Galen Distinguished Guest Michael Higdon sent the “write” message during visit to School of Law

Michael Higdon

Professor Michael Higdon met with students, faculty, and administrators during a two-day “virtual visit” to Oregon Law as the 2020 Galen Distinguished Guest in Legal Writing. 

Higdon is Associate Dean for Faculty Development at University of Tennessee College of Law. In addition to Legal Writing and Rhetoric, he teaches and writes in the areas of Constitutional Law; Sexuality, Gender and the Law; Wills & Trusts; and Family Law. His scholarship has appeared in leading journals for many years. Complementing his wide-ranging scholarly expertise, Professor Higdon is a dynamic speaker and teacher.

During his visit, Higdon presented his paper, (In)Formal Marriage Equality (forthcoming in the Fordham Law Review, 2021), to faculty and administrators. The paper argues that, while the 2015 Obergefell decision secured for same-sex couples the right to marry, the law has not fully delivered on the promise of marriage equality in practice. Higdon proposes a specific and uniform solution to the problem, which he terms Equitable Marriage.

“Developing sensible approaches for dealing with pre-Obergefell marriage-like relationships is a real challenge,” said Associate Dean Jennifer Reynolds, who moderated the event. “Michael is making a tremendous contribution by showing us a workable path forward that takes fairness and dignity into account.”

In addition to his presentation to faculty, Higdon met with journal students to discuss writing their first scholarly article. Oregon Law Review Notes and Comments Editor Megan Breen helped plan the event.

“I know from recent experience that writing your first scholarly article is especially daunting,” recounted Breen. “My main hope was that Professor Higdon could help demystify the process of writing scholarly articles and provide students with some tools for managing the process.”

Reflecting on the experience, Breen noted that Professor Higdon met and exceeded those goals. She described a specific moment during the meeting when Higdon was asked about how he finds his next scholarly topic.

“I remember Professor Higdon’s answer well because it resonated with me. He said that you should only write about something that bothers you,” Breen said. I thought it was such a simple, elegant way to explain what I’ve been trying to share with the staff editors.”

2L Staff Editor Natalie Fisher applauded Professor Higdon for his encouragement and capacity to distill complex ideas.

“Hearing from Professor Higdon that feelings of imposter syndrome and doubts about your topic are normal, even for experienced authors, was incredibly relieving,” Fisher said. “He shared a plethora of advice in a short amount of time, but the advice that stuck with me was to read, read, read. And as you read about your topic, ask yourself, ‘What’s good? What’s bad? What’s missing?’ The answer to one of these questions will be your article.”

“When I wrote my first article, I felt like an imposter, like someone trying to do something that I wasn't sure I knew how to do. I learned the format very rigidly – there's a section on this, there's a section of this, and there's a section on that – and it didn't feel like me writing it.  It felt like someone filling in the blanks, so it felt very awkward. Over time, I got a sense of my voice. But I will tell you this, because this part never goes away, there's a little voice in my head that says cruel things like ‘this is dumb, or you're just saying the same stuff, or this isn't going to work.’ I have learned that is my constant little friend that I just ignore. And if I keep going, it always does work.” - Professor Michael Higdon

In addition to talking about how to generate topic ideas, Higdon detailed his own scholarly writing process for students. He explained the “Flowers paradigm,” or the four different “hats” he wears, one at a time, when working on a scholarly article. The first of these hats is the idea-generating hat, or the “mad man.”

Oregon Law Review Staff Editor Francesco Fischer commented on how helpful he found this approach to understanding the difficult and often recursive process of scholarly writing.

 “I asked Professor Higdon for advice about what to do when I am wearing one of the other hats later in the writing process and the ‘mad man’ comes back, or when new ideas start to surface,” Fischer recalled. “He said to simply let the mad man come out, let the ideas flow, but to stay grounded in the current stage of writing. This was extremely valuable to me because I tend to not allow myself to continue generating ideas while in the later stages of writing.”

Fischer also praised Higdon for his accessibility. During the workshop, Fischer's internet connection was unstable and Higdon was unable to hear him.

“I later received an email from him, asking if I would like to discuss my topic via email because I didn’t get the chance to discuss it at the workshop,” Fischer said. “This may have been a small, insignificant gesture on his part, but to a 2L at a faraway law school who is working on his first legal article, this was very meaningful to me. I have already begun to incorporate Professor Higdon’s advice into my work and am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this workshop with him.”

Higdon also met with members of Oregon’s LGBTQ+ student group, OUTLaws. They discussed a range of topics, including the importance of connecting with supportive people and services, particularly during the pandemic, and how advocates and legal scholars can help drive social change.

OUTLaws President Christina Sailler enjoyed hearing about Higdon’s background and how it informs his scholarship and perspective on academia today.

“I especially appreciated how he broke down his writing process to help us understand how ideas become full-fledged research projects,” Sailler said. “The opportunity to connect with Professor Higdon was really meaningful for us, especially during this socially distanced time where we don’t have as many opportunities to come together as a community.”

“My advice would be, whatever your general topic is, try to find the key piece or most cited piece on this topic and read it just to get a good overview. Pay attention to your reaction as you read it. There are probably some parts of that piece you're going to have more of an emotional reaction to than others. That's giving you a signal; that's what's interesting you about that topic.” - Professor Michael Higdon

Echoing Sailler’s sentiments, 3L OUTLaws member Malcolm MacWilliamson expressed gratitude for the chance to connect with Higdon during his visit. “He was such a delight – the roundtable was really the highlight of my week.”

Professor Suzanne Rowe, director of Oregon Law’s Legal Research and Writing Program, praised Higdon for sharing his practical approach to legal scholarship with students.

"Professor Higdon inspired students to pursue scholarship that addresses issues that concern them,” Rowe said. “Many went from seeing law review articles as abstract, academic work to a new form of advocacy and understanding."

Higdon joins Oregon Law’s impressive list of past Galen Distinguished Guests: Professor Melissa Weresh, Professor Mary Beth Beazley, Deputy Solicitor General Anne Egeler, Professor Leslie Culver, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Jean P. Rosenbluth. University of Oregon’s Galen Distinguished Guest in Legal Writing series is due to generous support from our donors, particularly alumnus Morris Galen ‘50. Visit the website to learn more about The Galen Endowment for the Advancement of Legal Writing and its impact on legal writing education at Oregon Law.

By Barbi McLain, LRW Program Manager