Brett Dignam

Clinical Professor of Law

Office: Jerome Greene Hall
435 West 116 Street
New York NY 10027

Courses/Current Research:

  • Complex Federal Litigation
  • Ethics in Clinical Practice
  • Prison Legal Services
  • Supreme Court Advocacy 


  • University of Southern California, J.D., 1983
  • UCLA, M.A., theater arts, 1975
  • Mount Holyoke College, B.A., theater arts and speech, 1972
Detailed Biography:

Professor Brett Dignam joined the Columbia Law School faculty in 2010.  She came to Columbia from Yale Law School, where she led the Prison Legal Services, Complex Federal Litigation and Supreme Court Advocacy clinics.

An award-winning teacher, Professor Dignam has supervised students in a broad range of litigation matters and has designed and overseen workshops conducted by students for prisoners at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut on issues including immigration, sexual assault, and exhaustion under the Prison Litigation Reform Act.

She has participated in major litigation in over 30 federal and state cases in the area of prisoners' rights.

Before entering the legal academy, Professor Dignam served as a law clerk for the Honorable William H. Orrick, U.S. District Court in San Francisco, California, and then developed a prison litigation practice in both federal and state courts.

She also served as an attorney in the Criminal Appeals and Tax Enforcement Policy Section, Tax Division, in the Department of Justice, from 1990-92, where she handled criminal appeals in all federal courts of appeals; the cases involved motor fuel excise tax/organized crime task force, savings and loan task force and sentencing guidelines issues. She also assisted Deputy Assistant Attorney General James Bruton to form the Division Policy on issues ranging from money laundering to RICO.

Dignam has both a criminal and civil trial and appellate practice in both federal and state courts. She has participated in major litigation at both levels on behalf of prisoners and on tax matters, among other issues.

As an associate professor at Yale Law, Dignam taught and supervised students in Prison Legal Services, Poverty/HIV, Landlord/Tenant and Immigration clinics, guiding students through administrative hearings, state and federal trial and appellate courts on issues ranging from state habeas claims to violatio¬ns of the Voting Rights Act.

Dignam received her J.D. from the University of Southern California, where she was student director of the USC Prison Law Project and chair of the Hale Moot Court Honors Program. She has a Master of Arts degree in theater from the University of California at Los Angeles. She received her B.A. from Mount Holyoke College.