Professor Steve Befort '74 Retiring after nearly Four Decades at Law School
Professor Befort ’74 laid a strong foundation in labor & employment law for generations of law students
Stephen Befort ’74 has been a pillar of the Minnesota Law labor and employment law community, making significant contributions in the classroom, clinic, and courtroom and producing incisive scholarship and legal writing during a nearly 40-year career at the University. Known as a national and international authority on labor and employment law, Befort helped establish the Labor & Employment Law concentration and brought rich public-sector experience to his work.
The Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty & Bennett Professor of Law, Befort joined Minnesota Law in 1982 after nearly a decade serving in the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and as principal assistant Ramsey County attorney. He started his career as legal counsel to the state’s Public Employment Relations Board and the Bureau of Mediation Services, which sparked his abiding interest in labor and employment law. “I got into the business sideways and found I really liked it,” Befort says. “It’s about people and work, and it has a real impact on people.”
Dean Garry W. Jenkins calls Befort the embodiment of a scholar-practitioner. “Professor Befort has distinguished himself as a national expert on labor and employment law, a beloved classroom teacher, and an esteemed alumnus,” says Jenkins, William S. Pattee Professor of Law. “While educating generations of law students and winning multiple teaching awards, he has actively engaged in service to the bar while maintaining an active practice as a labor arbitrator, issuing more than 300 written decisions.”
A Key Player in Clinics
Befort joined Minnesota Law as a professor and director of its legal clinics, a program Befort had enjoyed as a student himself. He also served as associate dean for academic affairs and associate dean for research and planning. During 21 years as clinic director, Befort sought to expand the system, a feat he accomplished as the clinics expanded from four to 12. Today, the Law School offers more than two dozen clinics.
At the time, “some people didn’t think it was rigorous enough compared to classroom work, but I thought it was great,” Befort says. “Seeing the clinics grow from a small office that was peripheral in the eyes of many faculty to one of the largest programs in the country that is very integrated with the rest of the school—I’m very happy and proud of that.”
Befort’s other highlights include winning the privilege to publish and co-edit the ABA Journal of Labor & Employment Law. He also wrote Employment Law and Practice—a textbook he worked with students to update annually—and five other books about disability law, labor arbitration, and more, as well as 60-plus journal articles and papers.
Professor Emerita Laura Cooper worked with Befort on many endeavors, including the journal and the book More Than We Have Ever Known About Discipline and Discharge in Labor Arbitration. The empirical study revealed the largely hidden world of labor arbitration, identifying which factors influence arbitrators’ decisions.
“Steve has a very broad knowledge of labor and employment law, including work on employment discrimination and public sector law. I appreciated his extensive and diverse practice experience,” Cooper says. “Steve always came through with high-quality work, and he’s been really good at mentoring students in a diversity of ways,” including through the Student Employment and Labor Law Association and advising many research assistants.
Tim Louris ’10, a partner at Miller O’Brien Jensen in Minneapolis who focuses on labor and employment law, was one of those students. Concentrating in labor and employment law, Louris took many courses with Befort, worked as one of his research assistants, and served as an editor on the journal. Louris calls Befort an institution and says he has all the qualities law students would want in a professor.
“He was very humble and approachable in the classroom, and he was extremely knowledgeable about the field. You knew you were in the presence of an authority,” Louris says. “He had a clear way to present difficult concepts and played a guiding role for students like me who wanted to practice in this area of law.”
Befort won plaudits for his teaching, earning the prestigious Stanley V. Kinyon Teaching and Counseling Award twice and the Minnesota Justice Foundation Outstanding Service Award in the law professor category. A prolific arbitrator and mediator, Befort plans to continue this work upon retirement.
Suzy Frisch is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.