Trailblazing professor Caroline Forell retires after 41 years of teaching

Professor Caroline Forell at lecture podium

December 3, 2019 marked Professor Caroline Forell’s last day of teaching at Oregon Law. During her 41-year tenure she taught Legal Research and Writing, Torts, Trust and Estates, Future Interests, Animal Law, and Women and the Law.  Forell also served as Assistant Dean for Students at the law school from 1979-82 and Acting Director of the Morse Center from 2003-04.

“Professor Forell has been an integral part of our faculty,” said Marcilynn A. Burke, Dean and Dave Frohnmayer Chair in Leadership and Law. “She has helped shape state and international laws governing women and has prepared a new generation of lawyers to be advocates in the field. We are proud of her legacy at the law school.”

Out of all her research on Women and the Law and Torts - which includes an impressive twenty-seven law review publications, nine op-eds, two amicus curiae briefs, and at least twenty other publications - Forell points to one piece in particular as the capstone in her career. It is the book that she co-wrote with a law student.

“I had an amazing student, Donna Matthews, whom I asked to work with me on my book project,” said Forell. “Donna was second in her class and had published two law reviews. She was an unbelievably good writer and together we wrote  A Law of Her Own: The Reasonable Woman as a Measure of Man.

In the book, Forell and Matthews proposed to radically change law's fundamental paradigm by introducing a "reasonable woman standard" for measuring men's behavior. They advocated that courts apply this standard to the conduct of men-and women-in those legal settings where women are overwhelmingly the injured parties. Through use of this standard, they sought to eliminate the victimization and objectification of women by dismantling part of the legal structure that supports their subordination.

'A Law of Her Own' received national attention, including positive reviews from Gloria Steinem, Anna Quindlen, and Susan Estrich. It was cited in the stalking case of Bryant v. Walker, 190 Or App 253, 257 n.1 (2003). On appeal of this case to the Oregon Supreme Court, Forell presented oral argument on the issue of incorporating gender into the standard of care for assessing a stalking victim's alarm.

How it all started

Forell wanted to be a journalist with a local newspaper in Australia where her family lived at the time, so she applied for a cadet journalist position right after high school. She remembers her first job rejection letter because she has kept the response framed in her office:

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We considered your application the top one received but finally decided on a boy as we have a senior girl reporter already on staff. Had we not been able to secure a boy with the necessary qualifications we intended to offer you the position.
Letter from the Cadet Staff

That initial rejection pushed her away from journalism and towards the law.  

“I didn’t want to do the typical things that were available to women back then. Being a clerk, a typist, bookkeeper or even a legal secretary didn’t interest me.” 

As a first-generation college student and a first-generation American, the path was not clear-cut.

“I really didn’t know what lawyers did,” said Forell. “I watched Perry Mason like so many of my generation. But I didn’t have any lawyers – men or women - to look up to.”

She received a full scholarship to the University of Queensland and then transferred to the University of Iowa where she earned both her BA, Phi Beta Kappa, and her JD, Order of the Coif.

Professor Caroline Forell early in her careerUpon graduation from law school Forell looked for job opportunities in the Northwest.

“There was a position to teach Legal Research Writing for nine months at the University of Oregon,” said Forell. “I thought that would give me plenty of time to pass the bar (which she did) and find a law position in Oregon.”

Hired “on-the-spot” by Dean Chapin Clark after an over-the-phone interview, she became part of the original teaching team that developed Oregon’s Legal Research and Writing (LRW) Program in 1978.

“That was the hardest I had ever worked in my life,” said Forell. “There were three of us: Mary Lawrence, Dale Goble, and me.”

The first semester, Forell recalls having 83 students and grading over 400 papers. During her second semester the LRW Program had the students write a law review case note and a brief.

“I had all of these things going on and it was my first-time teaching,” said Forell. “But I guess I did a good job because I’m still around!”

Forell did much better than “good.” In fact, at the end of her year of teaching LRW, Dean Clark offered her the position as Assistant Dean – which she accepted. She spent half of her time on administration and half teaching LRW.

“Back then, we had one dean and two half-time assistant deans running the entire law school, so we were very busy,” said Forell.

She was in this position for three years before she applied for a regular tenure-track position. Starting out on the tenure track, Forell taught Torts, Trust & Estates, and Future Interests.

Blazing new paths in the law

When asked how it was to teach in those early years, Forell admits that it was, at times, a difficult environment. While she did have supportive colleagues, she did not have female mentors to help guide her through the law school environment.

“When I came here to teach, it was still very rare to see women law professors and very few were on the tenure track,” said Forell. However, she does point to her husband and recently retired Professor Richard Hildreth as being a source of support.

“Dick made a big difference,” He was the one that said, ‘Hey, here are some things you should ask for. These are the things that are available.’ Otherwise I wouldn’t have even known that I was eligible for things like a sabbatical."

Interestingly, Forell says that one student - Pamela Cory JD ’88 - was the best thing that happened to her teaching career during this time.

“Pam wanted to do a reading and conference on feminist jurisprudence – which was an area of the law that I had never heard of,” said Forell. “So, we read pieces by Catherine MacKinnon and Carol Gilligan and the scales fell from my eyes. I realized how much the topic mattered to me. That was the beginning.”

Forell recalls that law culture thirty years ago didn’t consider feminist jurisprudence to be “real law.” But she didn’t let that stop her from pushing to have it offered at the law school. The first-ever Women and the Law course was approved in 1991.

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Caroline has been a rock for this law school for 40 years, always there to do the things that need to be done. She is trusted and respected, a model scholar, citizen, and teacher. It’s hard to imagine what the school would be like had she not been here. 
Leslie Harris, Dorothy Kliks Fones Professor Emerita

“I remember my inaugural Women and the Law class so well,” Forell said. “Three papers from that class ended up being in the Oregon Law Review. It was a big deal.”

With a newfound passion for women’s legal issues, Forell published several scholarly articles on this topic. She has done extensive research and has written about the legal and ethical standards appropriate for intimate relationships involving various professionals and those they are responsible for, including attorney-client, faculty-student and doctor-patient. And her articles about attorney-client sex have spurred law reform and revision of codes of ethical conduct.

In recognition of her work, she has also been the recipient of several awards including: Oregon Law's Meritorious Service Award and Orlando J. Hollis Teaching Award as well as the Anna E. Wood Award for Outstanding Accomplishments on Behalf of Women from the law school's Women’s Law Forum.

A continued legacy

Professor Caroline Forell with former student Jessika Kaiser JD ’08

Looking back at her career, Forell says that some of the best experiences at the law school have involved students. “I really enjoy helping students discover what they want to do in life,” Forell said.  

She gets true joy when she hears of former students like Jessika Kaiser JD ’08 using their law degrees to follow their own paths. Kaiser who is the Assistant Director for Donor Relations at the University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication, made a surprise visit on Forell’s last day of class.

She says that over the years their relationship has changed from that of student/professor to that of friendship. “It all started when I was a 1L with nowhere to go for Thanksgiving," said Kaiser. “She invited me to come spend Thanksgiving with her family. It was wonderful.”

Kaiser says there have been many changes through the years, but that Forell has been there through it all. She has found her to be a true mentor who always provides constructive feedback and great professional advice.

 “Caroline is a strong woman with career success for over 40 years,” said Kaiser. “Her many contributions will be felt for decades to come.”

By Rayna Jackson, School of Law Communications