Pathbreaker and “Legendary Teacher”
From reproductive rights to wills and trusts, retiring professor Judith Younger illuminated tough legal concepts for legions of students
When Judith T. Younger came to the University of Minnesota as a law professor in 1984, she brought rich experience from working as a litigator in private practice, as an assistant New York attorney general, and as a law professor and dean. She was far from done. In nearly 40 years at Minnesota Law, Younger left her mark as an engaging professor who brought bread-and-butter legal topics to life for students.
Known as a warm but tough professor, Younger taught property law, wills and trusts, and remedies. She would put students at ease by asking them what movies they had seen, breaking the ice and drawing them in to the subject matter while emphasizing how the law affects people’s lives, says William McGeveran, associate dean for academic affairs and the Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty & Bennett Professor of Law.
Younger, the Joseph E. Wargo Anoka County Bar Association Professor of Family Law, was named the Stanley V. Kinyon Chaired Teacher of the Year from 2009–10. She was the kind of professor who opened her home to students on weekends to develop a course in the law of reproductive rights. Thanks to Younger’s guidance and insight— and enthusiasm to teach the pioneering course starting in 2008—Minnesota Law became one of the first schools in the country to offer such a class.
“I like everything I teach,” Younger says. “I’m proud of the law of reproductive rights class that students created with me. It was very exciting. I wanted to introduce them to the idea that choice is not always free and to teach about reproductive justice.” In addition to teaching, she contributed a significant body of research and writing on a wide array of topics, from marital property division to legal education and family law issues like surrogacy.
Garry W. Jenkins, dean and
William S. Pattee Professor of
Law, notes the impact Younger made on students. “Professor Younger has been a legendary classroom teacher and patient mentor for generations of Minnesota Law students,” he says. “She came to us from a distinguished career that took her from a Wall Street law firm to the deanship of a law school and made Minnesota her new home. She created a pathbreaking course in the law of reproductive rights and taught it each year, alongside fundamental subjects like property, wills and trusts, and remedies.
“Judith’s wisdom and experience— not to mention her reliably stealing the show at each year’s TORT performance—have enriched the law school community and will be sorely missed as she moves into retirement.”
At the outset of her career, Younger had not charted a specific course for herself. She calls her various work experiences happy accidents that she truly enjoyed. She is grateful for the practical experience she amassed as a working lawyer, which she applied regularly to teach legal concepts.
“I like to teach, and I like the students. They are young and vigorous and most of them are open-minded and prepared to learn new things,” Younger says. “I’ve learned a great deal more from them than they have learned from me.”
Younger also has been a leader among her peers, says Susan Wolf, Regents Professor and McKnight Presidential Professor of Law, Medicine & Public Policy. “Judith has been a guiding star for the faculty throughout my time at the University of Minnesota Law School. I think of her at meetings often listening quietly and carefully at first, and then speaking up with crucial insight,” Wolf says. “She has a deep and unerring sense of fairness, process, and what’s right. She has a profound wisdom married to empathy that’s very unique.”
McGeveran, a fellow New Yorker who appreciates Younger’s forthrightness, admires her enthusiasm for teaching and ability to bring sometimes esoteric legal topics to life.
“We are all going to miss her personality, faculty and students alike, even when that personality was giving us the what-for,” McGeveran says. “I think she is the kind of professor who many graduates will look back on as being a really important part of their 1L experience—a really memorable professor who cared about her students.”
Suzy Frisch is a Twin Cities–based freelance writer