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Justin Simard - Michigan State University. East Lansing, MI, US

Justin Simard

Assistant Professor of Law | Michigan State University


Justin Simard’s research studies the modern citation of slavery by American judges and lawyers.





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Discovery Series featuring Dr. Justin Simard



Justin Simard is an assistant professor at MSU College of Law, where he teaches Professional Responsibility, Legal History, and Commercial Law. Prior to joining the faculty at MSU Law, he taught at Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Oregon.

Professor Simard received his bachelor’s degree in History from Rice University, and he completed his Juris Doctor and Ph.D. programs at the University of Pennsylvania. With his background, he aims to bring a new perspective to legal education as a historian, presenting the big picture view of concepts taught in his courses.

He has a natural enthusiasm for teaching, motivated in part by his own experiences as a student and knowing the impact of a passionate professor firsthand. He believes in helping students to find where they fit in law and is inspired by the moments when they truly understand and appreciate challenging concepts and legal skills.

Professor Simard’s research studies the modern citation of slavery by American judges and lawyers today and recognizes the profession’s history of legitimizing slavery through commercial practice. He has written and presented extensively on the topic, and his research can be found on his website.

Industry Expertise (1)


Areas of Expertise (4)

Modern Citations of Slavery

Legal History

Legal Education


Accomplishments (2)

Program in Early American Economy and Society Short-term Fellowship, Library Company of Philadelphia (professional)


Morris L. Cohen Essay Competition Winner, American Association of Law Libraries (professional)


Education (3)

University of Pennsylvania: Ph.D., History 2016

University of Pennsylvania: J.D. 2011

Rice University: B.A., History 2006

News (4)

Judges still cite cases in which enslaved people are property

Futurity  online


“One of the most surprising things I’ve found is how extensively these cases are cited for so many different reasons,” Simard says. “There’s just so many areas of law—criminal law, property law, criminal procedure—all because in the 19th century, there were so many slave cases. And this is such an important formative era in making American law that just basic ground rules are established in that time. In just about any legal issue you can think of, cases of enslaved people are cited.”

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Slave cases are still cited as good law across the U.S. This team aims to change that

NPR  online


Justin Simard, an assistant professor at Michigan State University's College of Law, estimates there are about 11,000 such cases out there — and about one million more that use them to back up their arguments. "I've done some analysis just with a sample of cases and concluded that 18% of all published American cases are within two steps of a slave case, so they either cite the slave case or cite a case that cites a slave case," Simard tells NPR. "The influence is really, really extensive."

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How the legal system continues to treat once-enslaved people as property

Michigan State University  online


“What I thought would be a footnote in my dissertation highlighting the odd decisions of a few judges turned into a broader examination of the legal profession’s treatment of slave cases,” said Simard, assistant professor of law. “Not only are we ratifying their treatment as property in the past but also continuing to treat them as property in the present.”

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Fighting racial bias with an unlikely weapon: Footnotes

The Washington Post  online


Justin Simard, a law professor and legal historian at Michigan State University — Henderson’s alma mater — has been fighting bias with an unlikely weapon: footnotes. Director of the Citing Slavery Project, Simard is building a database of cases involving enslaved people and modern cases that cite them as a precedent. He even got the editors of the Bluebook — the legal profession’s arcane but rigorously adhered-to citation bible — to change its rules in its 2021 edition, requiring cases involving slavery to be identified.

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Event Appearances (3)

“Citing Slavery”

(2020) Race and Property in Historical Perspective: A Series of Conversations about Research & Methods,  

“Being Property and Litigating Property: Perspectives on the Law of Slavery”

(2020) African American Intellectual History Society Annual Meeting  

“An Education for Practice: Litchfield Law School and the Early American Commercial Lawyer”

(2019) Law and Society Annual Meeting  

Journal Articles (3)

The Recurrent Current Crisis in Legal Education

MSU Law Faculty Repository

2020 Karl Llewellyn, the famous legal realist, commercial legal scholar, and chief drafter of the Uniform Commercial Code, published The Current Crisis in Legal Education seventy-three years ago. In that article he argued that the casebook method's dominance of the law school curriculum hindered legal education. Llewellyn acknowledged the method's benefits but noted that excessive devotion to its approach prevented law students from developing the full set of skills they needed in practice. Teaching centered on appellate cases, he argued, encouraged students to focus too heavily on developing subject-matter expertise at the expense of understanding how cases found their way into appellate courts in the first place.4 Appellate cases, focused as they are on a judge's reasoning, hid much of the work of the lawyer as advocate and counselor that took place behind the scenes. The casebook method therefore hindered attempts to "focus attention on the techniques of solution, rather than on the answers," and to teach students the skills of "legal crafts which have to be studied both in theory and in practice in order to develop an adequate craftsman."

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Citing Slavery

Stanford Law Review

2020 The law of slavery is still good law. In the twenty-first century, American judges and lawyers continue to cite case law developed in disputes involving enslaved people. These cases provide law for a wide variety of subject areas. Judges cite slavery to explicate the law of contracts, property, evidence, civil procedure, criminal procedure, statutory interpretation, torts, and many other fields. For the most part, judges cite these cases without acknowledging that the cases grew out of American slavery and without considering that a case’s slave origins might lessen its persuasive authority. Nor do they examine the dignitary harms that the citation of slavery may impose. In citing slavery, lawyers thus demonstrate a myopic historical perspective that creates legal harms and reveals the ethical limitations of their profession. This Article illustrates the benefits a broader historical perspective can bring to bear on contemporary doctrinal issues. At a time when American groups and institutions from businesses to universities are coming to grips with the legacy of slavery, the legal profession has an obligation to do the same.

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Lawyers as Trusted Agents in Nineteenth-Century American Commerce: The Influence of Fiduciary Norms and Equity on Economic Development

Law and Social Inquiry

2020 The role of fiduciary law in the development of North American capitalism has been overlooked by institutional economists, who interpret fiduciary law as a form of contract and make the judicial enforcement of contract central to the transaction-cost theory of economic development. This article argues that the emergence of distinctive, equity-based fiduciary laws and norms significantly influenced the development and growth of early nineteenth-century American markets. Our historical research identifies lawyers as important economic actors, who served as catalysts for the emergence of this governance culture. Lawyers adopted fiduciary principles that allowed them to become trusted intermediaries, thereby addressing the agency-cost problems inherent in complex economic exchange that vex the institutionalists’ contractual account of economic development.

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