6 Questions with Professor J. Gordon Hylton

July 22, 2016

Professor J. Gordon Hylton, a legal historian  and UVA Law alumnus, teaches courses on the history of African-American lawyers, trusts and estates, professional responsibility and property. He joined the Law School full-time in 2015, but had been a visiting professor for more than a decade previous. His current research interests focus on the history of the legal profession, the history of civil rights and the legal history of American sports.

What is your favorite memory of law school?  
It’s not necessarily my favorite memory, but my clearest memory is of my first law school class. The movie, “The Paper Chase,” had come out during my senior year of college and like everyone who started law school that year, I was aware of it. The first class in the movie is Contracts. My first class was Contracts. The casebook in the movie was Fuller & Eisenberg. That was our casebook. The professor in the class made no effort to explain what the class would be about. Neither did my professor. The first case to be discussed was Hawkins v. McGee. Our first case was Hawkins v. McGee. It all suddenly seemed like some practical joke, at my expense. In the movie, Hart, the protagonist, is called upon; he is unprepared; and he ends up throwing up in the men’s room after class. I was unprepared, but fortunately was not called upon. After that, it got better.

Who is your hero?  
My heroes are the seven professors who were here while I was in law school and who are still teaching and who likely will outlast me. (Dick HowardTom WhiteTed WhiteJohn Norton MooreRichard BonnieJohn Jeffries, and George Rutherglen.)

What things do you like the most about being a professor? 
I like the interchanges with students in class, and I like having the freedom to pursue topics that interest me.

What’s your favorite teaching/classroom moment?

There is nothing like teaching first-year students in their first semester of law school. Never again will you have students who will all show up every day and will be well-prepared on top of that. And are not yet jaded.

What’s your favorite spot in Charlottesville, and why?  
The softball field across from the Law School. I spent much of my free time in law school playing pickup games there, and then during my final year Fred Vogel and I organized the North Grounds Softball League. Forty years later, the games are still going on.

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