Director of American Bar Foundation to step down, return to faculty

The American Bar Foundation (ABF) has announced that Robert L. Nelson has decided to step down as director, effective September 1, 2015, to return full time to research and teaching at the ABF and Northwestern University. Nelson has served as Director since September 2004, a decade of great accomplishments at the Foundation. During his leadership, the ABF has achieved an 80 percent success rate in applications to the National Science Foundation. Its faculty of 25 scholars has garnered numerous recognitions, including an appointment as chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, a MacArthur "Genius" award, and five memberships in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. The ABF has seen significant advancement, with a successful campaign to endow a research chair in diversity and law, the creation of a doctoral fellowship program funded by the National Science Foundation, and a threefold increase in annual giving by The Fellows of the American Bar Foundation, an honorary group of leading lawyers, jurists and scholars.

A distinguished scholar on the legal profession and anti-discrimination law, Nelson has held the MacCrate Research Chair at the ABF since 2002, is Professor of Sociology and Law at Northwestern University, was given the best book award by the American Sociological Association in 2000, and has published seven books and numerous articles. While director, he continued an active research agenda, leading the ABF's pathbreaking research on lawyer careers, the After the JD Project, the scholars program of the World Justice Project, and a major study of employment civil rights litigation in the United States.

David A. Collins, President of the ABF, said, "Bob Nelson has brought the complete package of executive excellence to his post with the ABF: capacity, energy, sagacity and integrity. It's been the ABF's good fortune to have him at the tiller over the last decade. We're delighted that he's staying with us as a research scholar, but we'll miss his steady hand as our CEO."

William Hubbard, President of the American Bar Association and past president of the ABF, commented, "During my tenure as ABF president, throughout my work with the World Justice Project, and extending to my presidency of the ABA, Bob has not only been a scholar to whom I have turned for research and analysis, but he has also been a trusted adviser. Bob has been a counselor, strategist and friend. We are all indebted to Bob for his scholarship and his leadership."

Daniel Rodriguez, Dean of Northwestern Law School, ABF board member, and President of the Association of American Law Schools, observed, "Bob Nelson has been a terrific collaborator and a real leader. In a period in which questions persist about the value and impact of scholarship on law and the legal profession, Bob has shepherded an extraordinary group of researchers and has consistently supported top quality research. His will be big shoes to fill."

Nelson said, "It has been a great privilege to lead this unique organization for the last 10 years. With crises facing the legal profession and the system of justice today, in the United States and around the world, there has never been a greater need for the kind of rigorous, independent research done at the ABF. I look forward to returning to the faculty ranks of this superb organization."

A national search in underway for a new director.

Published: Mon, Nov 17, 2014