, Times, and Expected Locations:

Classes will take place at the instructor’s home in Westwood, at the following dates and times:

 1.  Sunday, August 27, at 4pm
 2.  Sunday, September 17, at 4pm
 3.  Sunday, October 15, at 4pm
 4.  Sunday, January 28, at 4pm    
 5.  Sunday, February 18, at 4pm