Best Interests

Professor Theresa Glennon often poses this question to students who are trying to figure out what sort of law practice to pursue: “when you open the newspaper, what stories do you read?” Her theory is that the answer can tell students a lot about what topics engage them on a personal level. The corollary, of course, is that their personal interests are as important to the analysis as factors such as what’s considered “marketable” or “hot” – perhaps even more. “What are you really drawn to?” she presses. “It’s important, because in order to be an effective and satisfied lawyer, you need to spend a lot of time thinking about the topics relevant to your chosen field.”

Professor Glennon’s own personal interests rest at the crossroads of law, psychology, and sociology. After graduating from Yale Law School and clerking for a federal district court judge, Glennon joined the Education Law Center in Philadelphia, where she represented children before courts and administrative agencies in order to secure their rights in public education and social services programs. She came to Temple Law in 1993 after teaching in a legal theory and practice program at the University of Maryland School of Law. Here at Temple, Professor Glennon’s primary academic focus is family law, which she sees as “a natural extension of my education law work. Both are about protecting the rights of children.” It’s not an easy field, Glennon admits – but that’s exactly why she finds it so appealing. “In family law, and in education law to some extent, there are no easy, right answers. It’s always complicated, always messy, and it involves the most profound aspects of people’s lives. Family law in particular touches everybody at some point, and that’s part of why it’s such a rich area for academic thought.”

In the classroom, Glennon tries to expose students to the complexities of real-world practice. In addition to role-playing and other simulation exercises, she invites area lawyers to speak to the class about particular facets of their practice. If a Temple graduate is working in an area of interest to a current student, she tries to make an introduction so that the current student can get a feel for what the practice is really like. Glennon does this, in part, because she is aware that “for many Temple students, law school is their first exposure to the legal world. They don’t have lawyers in their families to offer this kind of support, and I really enjoy being in a position to offer it instead.”

Of course, Temple faculty have more than teaching in the classroom and mentoring students on their professional plates. Faculty scholarship is a very high priority at Temple Law, and for professors like Theresa Glennon the challenge is a welcome one. “I’m most drawn to legal problems in which someone’s needs or concerns aren’t being included in the analysis – usually someone vulnerable or unable to speak for themselves.” This theme runs through Glennon’s education law research as well as her family law research, and has taken her into territory that borders both scientific and legal frontiers. Her research on paternity law, for example, examines the impact that DNA testing has had on the legal determination of fatherhood and on the children at the heart of such battles. And her work on assisted reproductive technology explores the uncharted ethical waters where the interests of intended parents and their potential children may not always be in harmony.

This emphasis on making sure that everyone’s voice gets heard carries over into Glennon’s pro bono and professional association work as well. In addition to her teaching, scholarship, and mentoring responsibilities, Professor Glennon finds time to volunteer for the Good Shepherd Mediation Program in northwest Philadelphia. There, she has the opportunity to mediate child custody matters for low-income families in transition. She is active in the Association of American Law Schools, where she is an officer of the Family Law Section, and in the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Bar Associations. She is also a member of an Institutional Review Board, which protects the rights of human subjects of research in research involving children.

At the heart of every endeavor lies one core belief: that as a society we have a duty to protect the interests of those who cannot do it themselves. Only by acting in their best interests can we ensure that the future inherited by coming generations – of children, of lawyers, and of community members – will be as rich as Professor Theresa Glennon knows it can be.