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Robert L. Nelson

Robert L. Nelson headshot

MacCrate Research Chair in the Legal Profession

Joint appointment

Professor of Sociology, Northwestern University


Ph.D., Sociology, Northwestern University; J.D., Northwestern University School of Law


Robert L. Nelson is the Director of the American Bar Foundation, the MacCrate Research Chair in the Legal Profession at the ABF, and professor of sociology and law at Northwestern University. He…

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Research focus

The social organization of law practice and the relationship between law and social inequality. Research has addressed transformations in the legal profession, the role of corporate counsel, gender inequality, and employment discrimination.


After the JD
Latest finding: Oct 19, 2012, with Bryant G. Garth, Ronit Dinovitzer, Gabriele Plickert, Joyce Sterling
The After the JD (AJD) project is an empirical study of the career outcomes of a cohort of almost 5,000 new lawyers, offering both a nationally representative picture of lawyer career trajectories…
Employment Discrimination Litigation
Latest finding: Dec 12, 2012, with Laura Beth Nielsen, Ryon Lancaster, John Donohue III, Peter Siegelman
At the center of current debates about the role of anti-discrimination law in American society is the system of discrimination litigation. Despite the sheer magnitude of changes in employment…
Urban Lawyers: The New Social Structure of the Bar
Latest finding: Sep 24, 2008, with John P. Heinz, John P. Heinz, Robert L. Nelson, Rebecca L. Sandefur and Edward O. Laumann
Published by The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2005 Over the past several decades, the number of lawyers in large cities has doubled, women have entered the bar at an…

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First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table
American Bar Association
After the JD III: Third Results from a National Study of Legal Careers (with R. Dinovitzer, B. Garth, G. Plickert, R. Sandefur, J. Sterling & D. Wilkins (American Bar Foundation and NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education, 2014)
American Bar Foundation and NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education
“The Color of Glass: The Career Progress of Men and Women of Color in Private Law Firms” (with M. Payne-Pikus & J. Hagan)
Research Brief prepared for Diversity and Flexibility Alliance Conference

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Panelist on Plenary Session, “Leaders in Law: A Look at the Numbers”
Sep 2013
State of the Profession: Trends in Legal Diversity—Selected Findings from the Research Group in Legal Diversity
Jun 2013
Pursuing Diverse Talent in Legal and Professional Services: Research Within and Across Professions, Organizations, and Societies
May 2013 Ronit Dinovitzer, David Wilkins

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Professional Service & Recognition

  • External Review Committee, Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program, University of California Law School, Berkeley, CA, Fall 2013
  • Faculty Member, Law & Society Association Graduate Student Workshop, Boston, MA, May 2013
  • Member, Kalven Prize Committee, Law & Society Association
  • Chair, Scholarship Committee, World Justice Project, ABA Presidential Initiative
  • Advisor, ABA Commission on Women, Women of Color Research Initiative
  • Principal Investigator, After the JD – Wave 2.
  • Co-Principal Investigator and Member, Advisory Committee, National Science Foundation/Law & Society Association/American Bar Foundation, Doctoral Fellowships in Law and Inequality
  • Member, Sociological Research Association
  • Member, Faculty Advisory Board, Center for Legal Studies, Northwestern University
  • Co-Director, Research Group on Legal Diversity, American Bar Foundation
  • Member, Study Team, National Quality Improvement Center on Child Representation in the Child Welfare System, University of Michigan
  • Immediate Past Chair, Sociology of Law Section, American Sociological Association