Prof. Rebecca Crootof comes to Richmond Law from New Haven, Connecticut, where she was the Executive Director of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. We sat down with Prof. Crootof to learn more about her career path and what she's looking forward to at Richmond Law.

Can you tell me more about your academic interests?
Both international law and new technology and the law — where the law directs the development of new technology, and also where new technology causes the law to evolve. One of the things I like about torts is that it’s one of the first places where you see technology affecting legal evolution. It’s where the rubber starts to meet the road. A lot of the classic torts cases are trying to figure out who is responsible for harms associated with new technology — car crashes, railroads, cameras. Future tort law is going to continue to evolve in response to new technology, be it facial recognition or autonomous vehicles. I like the idea of teaching torts through a tech law lens, making old rules relevant in light of new tech.

Can you run me through what led you to become a professor of law?
I was always sure I wasn’t going to be a lawyer. Growing up, my grandmother loved telling me that I was going to be a lawyer and I would say, “Never. Never. Never. It’s not going to happen.” I went to college. I was an English major and a Math minor. Left and became an English teacher. I got a really great job teaching ninth-grade English and had fantastic students. I loved teaching. But I was really frustrated by some of the social problems at the school and interested in how the school was trying to deal with them, and I got really involved. I realized I wanted to do more about social problems, mostly around sexism and racism.

My teaching gig was a one-year position, so when it ended, I looked for a job working on civil rights issues and I started work at a civil rights agency in D.C. focused on fair housing, public accommodations, and fair employment. I ended up gravitating more and more towards accessibility issues — issues related to people with disabilities. It was through my work there that I saw the power of law. We came up with a novel legal theory that allowed us to expand the coverage of a law that had been around for a while but hadn’t been used very much for statute of limitations purposes. Basically, the law’s statute of limitations had been interpreted to not apply two years after a building was constructed, so developers didn’t worry about being covered by the law because almost no one brought an accessibility claim within two years, even though buildings were being built to exist for decades. We reinterpreted the law to expand the coverage. We argued that as long as a developer built one building within the last two years that had the same problem, we could rope in all of the buildings that they had built with that same problem. We expanded the coverage from about 50 apartments to hundreds of thousands of apartments, because developers go around the country building the same building with the same problems over and over again. It was just mind-blowing that we were able to use law in this way to retrofit hundreds of thousands of apartments and to get developers to start building their apartment complexes in more accessible ways, but I kept feeling like I was running into a bit of a JD ceiling.

We worked with really great lawyers, but as soon as I handed the case I had built over to them, they ran with it, and I really wanted to be a part of that, so I finally caved and went to law school. I went in intending to be a strategic rights litigator in 2008, when there were a lot of drone strikes happening in Pakistan, and I became interested in human rights law, the law of war, and new technology and the intersection between the three. I went to law school and then clerked for two years, but missed academia, so I went back and got a Ph.D. in law where I really focused on international law and the law of war and new technology with a human rights lens, and that has really been the focus of my scholarship and work pretty much ever since.

What courses are you teaching?
This fall I am teaching Torts, an intro 1L course. In the Spring I’ll be teaching a course called Tech Law, which is purely about the ways in which law and tech influence the evolution of the other, with specific focus on the methodologies and toolbox of arguments lawyers use to address new kinds of problems, harms, and situations created by new technology.

What advice do you have for students who may be interested in new tech and the law?
Come talk to me because I would love to support you in working on these issues. There’s a lot to be done academically, there’s a lot to be done practically, there’s a lot to be done from a policy standpoint, and depending on where your interests are and what skill sets you want to develop, my advice is going to be different.

Now that you're here, what are you looking forward to the most?
I’m looking forward to teaching and meeting all of the students. One of the things I was really excited about with this job is that Richmond wants me to be me. They want me to teach the subjects I’m interested in and work on the work that I’m interested in. I’m excited to delve into that and share it with students. 

Interview conducted by Alexandria Brown.