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Robert L. Nelson

Robert L. Nelson headshot

ABF Director Emeritus and MacCrate Research Chair in the Legal Profession

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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 University. He holds a J.D. and Ph.D. in sociology, both from Northwestern, and has held several positions of academic leadership throughout his career. He is a leading scholar in the fields of the legal…

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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.


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The Hero and the Monsignor: Law, Sexual Violence, and the Catholic Church

This project examines the sexual abuse of minors through a case study of lawsuits brought against a Catholic archdiocese for failure to prevent sexual abuse by priests. With permission from the…

Employment Civil Rights

The Employment Civil Rights Project is generating findings on the changing dynamics of employment discrimination litigation, the types of cases that succeed in litigation, and the parties'…

Research Group on Legal Diversity

The American Bar Foundation is committed to expanding equity and opportunity within the legal profession and in society at large. It pursues this goal in the selection of its leadership, the hiring…

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"Perceiving Discrimination: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation in the Legal Profession"
Law and Social Inquiry
Cover of Rights on Trial: How Workplace Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality Rights on Trial: How Workplace Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality
The 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

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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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