Fulbright Scholar Stories | Abbe Smith

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Abbe Smith

Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC
Research: Lawyers' Ethics: Representing Unpopular Clients Down Under
Host: University of Melbourne School of Law, Melbourne, Australia
August 2005 – February 2006


Law professor and criminal defense lawyer Abbe Smith knew that she would have the time of her life as a Fulbright Scholar in Melbourne, Australia, but her Fulbright experience exceeded her wildest dreams.

“I fully expected to have a great time in Australia,” says Smith, who co-directs a criminal defense clinic and postgraduate fellowship criminal defense program at Georgetown Law School. “But, I didn’t know it would be as life changing as it was.” Smith describes her time in Australia as a profound experience both professionally and personally. “My time Down Under caused me to rethink many things about my work and life—in a very positive way,” Smith says. “Sometimes you have to go very far away in order to look at things anew.”

In addition to examining case law, scholarship on legal ethics, and other materials on Australian law practice, Smith interviewed more than two dozen criminal defense, prisoners’ rights, and asylum rights about their motivations and methods. Aside from learning an enormous amount about the ethics and ethos of the Australian bar, Professor Smith made some lifelong friends. “I hope to keep in touch with many of the lawyers I interviewed,” says Smith. “It was a wonderful thing to find kindred spirits on the other side of the world.”

An article based on Smith’s research, “Defending the Unpopular Down-Under,” is being published by the Melbourne University Law Review in 2006.

Gold Mine
Gold Mine

During her time in Australia, Smith spoke to several groups of law teachers and students, and gave talks to legal aid lawyers in Melbourne, Brisbane and Darwin. One of the highlights was giving a speech at the prize giving ceremony connected with graduation at the University of Melbourne Law School. Smith also met some prominent judges, including two high court judges. On the recommendation of one of the lawyers she interviewed for her research and one of the judges, Smith read two books by well-known Australian writer Helen Garner, Joe Cinque’s Consolation and The First Stone. Smith admired both books and contacted Garner in the hope that they might meet. They did, and became fast friends. “New, lifelong friends are a rare treat in life. I have the Fulbright Scholar Program to thank for that, too.”

Smith notes that her entire family thrived in Australia: her partner Sally Greenberg, who is also a lawyer, had a fabulous year; their 10-year-old son Joe, who played every possible sport while Down Under, including cricket, footy, tennis, baseball and soccer, had the best year of his life; and their Welsh Terrier Hapus had a great time, too.