PUBLISHED:July 01, 2009

Professor Kathryn Webb Bradley

In her ethics and family law classes, Kathy Bradley likes to use current events to illustrate her points. Whether they involve issues raised by reproductive technology in the “Octomom” case or questions of custody and access in Britney Spears’ divorce, Bradley helps students see their broader relevance.

David Mansfield ’10 says Bradley’s classes in ethics and family law left him “better prepared for the practice of law.

“She has a preternatural skill at finding and integrating into her lectures bizarre instances in which the issues she so ably discusses are playing out in real-life legal struggles around the world,” he notes. “And she continually brings those abstract legal issues back to the reality of practice. She always reminds her students that lawyers must make choices and that the choices those lawyers make will have real-world consequences.”

With deep experience in trial and appellate-court litigation that informs her classes, Bradley has taught full time for more than nine years, first at the University of Virginia, where she focused on legal writing and ethics, and, since 2005, at Duke Law as a senior lecturing fellow. She now serves as a professor of the practice of law, director of Legal Ethics, and administrator for the Capstone Project and Domestic Externship programs.

In fact, Bradley has taught almost continuously since she received her undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University. She taught high school Latin, Spanish, and remedial English — “three foreign languages,” she jokes — for six years prior to enrolling in law school at the University of Maryland where she was a teaching assistant in her upper years. She also taught legal writing at her alma mater through a two-year federal district court clerkship and constitutional law and federal jurisdiction during several years of practice and partnership at Hogan & Hartson in Washington, D.C. Bradley took a break from the classroom only during her Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Byron R. White during the 1990-91 term, and while practicing in Denver for four years.

Pivotal clerkships inform career
Bradley’s two clerkships have informed her career both in the courtroom and the classroom, she says. Clerking for Judge Frederic N. Smalkin of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland after graduating first in her law school class made her a better litigator, she says.

“I learned a lot about litigation from watching how he handled cases,” says Bradley. “I got to see a lot of really good lawyers and really bad lawyers in court, and he explained what they did right or wrong, as the case may be.”

Bradley calls her subsequent Supreme Court clerkship with Justice White a phenomenal experience that changed the way she reads high court decisions. “I know now how much is involved in terms of consensus building,” she says. “When it seems like there’s language that’s a little wishy-washy, I assume that it’s not sloppy drafting but that, instead, they had to tone language down or phrase things in a certain way to keep the majority or to make sure [a justice] would stay on board.”

White valued the perspective of trial judges and routinely hired at least one clerk with district court experience, Bradley says. Once, he asked her how Smalkin might have interpreted a district court order like the one at issue in the case before him. “I told him, and he changed his view of how the case should come out,” she recalls.

Bradley’s time in White’s chambers sharpened the quality and speed of her writing, she says, and had another lasting outcome: It was there she met her fellow clerk and future husband, Curtis A. Bradley, now the Horvitz Professor of Law and Public Policy Studies.

Bradley brought all of the insights she gained during her clerkships to a diverse litigation practice at Hogan & Hartson where she became a partner in 1998 and remains of counsel. Working first in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office and then in its Baltimore and Denver offices, Bradley’s practice, at the trial and appellate-court levels, included federal and state constitutional law, higher education law, health care fraud and abuse, and general commercial law.

“Having had both the trial court experience and the appellate experience as a clerk, I knew what judges were looking for,” she says. “It helped to have the sense of what kinds of arguments would be persuasive and what needs to be in a brief to ‘take it up’ on appeal.”

Bradley taught legal research and writing at the University of Virginia School of Law for five years, adding legal ethics to the mix in her last. She was “ready to do something different” when she arrived at Duke in 2005, so she opted to teach family law in addition to ethics.

In The Dynamics of Family Relationships, which Bradley has co-taught with Nancy Russell Shaw ’73, and which satisfies one of the curricular ethics requirements, students act as co-counsel for various members of a “very complex” fictional family through a number of scenarios. “They walk through a prenuptial agreement, marriages and divorces, a family business, adoption and death and other situations that raise conflict of interest and confidentiality issues, and require knowledge of substantive law and how to handle vulnerable and emotional clients. It’s a fun class to teach.” In her Family Law class, Bradley sends her students to observe a real family court in session has them negotiate a divorce settlement agreement for a fictional client.

Her seamless incorporation of ethics instruction into her family law class is indicative of various changes Bradley has introduced into the Law School’s ethics curriculum, introducing specialized ethics classes such as Dynamics or Prosecutorial Ethics (taught by Clay Wheeler ’97, an assistant U.S. attorney), and expanding the Readings in Ethics offerings that supplement required classes that focus on the Model Rules of Ethical Conduct.

“We now have an array of courses that give students grounding in ethics rules,” she says. “I want them to understand how the ethics rules grow out of what it means to be a professional and how you fit what our professional obligations are within a personal ethical framework, and issues like professional liability and those kinds of things as well.”

A valued mentor
As administrator for the Domestic Externship programs, Bradley is overseeing practice-oriented enhancements to the upper-year curriculum. Duke Law students routinely balance coursework with local externships with judges, public defenders, prosecutors, Legal Aid, and the Duke University counsel, and increasingly, in other regions with unique institutions such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco or USAID in Washington, D.C. Similarly, as the Capstone Project administrator, she oversees participating students’ immersion in interdisciplinary research projects.

Having benefited from her own clerkship experience, she also tries to facilitate matches for her students and in this regard is an excellent adviser, says Mansfield.

“Kathy does so many things really well,” observes Dean David F. Levi. “She is a terrific teacher and mentor, she has several writing projects underway, and she is a creator of new programs that tie the Law School to the world of practice. Duke Law School is fortunate she is one of our distinguished professors of the practice.”