Law professor named nation’s top lawyer for the 23rd time
Elite information lawyer Raymond Nimmer has been at the top of his game for more than 20 years.
This year, Nimmer was named a top lawyer in the U.S. for information law for the 23rd year in a row. He enjoys basketball and collects antique books, he was dean of the Law Center and he has had a massive impact on the national debate of copyright and information law.
“My interest with law has been in how it actually works,” Nimmer said. “The idea that working with high quality law firms in real cases was great, and the opportunity to do it in Houston was excellent.”
Straight to business
Nimmer began working for The American Bar Foundation in 1968, and it received a Ford Foundation grant to study arrests for public drunkenness and help find solutions. The group traveled to Madison Street in Chicago and other hamlets of homelessness across the country.
There were also several “detoxification centers,” or places where people arrested for public drunkenness were sent to become sober.
Nimmer published a book of his findings called “Two Million Unnecessary Arrests” in 1972. Nimmer argued most arrests for public drunkenness were for other reasons, sparking a debate over the real use of detoxification centers.
“When we actually looked at who were getting arrested, we found that they were not alcoholics but were instead what we would call today homeless people,” Nimmer said. “Some of them had alcohol problems, but they were being arrested as a way of maintaining order in the streets.”
Nimmer believes society has regressed on the issue of homelessness due to the decentralization of skid rows and cutting of social services for the homeless. While these problems are unrelated to what he was writing about in 1972, Nimmer said he still sees the need for sending delusional people on the streets to jail for a night in order to protect them from the cold.
Ever an influence
In 1975, the UH Law Center hired Nimmer to be an associate professor. The Center’s new buildings were just completed and almost all UH undergraduates were commuters.
Nimmer was right at home.
“It was exciting,” he said. “The classrooms were challenging, the faculty discussions were great because there was a mix of different political viewpoints among the college. You could get into really neat discussions while no one was feeling threatened with different viewpoints.”
Three years later, Nimmer was named an associate dean of the school. He negotiated a contract to outfit the Law Center with its first set of computers, which caused Nimmer to become interested in computer and commercial law.
Soon after, he published one book in a series with three other professors, a landmark series that reported on the constantly changing newborn industry of computers.
The set eventually grew into a landmark series on information and computer law, forming Nimmer’s introduction into the intellectual property arena.
This was not the only time Nimmer had to adapt quickly to the ever-changing world of law. One summer, he agreed to teach a class on the bankruptcy code.
“I had the good fortune of Congress completely revising the code two weeks before I started the class,” Nimmer said. “The case book was totally irrelevant, and I had to teach it from the start and no one could tell me what it meant.”
Soon after, Nimmer became one of the top experts in the country on the new code. From 1988 to 1996, he served as a member of the panel of examiners for bankruptcy specialization for the State Bar of Texas.
Then, he met lawyer Holly Towle.
Setting the precedent
Towle and Nimmer worked together proposing commercial laws to each U.S. state, and over a decade, Towle got to know Nimmer.
She believes Nimmer’s influence and impact was widespread. After mentioning in a speech in San Francisco that she worked with Nimmer, a former student of his approached her.
“In trying to explain how much (the student) admired him and how beneficial the experience of learning from him had been, she exclaimed, ‘That man has the brain the size of a planet,’” Towle said. “She was right.”
In 2006, Nimmer became the dean of the Law Center. He took it to higher rankings nationally among law schools, but eventually went back to teaching in 2013, thanks to tremors in his hands and a sense of satisfaction that he had improved the Law Center.
Nimmer said that because the Law Center is not elite, amazing students and faculty, like current Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, usually end up leaving for better institutions.
“If you get someone good, who really wants to build a career, then they want to move on,” Nimmer said. “It’s a hallmark of an upper-class, but not top-tier, school.”
Nimmer has seen the University evolve through parts of five decades, but it was during only the tenure of President and Chancellor Renu Khator that he noticed an overall improvement.
“Dr. Khator has given the school vibrancy,” Nimmer said. “It feels like a good place, which wasn’t necessarily true when I first got here. At the time, outside the law school it didn’t feel like there was much of a community.”
Nimmer originally came to Houston for the proximity to other large cities, bustling legal practices and the opportunity to engage law students. The University’s growth, he said, has vaulted his career to national prominence.
“A lot of opportunities have developed for me because of how the school has grown,” Nimmer said.