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Posted April 24, 2014

Greg Mitchell Wins UVA All-University Teaching Award

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Greg Mitchell

Mitchell: "The law in the statute-based courses that I typically teach is often maddeningly abstract, but the abstractions of the law fall away when put into the context of memorable hypotheticals."

Some students might have trouble sitting through Civil Procedure, a notoriously difficult subject, at 8:30 on a Friday morning. But not with Professor Greg Mitchell leading class.

Contact: Mary Wood

"Professor Mitchell is simultaneously effective, engaging and entertaining, which is a rare combination," said third-year law student Erin Ward, who took that course as well as Evidence and an independent study with the professor.

The University of Virginia is recognizing Mitchell's classroom efforts this year with an All-University Teaching Award. Mitchell and eight other recipients across Grounds will be honored at a dinner at the Rotunda on Friday. (Past Award Winners)

Mitchell, the Joseph Weintraub–Bank of America Distinguished Professor of Law, also teaches advanced seminars in law and psychology, as well as complex civil litigation and other topics. His scholarship focuses on legal judgment and decision-making, the psychology of justice, and the application of social science to legal theory and policy. Mitchell has a both a law degree and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and taught at Florida State University before joining the UVA Law faculty in 2006.

A self-described "ham," Mitchell often poses humorous hypotheticals in class, casting himself and students as characters to keep things lively.

That focus on engaging interaction, and the mixing of theory and practical knowledge helps students "understand the landscape of the doctrine in real practice," Ward said. "His dedication to teaching and helping the students develop professionally is evident both in and out of the classroom."

Mitchell said he hates leaving class feeling that his students were confused or not engaged.

"My only rule for teaching is to avoid confusion and boredom," he said. "I don't have much trouble with the boredom part, but I am always working to come up with better ways of explaining the law."

Second-year law student Sam Strongin, who also took Civil Procedure with Mitchell, praised his professor for bringing clarity to complex material.

"I have no doubt I understand civil procedure very well thanks to him," Strongin said.

Strongin added that Mitchell also made a point to be available to students outside of class.

"I spent many hours in his office, having him both further refine my understanding of the material and offer more macro-level advice, such as what it takes to succeed on law school exams and overall approaches to studying," he said. "I've taken the lessons he's provided and used them in other classes, and I feel like I can tie his contributions to steps I have taken going forward that have proven very valuable."

Instead of striving for perfection, Mitchell said being self-deprecating and open to spontaneity has worked better for him as a teaching strategy.

"I'm never quite sure what's going to happen in class either, so that's good," he said. "I'm glad to hear at least some students agree with it."