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Robert L. Nelson

Robert L. Nelson headshot

ABF Director Emeritus and 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

Curriculum vitae


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

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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.


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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Cover of Rights on Trial: How Workplace Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality Rights on Trial: How Workplace Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality
University of Chicago Press
Cover of Diversity in Practice: Race, Gender, and Class in Legal and Professional Careers Diversity in Practice: Race, Gender, and Class in Legal and Professional Careers
Cambridge University Press Studies in Law and Society
“What We Know and Need to Know about ‘Access to Justice’ Research”
With E. Chambliss & R. Newman Knake, 67 South Carolina Law Review 193

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The Future of Latinos in the United States: Network for Justice Planning Summit
Nov 2016 Rachel F. Moran
The Future of Latinos in the United States: Inaugural Midwest Roundtable
Jun 2016 Rachel F. Moran
Panelist, ABA Mid-Year Meeting
Feb 2016 Rachel F. Moran

All presentations »

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

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