Law in Action Profile

Professor Thomas Mitchell

Portrait of Thomas Mitchell

“I take the law-in-action approach
seriously by working to devise real-
world solutions to the problems I study.”

Read the full interview

Professor Thomas Mitchell studies property law, land use and community development law. He is especially interested in how the law in these areas impacts poor and minority communities.

Mitchell first studied these topics as a Hastie Fellow at UW Law School while building a program with the University's Land Tenure Center that put law students to work on behalf of rural communities across the country. This combination of scholarship and on-the-ground training helped Mitchell appreciate the importance of partnering with both legal and non-legal professionals.

Mitchell’s work has been instrumental in helping families who own land—including many who have owned land for generations—hold onto it rather than being forced to sell it at lower-than-market prices. In 2007, he became primary drafter of the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act, which aims to produce fairer outcomes in how land is divided or sold for families who own tenancy-in-common property which is commonly referred to as heirs' property. The Act is a project of the Uniform Law Commission, which has drafted many uniform or model acts over the past 120 years which many states have then enacted into law. Nevada, Georgia and Montana have signed the act into law.

In February 2011, the American Bar Association endorsed the Act at its Midyear Meeting. For Mitchell, this endorsement was significant, but so was the meeting itself. There, Mitchell served on a public interest panel with two icons of the Civil Rights Movement: Shirley Sherrod, the former U.S.D.A. Rural Development Director for the State of Georgia, and her husband Charles Sherrod. Mitchell was struck by the number of people who approached the Sherrods after the panel to express gratitude for their work. To witness the true impact of their service, Mitchell says, was surreal.

Mitchell’s advice to incoming 1Ls mirrors his own approach to the law: be active, engaged, and strive for excellence both within and beyond the classroom. He suggests that students take a range of courses and clinical offerings and seek out opportunities to do legal work for private firms, government, judges, or nonprofits. He also encourages students to get to know their professors, and counts working with students among the highlights of being a professor.

To learn more about Mitchell's role as primary drafter, click here. For latest updates, visit the Uniform Law Commission's site.

Read more in "An Interview with Professor Thomas Mitchell" and in Professor Mitchell's Faculty Profile.

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