A Matter of Perspective

Professor Laura Little remembers the first class she taught at Temple Law, back in 1990. “It was an evening class, and its members included the head of urology for a local hospital and an exterminator. All semester, the two made great contributions to class. But it was their diverse perspectives that truly enriched us all.” In the years since then, Professor Little has built her appreciation for diverse perspectives into an academic career that has spanned the globe while exploring more intimate worlds of human behavior and emotion as they affect the law.

Prior to joining Temple’s faculty, Little – herself a Temple Law graduate – clerked first for Judge James Hunter III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and then for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court. She transitioned back to academia after building a Philadelphia-based practice in commercial litigation and First Amendment issues. Despite her departure from daily practice, Little remains sought-after as a national expert on issues involving federal court jurisdiction and procedure, conflict of laws, constitutional law, and appellate advocacy, which together form one of the major veins of her scholarly work. “I like the consulting work because it keeps me current on what’s happening in the judicial arena. It’s also a great opportunity to do hands-on work with practicing lawyers,” she explains. “And besides, it’s fun.”

Fun, as it turns out, happens to tie into another major vein of Professor Little’s scholarly work. In addition to drafting her 2010 treatise on federal courts and her current writing of a new conflict of laws text, Little continues ongoing inquiries into how emotional experiences such as humor, loyalty, gratitude, jealousy, and envy intersect with legal institutions. But this, too, represents serious work. “Law regulates humorous speech – for example– by identifying what joking constitutes sexual harassment in employment discrimination cases or by exempting parody from trademark infringement liability. Patterns emerge in which certain types of humor are protected or punished by courts, and the patterns often reflect judgments about the humor that society values or condemns.” Little’s 2009 article exploring these ideas, Regulating Funny: Humor and the Law, has been named one of that year’s “most notable articles on free speech issues,” and she has presented her humor scholarship in major conferences for judicial, academic, and practitioner audiences all over the world.

Professor Little is the first to acknowledge that her scholarship is diverse. The common thread, she says, is “an attraction to human behavior and motivation, and how they influence legal categories and processes.” Little’s work tries to get to the root of the human condition – and to understand the law as a manifestation of human impulse. It can lead to Little’s presence in some unusual company – unusual, at least, for a legal scholar. Her work has led her to participate in an interdisciplinary community of scholars, hailing from such disparate fields as psychology, communications, anthropology, literature, neuroscience, and, even, improvisational comedy and clowning. For Little, the interdisciplinary nature of her scholarly projects provides important motivation and appeal – presenting an opportunity to “enrich the familiar process of legal research and writing using a different lens for understanding.”

So, too, does the occasional change in geography. Since the mid-1990s, Little has pursued a global approach to her scholarship, teaching and researching at Temple’s campuses in China, Japan, and Rome. She assisted in establishing Temple Law’s exchange program with the University College Cork in Ireland and has been a visiting professor at the University of Sydney in Australia. Along the way, Little has presented her work to judges, academics, and practitioners the world over as a leading authority on both the United States judicial system and First Amendment issues. Little credits the quality and depth of Temple’s international programs with enabling her to pursue a global perspective, which she thinks is a “key component of education and an important strength of Temple Law School.” “Other legal systems deserve study,” she explains, “for their own sake and as a foil for understanding our own legal culture.”

Regardless of what country she happens to be teaching in, Professor Little has enjoyed doing it under the auspices of Temple Law. “The education I received here as a student was amazing,” Little notes. “I didn’t even consider going anywhere else – I wanted to come back and be a part of what was happening here.” She has done that and more, winning both the Lindback Distinguished Teaching award and the University Great Teacher award, as well as multiple law school awards for her writing and scholarly work.

Outstanding teacher, insightful scholar, national expert, global authority. Professor Laura Little embodies the things that make Temple Law great – from any perspective.