By Andrew Cohen
Lydia Anderson-Dana ’16 still vividly remembers her first day of law school, two and a half years ago, when Professor Andrea Roth made an unforgettable impression on her new Criminal Law students.
“Even though we weren’t in assigned seats, she called on all of us by name,” Anderson-Dana recalled. “She had memorized the 100 or so names and faces of everyone in the class. I’m still floored by it, looking back. It must have taken her forever.”
That level of dedication exemplifies one of the reasons why Roth will receive this year’s Berkeley Law Rutter Award for Teaching Distinction. Established in 1995 by the late William Rutter—a philanthropist, lawyer, educator, and author—the award honors an educator who inspires students and demonstrates a deep commitment to teaching.
“I’m tremendously grateful for this honor,” said Roth, who joined the school’s faculty in 2011. “It’s a lot easier to thrive as an educator at a place that truly values teaching, where you have mentors who observe your classes and give you great general and specific feedback.”
Roth was a standout at Yale Law School, where she won the John Currier Gallagher Prize for best presentation in the school’s mock trial competition. She clerked for Justice Dana Fabe of the Alaska Supreme Court and then spent eight-plus years as a public defender in Washington, D.C. before entering academia. She founded a forensic practice group in her public defender office, and is now a leading national expert on forensic science issues.
That experience pays huge dividends in the classroom, where Roth skillfully illuminates how criminal law affects people’s lives. She has her Criminal Law students observe arraignment court for two hours each semester, and assigns similar pragmatic exercises in her Evidence and Forensic Evidence courses.
“Doctrines can’t be fully understood without knowing how they work in the real world,” Roth said. “It’s crucial for our students to connect what they’re learning to how they will approach these issues as an actual lawyer.”
Humanizing the law
Rather than starting the semester with foundational doctrine or case law, Anderson-Dana said Roth’s first class delved into a Werner Herzog documentary about the impact of texting while driving on victims, drivers and families.
“Her background as a longtime public defender gives her a great understanding of criminal law and compassion for how it affects people,” Anderson-Dana said. “Also, her ability to use multiple teaching methods shows that she knows different students learn differently, and that she clearly puts in a lot of work to make sure they’re all engaged. She’s been an incredibly important role model and mentor for me.”
Last year, Roth received one of two inaugural teaching awards from the Boalt Hall Women’s Association. She gives enormous credit for her teaching accolades to the school’s faculty support, IS&T and media services staff. “They’ve all been instrumental in helping me learn to use interactive technologies in the classroom,” she said. “That’s been a huge help in increasing class participation.”
While paid to educate and enlighten her students, Roth sees their classroom interaction as a two-way street. She calls Berkeley Law students “incredibly smart consumers of their legal education,” and continually revisits her teaching strategies.
“Students here want the best education possible—and want to help you succeed as a teacher,” Roth said. “I learn a great deal from them. When I do mid-semester evaluations and ask, ‘What’s working for you and what isn’t?’ their feedback is amazingly insightful and constructive.”
Kian Tamaddoni ’16, who took Roth’s Criminal Law class and later served as her teaching assistant, saw first-hand how she pushes students to think about the law beyond their classroom.
“Watching Professor Roth run a class showed how genuinely interested she is in who her students are—both as people and as budding lawyers,” Tamaddoni said. “She’s tremendously thoughtful and actively reflects on how her class is shaping the individual learning experience of every single student.”