Thomas Palay

Professor Emeritus


J. D., University of Pennsylvania Law School
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania,


Thomas Palay, a former research fellow at the Brookings Institution, joined the UW Law School faculty in 1980. He holds both a Ph.D. in Public Policy Analysis and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught a wide variety of courses since joining the faculty, including most recently Torts, Property, Business Organizations, Legislation, and Defamation & Rights of Privacy. In June 2002, he completed a term of more than four years as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

In recent years Professor Palay's research has focused on the growth and change of large law firms. He is the author with Marc Galanter of Tournament of Lawyers: The Transformation of the Large Law Firm. Together they have written numerous articles on the organization of the practice of law including, "Why the Big Get Bigger: The Partner-Associate Spiral and the Growth of the Large Law Firm" which appears in the Virginia Law Review.

Professor Palay's scholarly interests focus on how individuals and entities organize their businesses and transactions. His earlier writings include "Comparative Institutional Economics: The Governance of Rail Freight Contracts" in the Journal of Legal Studies, "The Avoidance of Regulatory Constraints: The Use of Informal Contracts," in the Journal of Law, Economics, and Organizations, and "Diversifying Physician Risk Through Contract: An Exercise In Private Government," which can be found in Law and Contemporary Problems. His most recent work returns to the private governance theme and will appear as "Informal Contracts and Regulatory Constraints, "in The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics and the Law.

Prior to his work as Associate Dean, he chaired the Law School Building Committee that oversaw the most recent remodeling and expansion of the Law building. The project added substantial new space to the Law School, brought much of the remaining building up to the quality of its students, alumni, and staff, and received the American Institute of Architects' highest award for 1997.

Scholarship & Publications

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Teaching Areas

  • Torts
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