Reese Prize: Professor Conrad Johnson
Professor Conrad Johnson, a leading expert on innovative legal education, technology in law practice, and law school diversity, has been awarded the 2013 Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching by this year’s graduating class.
As a clinical law professor especially interested in how technology can best be used to advance access to justice in the courts and in public interest legal practice, Johnson has spent more than two decades training students to become effective advocates.
Johnson, whose family has deep roots in Harlem, graduated from Columbia University in 1975 and began his legal career at The Legal Aid Society’s Harlem office. Driven by the desire to ensure community access to legal services, he spent 12 years with the organization and eventually became the attorney-in-charge at that office.
While working at The Legal Aid Society, Johnson also taught at Malcolm-King College on 125th Street in Manhattan. “[Teaching] was another way to reach people in the community,” he says. “Even after a long day of lawyering, the time spent at Malcolm-King College energized me.”
Johnson spent two years as an assistant professor at the City University of New York School of Law before joining the Columbia Law School faculty in 1989. He served as the Law School’s director of clinical education from 1992 to 1996 and led the Law School’s Fair Housing Clinic, which specialized in civil rights litigation, for 11 years. In 2001, Johnson co-founded, with Professor Mary Zulack and Lecturer-in-Law Brian Donnelly, the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic.
“We became the first clinic in the country to focus exclusively on the impact of technology on law practice and the profession,” says Johnson. “We realized that technology would change law practice, understood that public interest legal organizations and the courts would need help in integrating technology into their services, and that students would benefit from learning how to use these powerful tools wherever their careers lead.”
Clinic students have created innovative technological solutions for New York’s Chief Judge, The Legal Aid Society, Legal Services NYC, the Civil Court for the City of New York, and the New York City Bar Association, among others. Their work has benefited thousands of people in crisis—from those affected by 9/11 to residents of neighborhoods decimated by Hurricane Sandy.
Johnson earned his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School in 1978.