Five minutes of Fame: Law professor focused on change
Law professor Laura Oren will be honored at the Law Center’s retirement party on Thursday for a lifetime of service. Graduating with an B.A. from Queens College, a Ph.D in British history from Yale, and a J.D. from UH Law School, Oren has over 30 years of legal experience under her belt.
She has used her scholarly knowledge of Constitutional Law, Civil Rights, and Family Law to make impressive changes to the legal system. Oren’s impressive career has included being a long-term professor and working on legal committees at UH. As she prepares to enter a new new chapter in her life, Oren talked with The Cougar about her career, accomplishments and future plans.
The Cougar: What made you decide to go into the law field, and what steps did you take in your career to achieve such a high achievement level?
Laura Oren: I was originally a historian. I received my Ph.D from Yale. At first, I was teaching at the University of Rochester in the history department. My husband, who was also a historian, found it difficult to to find similar jobs, and trying to maintain a career as a historian became a burden when there was a depression in humanities. Meanwhile, I had two kids, so maintaining work and family became a balance issue. I was very active in the community, and I became the organizer and first president of the Feminist Credit Union. I was interested in lots of legal issues, and I saw what lawyers did on a regular basis. After being invited to apply for law school, I decided to go to attend UH Law. I ended up graduating first in my class in 1980, and I was ranked 2nd in the Texas state bar exam that year.
TC: Have there been any people that have helped you during your legal career?
LO: There are three people that have helped me that have all passed away. Professor Gilbert “Gil” Finnell was my first-year professor of property law and eventually became my colleague. He taught me about constitutional areas like entitlements people have, such as social and security laws. Professor Yale Rosenberg, who also became my colleague, was my professor for civil procedure. Finally, Professor Irene Merker Rosenberg taught me about juvenile law. Her brilliant analysis of a case was something that I never got over. It was amazing. She was a really great editor that was open-hearted and generous. All of these people had really high standards; I always felt challenged to meet them.
TC: How has the study and legal practice in your fields evolved since you began?
LO: There are two things that have changed. Life is much more complicated, and when that happens, we all must respond. Therefore, there’s more intricacy. Also, there are many unresolved new issues, like the current issue of drones. There are problems that were not there before. The Constitution is a living thing, and people are always arguing over what it means. That never gets boring.
TC: How has your time at UH affected your legal career?
LO: I’d practiced for 5 years, and I didn’t get to practice after UH. Being at UH has been my legal career. I was on a legal committee that drafted the first campus sexual harassment laws. I’ve been able to work on changes through my scholarship in teaching and legal career.
TC: What has been your favorite part of teaching at UH?
LO: I love teaching, and I love my writing seminar class that covers Civil Rights Section 1983. I especially enjoy watching the students take over thinking for themselves. In one particular class, I watched the students debate each other on the opposite sides of a U-shaped class. I didn’t do anything but sit there and let them discuss the issues at hand. It’s what you’re supposed to do when you give students the skills that allow them to think for themselves.
TC: After retirement from UH, what do you plan to do next?
LO: I’m still concerned about and connected to UH Law. I’ll still be writing, as well as engaging in some offbeat interests like sociology and psychology.