Burrus-Bascom Professor of Law
A.B., Barnard College, Columbia U. (Political Science)
J.D., Harvard University Law School
Tonya L. Brito is the Jefferson Burrus-Bascom Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin Law School and a Faculty Affiliate with the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) at the University of Wisconsin. She served as Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development from 2014-2016 and as Director of the Institute for Legal Studies from 2013-2016. During her time as ILS Director, she organized and hosted numerous academic conferences and speaker series, developed and inaugurated the ILS Law and Society Graduate Fellows Program, and launched the Wednesday Workshop series, an internal works-in-progress series for law faculty.
Her research interests include access to civil justice, family law and policy, law and inequality, socio-legal studies, and qualitative research methods. An award winning scholar, Professor Brito's scholarship critically examines the role of the civil justice system in exacerbating social inequality and the intersection of family law and poverty law. Professor Brito is a national expert in the area of child support law and policy and has published widely in the area. Additionally, she is the principal investigator of a multi-year, multidisciplinary empirical study examining the experiences of low-income civil litigants in family court. Her research is supported by the Russell Sage Foundation, the National Science Foundation’s Law and Social Sciences Program, and numerous other funders. In 2016, the Law and Society Association awarded Professor Brito the John Hope Franklin Prize Honorable Mention, which is given for the best scholarly article on Race, Racism and the Law published within the prior two years. She is a recipient of both the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s 2012 Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award and the University of Wisconsin System’s 2012 Outstanding Women of Color in Education Award.
Prior to joining the UW faculty, Professor Brito was a judicial law clerk for Judge John Garrett Penn of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, practiced complex civil litigation with the law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Washington, D.C., and served on the law faculty at Arizona State University College of Law. Professor Brito received her A.B with honors from Barnard College and her J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School.
Scholarship & Publications
- Access to Civil Justice
- Family Law and Policy
- Poverty Law
- Critical Race Empiricism
- Law and Society
- Qualitative Research Methods
Tonya Brito published "Litigating Precarity: Low-Wage Workers and Child Support Enforcement" in the North Carolina Law Review in 2023. The paper is co-authored with former student and Law School grad, Kathleen Wood. Read the paper.
Tonya Brito's paper, "Nonmarital Fathers in Family Court: Judges' and Lawyers' Perspectives," was accepted for publication by the Washington University Law Review. The paper will be published in August 2022 in Volume 99 of the law review.
Wednesday, Mar 3, 2021Tonya Brito an invited panelist for the 2021 Policy Forum of the National Child Support Enforcement Association
National Child Support Enforcement Association
Tonya Brito presented "Academic Worker Inequalities and Flexibility Bias in the COVID-19 Era" at the Symposium on the COVID Care Crisis and its Implications for Legal Academia in January.
Tonya Brito presented "Race and Inequality in Family Court," as part of the Big 10 Law School series on race, law and equality. The 12-week series of lectures featured scholars from each of the Big 10 law schools.
Tonya Brito’s article, “The Child Support Debt Bubble,” received praise on Jotwell, an online legal journal specializing in short reviews of recent scholarship. In “Private Debt and Public Violence,” Wendy Anne Bach called Brito’s article “exquisitely well done.”
Tonya Brito presented "A Civil Gideon Failure?" at Thinking About Law & Accessing Civil Justice, a February 2020 symposium sponsored by the UC Irvine Law Review.
Tonya Brito's book chapter, "Focused Ethnography: A Methodological Approach for Engaged Legal Research" (co-authored with Daanika Gordon and David J. Pate Jr.), appears in From the Ground Up: Legal Scholarship for the Urban Core.
Tonya Brito's essay, "The Right to Civil Justice," appears in a special Winter 2019 edition of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Brito's is one of 24 essays in the journal's Access to Justice issue, which examines the national crisis in civil legal services facing poor and low-income Americans.
Tonya Brito has been elected as a new member of the American Law Institute. The ALI is the leading independent organization in the United States producing scholarly work to clarify, modernize and otherwise improve the law.
Tonya Brito presented "Producing Justice in Poor People's Courts: Four Models of State Legal Actors" at the Fordham Law School Faculty Workshop Series in November.
News & Media
Wednesday, Mar 23, 2022Tonya Brito discusses access to justice in family court
Monday, Jul 26, 2021Tonya Brito hosts discussion on how tenants' right to counsel could reduce evictions
Thursday, Oct 15, 2020Tonya Brito to discuss law schools' role in advancing access to civil justice
American Academy of the Arts and Sciences
Tuesday, Aug 25, 2020Tonya Brito to present at Big Ten law school series on race, law and equality
Indiana University news
Monday, Mar 9, 2020Tonya Brito discusses her article, "The Child Support Debt Bubble"
Wisconsin Law in Action
Monday, Sep 30, 2019Law in Action: Faculty discuss UW Law's foundation and its future
Thursday, May 2, 2019Kathryn Hendley and Tonya Brito receive faculty fellowships for 2019-20
Monday, Jan 21, 2019Tonya Brito elected to American Law Institute
Monday, Apr 27, 2015Tonya Brito dicusses consequences of jailing poor parents for missed child support
Charleston Post Courier
Wednesday, Sep 24, 2014Professor Tonya Brito: How do lawyers matter for those in poverty?
Tuesday, Sep 25, 2012Tonya Brito Named Outstanding Woman of Color in Education