Professor Benjamin I. Sachs is this year’s winner of the prestigious Albert M. Sacks-Paul A. Freund Award for Teaching Excellence, an honor bestowed each spring by the Harvard Law School graduating class. The award recognizes teaching ability, attentiveness to student concerns and general contributions to student life at the law school.
A specialist in labor and workplace law, Sachs joined the Harvard Law School faculty in 2008 as an assistant professor. He received tenure last year.
In a nomination for this award, one student from the Class of 2013 described Sachs as someone who “loves to teach” and whose “discussions challenge students to question themselves and their peers while exploring legal concepts that shape our world. … There is no more generous or thoughtful member of our community.”
In preparing his speech, Sachs told the audience that he had done what lawyers are trained to do: he looked to “relevant precedent.” But he advised the members of the Class of 2013 that they are “graduating into a world where the following of precedent will not be enough. … There are big league crisis out there and the people who have come before you do not know how to solve them.”
It will take creativity and invention, he said. And the best lawyers—like artists and musicians—are able to integrate what has come before into the process of creating something new.
“In the end, Class of 2013, the world is giving you a graduation gift,” he said. “That gift is a long list of problems to solve and no guide for solving them.”
It’s a gift, he added, “because, when it comes to your lives as lawyers, the really interesting stuff is going to begin exactly when the precedent runs out. When you don’t know what to do. When you can’t come up with an example of someone who has faced the decision you face, or who has made the move that you think needs to be made.”
Previously, Sachs was the Joseph Goldstein Fellow at Yale Law School, where was awarded the 2007 Yale Law School Teaching Award. From 2002 to 2006, he served as assistant general counsel of the Service Employees International Union, in Washington, D.C., and from 1999 to 2002, he worked at Make the Road by Walking, a membership-based community organization in Brooklyn, N.Y. He also served as co-chair of the Immigration Committee of the American Bar Association Section on Labor and Employment Law from 2004 to 2006.
Sachs is the author of numerous scholarly publications in leading law journals. His most recent scholarship includes “Unions, Corporations, and Political Opt-Out Rights After Citizens United” (Columbia Law Review, 2012), “Despite Preemption: Making Labor Law in Cities and States” (Harvard Law Review, 2011), “Enabling Employee Choice: A Structural Approach to the Rules of Union Organizing” (Harvard Law Review, 2010), and “Reinhardt at Work” (Yale Law Journal, 2010). His writing also has appeared in the Harvard Law and Policy Review, and several labor and employment law publications.
He holds a B.A. from Oberlin College, where he was a Truman Scholar and Phi Beta Kappa, and a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he won the Judge William E. Miller Prize for the best paper concerning the Bill of Rights for his piece “Residential Picketing and the First Amendment.”
Before obtaining his law degree, Sachs worked at the U.S. Department of Labor and in the Employment Division of Northeast Ohio Legal Services. He also spent time as a summer associate at Bredhoff & Kaiser in Washington, D.C.
Established in 1992, the Sacks-Freund award is named in honor of the late Harvard Law School Professors Albert Sacks and Paul Freund. Recent award winners have included William Rubenstein, Jon Hanson, Michael Klarman, Elizabeth Warren, Robert Bordone, Richard Fallon, Martha Minow, William Stuntz, Laurence Tribe and Lani Guinier.