Andrea Roth learned the law in the courtrooms of Washington, D.C., where she was a public defender looking out for men and women accused of robbery, larceny and murder.
Roth, who is now an assistant professor at Berkeley Law specializing in how technology and things like artificial intelligence will change the law, said she never forgets her experience in court.
It has helped her teach law students to be thoughtful, open and skeptical. It has helped her understand the real-world impact that sometimes-theoretical legal debates can have on defendants. And it has helped her be a better teacher, she said.
“I liked being the public defender because I liked being the one person in the courtroom to find good in the person, and recognize that they are more than the worst thing they have ever done,” Roth said.
Roth received the prestigious Prytanean Faculty Award for junior women faculty on Wednesday in recognition of her teaching and mentorship. The award is given each year to a female professor who has not received tenure. It carries a $25,000 award that the winner can use to fund research.
Roth, who has taught at Berkeley Law since 2011, stood out because of her on-the-ground legal experience, said Marilyn Morrish, a 1968 UC Berkeley graduate who is a member of Prytanean Women’s Honor Society, the oldest collegiate women’s honorary society in the United States.
“One of the things that was interesting about Andrea is that she is one of the few (law school faculty) who actually practiced law; it isn’t just academic for her,” Morrish said.
That experience gives Roth a deep appreciation for the subject matter of her courses, notably evidence and criminal procedure, Eleanor Swift, an emerita professor at Berkeley Law, wrote in a nomination letter for Roth.
“Based on the class that I observed, she has a degree of mastery of this wide array of subject matter and materials that is very impressive,” Swift wrote. “She shows a level of comfort in the classroom and a fluency of expression that are rare.”
Swift wrote that she saw very few students in Roth’s class “internet surfing” or otherwise tuning out of what can be arcane rules and legal arguments.
“There is nothing, I think, that fosters student interest in their education more than good teaching,” Swift wrote.
While her courtroom experience is valuable, Roth has is also developing a rich expertise in the future of the law, examining questions about how artificial intelligence, predictive algorithms and DNA testing will change rules of evidence or courtroom procedure.
“If you can’t cross examine a machine, how do you confront the witnesses against you?” Roth asked.
The $25,000 award will help Roth finish a research project comparing American legal procedures to those in other countries.
“It is very easy to be a U.S. law student and think that this is the only way to do things, but there is a whole world out there where they are starting from different premises,” Roth said. “In Iceland, the entire population is in a DNA database. Why do they do that? Is that something we should consider here?”
In her spare time, Roth is an open-water swimmer who regularly paddles herself from Alcatraz to San Francisco. She is also the mother of two boys. Her husband, John Paul Reichmuth, is a comedian and public defender. Roth is being considered for tenure later this year.
Contact Will Kane at email@example.com