• Research Professor
Joint Appointment
Professor & Chair of Sociology, Northwestern University
Ph.D., Jurisprudence & Social Policy, University of California, Berkeley
J.D., University of California, Berkeley
B.A., Legal Studies & Sociology, University of California, Santa Cruz

Laura Beth Nielsen

  • Research Professor
ABF Researcher

Laura Beth Nielsen is a Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation, a Professor of Sociology, and the Director of the Center for Legal Studies at Northwestern University. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Law and Society at the University of California, Berkeley Law School for the 2023-24 academic year.

Nielsen’s research focuses on law’s capacity for social change.  Her primary field is the sociology of law, with particular interests in legal consciousness (how ordinary people understand the law) and the relationship between law and inequalities of race, gender, and class. Her most recent monograph, Rights on Trial: How Employment Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality (University of Chicago Press 2017) with Ellen Berrey and Robert L. Nelson. Her first monograph, License to Harass: Law, Hierarchy, and Offensive Public Speech, (Princeton University Press, 2004) studies racist and sexist street speech, targets’ reactions and responses to it, and attitudes about using law to deal with such speech.

Nielsen is the author of numerous articles published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, UCLA Law Review, Law and Society Review, Law and Social Inquiry, Law and Policy, Stanford Journal of Law and Policy, and the Wisconsin Law Review. Her work and commentary have appeared in major media outlets, such as New York Times, Time Magazine, and USA Today She has appeared on National Public Radio, Fox News, and Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell. She is also the recipient of grants and awards from the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and the MacArthur Foundation.

Research Focus

Professor Nielsen is an expert in the areas of sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond, employment civil rights of all sorts including pregnancy, pay, race, sex, national origin, and is a scholar of the legal profession.

Selected Work