Creating change beyond the courtroom and classroom

Photo of Marci Hamilton

Marci Hamilton prepares to share her legal and leadership experiences with Fels students

In Marci Hamilton’s classroom, students learn to speak up. “I've always used what I would call the humane Socratic method,” she says. “There's no reason to shame or undermine students, but—especially in the arena of legal change—they need to be prepared and able to articulate. Change happens through conversations.” As a litigator as well as a law professor, Marci has ample experience creating change beyond the courtroom and classroom: her long-standing advocacy to eliminate the statutes of limitation for child abuse picked up momentum when New York’s Child Victims Act signed into law this year, and many other states are following suit. “We've been out there talking about this for almost 20 years,” she reflects. “This year, we reached a tipping point. It’s an incredibly exciting moment.”

Now joining Fels as a Professor of Practice, Marci looks forward to working with Fels students as they tackle some of the most talked-about issues in public policy concerning tobacco legislation, the Affordable Care Act, Title IX legislation, and more. In particular, both her fall course on public process and her anticipated spring course explore some of the cases that defined Marci’s career, such as limiting religious exemptions. “My work has always been at the at the juncture of public policy and law,” she explains. “I specialize in religious groups that break the law and what to do about holding them accountable when they are harming others. I’ve always been interested in how to shape laws to improve the world for the vulnerable.”

Marci’s eventful schedule this fall includes teaching, writing, accepting honors such as a nomination for Pennsylvania’s Distinguished Daughters, and giving talks such as the Ronald Reagan Institute’s celebration of Sandra Day O’Connor (for whom Marci clerked as a new law school graduate). She also directs CHILD USA, a nonprofit organization she founded to research and develop evidence-based public policy to prevent child abuse and neglect. “I’ve written a column every other week for twenty years. If I had an idea for improving the world, I just wrote a column,” she laughs. “Now I get to see the other side of the ideas. I see that there is a way to orchestrate improvements in public policy through an organization.”

“My advice to every young person entering the field is to just do something,” adds Marci, who earned master’s degrees in philosophy and fiction writing before starting her path toward a legal career defending vulnerable populations. “It doesn't really matter where you start. If that doesn't work out, do something else. You don’t have to craft the perfect career to slide right into.”

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