Dershowitz, Alan M. 1938–

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Dershowitz, Alan M. 1938–

(Alan Morton Dershowitz)

PERSONAL: Born September 1, 1938, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Harry (a store owner) and Claire Dershowitz; divorced, remarried Carolyn Cohen (a psychologist); children: three, including Elon Marc, Jamin Seth. Education: Brooklyn College (now Brooklyn College of the City University of New York), B.A., 1959; Yale University, LL.B., 1962. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES: Office—Harvard Law School, 1563 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Lawyer, educator, writer, editor, and lecturer. Admitted to the Bar, 1962; practicing civil liberties lawyer, 1962–; Harvard University, Law School, Cambridge, MA, assistant professor, 1964–67, professor of law, 1967–93, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, 1993–. Also visiting professor of law at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel, 1988. Radio talk-show host, 1995–96. Consultant, National Institute of Mental Health.

MEMBER: American Civil Liberties Union, Phi Beta Kappa, Order of Coif, Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.

AWARDS, HONORS: Guggenheim fellowship; William O. Douglas First Amendment Award, Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 1983, for "compassionate eloquent leadership and persistent advocacy in the struggle for civil and human rights"; Golden Plate Award, c. 1991; Freedom of Speech Award, National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts, 1996, for hosting radio talk-show about the law. Also honorary degrees and medals from Yeshiva University, Syracuse University, Hebrew Union College, the University of Haifa, Bar Ilan University, Monmouth College, Fitchburg College, and Brooklyn College.


(With Jay Katz and Joseph Goldstein) Psychoanalysis, Psychiatry and the Law, Free Press (New York, NY), 1967.

(With Joseph Goldstein and Richard Schwartz) Criminal Law: Theory and Process, Free Press (New York, NY), 1974.

The Best Defense, Random House (New York, NY), 1982.

Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bulow Case, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.

Taking Liberties: A Decade of Hard Cases, Bad Laws, and Bum Raps, Contemporary Books (Chicago, IL), 1988.

Chutzpah, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1991.

Contrary to Popular Opinion, Pharos Books (New York, NY), 1992.

The Advocate's Devil (novel), Warner Books (New York, NY), 1994.

The Abuse Excuse and Other Cop-Outs, Sob Stories, and Evasions of Responsibility (essays), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.

Reasonable Doubts: The O.J. Simpson Case and the Criminal Justice System, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.

The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish Identity for the Next Century, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.

Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr, and the Emerging Constitutional Crisis, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Just Revenge (novel), Warner Books (New York, NY), 1999.

The Genesis of Justice: Ten Stories of Biblical Injustice That Led to the Ten Commandments and Modern Law, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Letters to a Young Lawyer, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2002.

Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2002.

The Case for Israel, John Wiley (Hoboken, NJ), 2003.

America Declares Independence, John Wiley (Hoboken, NJ), 2003.

America on Trial: Inside the Legal Battles That Transformed Our Nation, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Rights from Wrongs, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2005.

The Case for Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can Be Resolved, John Wiley (Hoboken, NJ), 2005.

(Editor) What Israel Means to Me, John Wiley (Hoboken, NJ), 2006.

Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2006.

Also contributor of background papers to Fair and Certain Punishment: Report of the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on Criminal Sentencing, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1976; contributor to the sound recording Freedom and the Criminal Code, Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (Santa Barbara, CA), 1982; author of introductions to Say It Ain't So, Joe!: The True Story of Shoeless Joe Jackson, by Donald Gropman, Carol Publishing, 1992, and The Story of My Life, by Clarence Darrow, Da Capo (New York, NY), 1996. Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times Magazine, New York Times Book Review, and Op-Ed Pages. He has also published hundreds of articles in magazines and journals such as the New York Review, Saturday Review, Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal, Stanford Law Review, American Bar Association Journal, Israel Law Review, Commentary, New Republic, Chronicle of Higher Education, Journal of Legal Education, Nation, Der Spiegel, George, Psychology Today, New Women, Harper's, Atlantic, TV Guide, Sports Illustrated, JD Jungle, Punch, American Film, Good Housekeeping, Partisan Review, Jerusalem Post, International Herald Tribune, Yahoo! Internet Life, Slate, Washington Post, Moment, Life, and Penthouse. Author of the blog, Alan Dershowitz Web Log. Writings have been translated into foreign languages, including French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Korean, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, and Russian.

ADAPTATIONS: Author's books have been made into sound recordings, including Chutzpah!, 1991, Contrary to Popular Opinion, 1992, and The Advocate's Devil, 1994, all Dove Audio (Beverly Hills, CA); Reasonable Doubts, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996; Just Revenge, Audio Renaissance (Los Angeles, CA), 1999; The Genesis of Justice, Time Warner AudioBooks (New York, NY), 2001; The Case for Peace, Recorded Books (Prince Frederick, MD), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: Alan M. Dershowitz, the youngest tenured professor in the history of Harvard Law School, is "the attorney of last resort for the desperate and despised, counselor for lost causes and forlorn hopes," according to Elaine Kendall in the Los Angeles Times. The Best Defense is Dershowitz's account of many of the cases he has undertaken as an appellate defense attorney, cases which were lost at the trial stage but which he agreed to appeal because no one else would take them or because they involved interesting points in law.

Dershowitz has built his reputation on the defense of a number of notorious clients, most notably former football star O.J. Simpson. Dershowitz's other clients of note have included Jewish Defense League terrorist Sheldon Seigel, who set a bomb that killed an innocent young woman; nursing home owner Rabbi Bernard Bergman, called "the meanest man in New York" by the press; Manhattan hotel magnate Leona Helmsley; adult film star Harry Reems; the Tison brothers, who helped their father escape from prison and were with him when he later murdered an entire family; Stanford professor H. Bruce Franklin, faced with dismissal because his communist politics led him to incite students to wage "a people's war" against the university; and corrupt defense lawyer Edmund Rosner, the U.S. Attorney's Office's "public enemy number one" whose trial formed the basis for the film The Prince of the City. Other clients have included Anatoly Shcharansky and other Soviet dissidents; nude bathers on a Cape Cod beach; trial lawyer F. Lee Bailey; and former CIA agent Frank Snepp, who refused to submit his book manuscript to the agency for approval.

"[The Best Defense] is more than a book by a lawyer about his cases," wrote David S. Tatel in Washington Post Book World. "It is an articulate defense of many fundamental principles that are under attack in our country today." Tatel added: "Dershowitz's book is a compelling answer to those who … seek to dilute the Bill of Rights. It is particularly persuasive because his arguments emanate from courtrooms where constitutional principles are transformed from inspiring words to life and death realities." Indeed, in The Best Defense Dershowitz demonstrates that he is deeply committed to protecting the civil liberties of all citizens; many of his cases challenge the constitutionality of certain laws or procedures, or question police and prosecution methods in obtaining the original conviction. "The Best Defense is a labor of love for the law by a man who has lost some of his illusions but kept his faith intact," noted Kendall. "He believes that the adversary process, allowing a defendant to challenge the government, is the foundation of American liberty; he is prepared to fight for that cause whenever and however it seems jeopardized. If some of our cherished preconceptions about the legal system are casualties of that battle, the system itself will not only survive but be strengthened by his efforts."

"The basic dilemma presented by The Best Defense is the propriety of a lawyer's using every legal device he can think of to get off a man who he knows to be guilty," declared Joseph W. Bishop, Jr., in Commentary. Dershowitz was horrified that Sheldon Seigel was freed because of government misconduct in gathering evidence against the Jewish Defense League, but he says, quoting former Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, "It is a lesser evil that some criminals should escape than that the government should play an ignoble role." In the case of the Tison brothers, Dershowitz questioned the legality of sentencing someone to death for a murder he did not actually commit. The defense of Harry Reems, H. Bruce Franklin, Frank Snepp, and the nude bathers was, for Dershowitz, a defense of the Bill of Rights. It is clear that Dershowitz believes, noted Bishop, that "the first person a good advocate convinces is himself, and what he convinces himself of is that his client may be a criminal but that he is not guilty of the crime with which he is charged, or at least he is being treated unfairly."

While questioning the actual magnitude of the accusations Dershowitz levels against the government, the courts, and the prosecution, New Leader contributing critic Barry Gewen conceded that the case histories Dershowitz presents are "immensely readable, thought-provoking, often troubling," and acknowledged that "perhaps there are no satisfactory answers … in many of the … cases included in The Best Defense where public safety is set against civil liberties. Bringing such ethical conundrums to the general attention could be the book's greatest virtue." John Greenya observed in the Detroit News that Dershowitz "writes well enough so his passion for his clients and their legal predicaments comes through loud and clear. One can feel the 'last resort' desperation that must always be at one's back, and not just in capital cases. Dershowitz is successful in doing something much more difficult than portraying the human drama: he makes the law exciting, the intellectual wrestling that embodies the best advocacy confrontation, especially on the appellate level."

Dershowitz's basic contention is that there are serious problems with the American judicial system, stemming from, among other things, prosecutorial and magisterial disregard for the constitutional rights and civil liberties of the defendant and from the frequent collusion between prosecution and the judges. The justice system, Dershowitz contends, is corrupt. Commentary contributor Joseph W. Bishop, Jr., supported Dershowitz's attempts to uphold Constitutional principles even if it sometimes means freeing a guilty man. "Dershowitz has seen too much … to think that the unjust acquittal of some criminals is too high a price to pay to avoid Communist justice," Bishop concluded.

With The Advocate's Devil, a novel, Dershowitz departed from his long string of nonfiction writings. The story features the attorney Abe Ringel, who, according to Cheryl Lavin in the Chicago Tribune, "faces an ethical crisis when he believes his client—a famous basketball player charged with rape—is guilty." Given Dershowitz's role in the defense of former football star O.J. Simpson, then on trial for the murder of his estranged wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman, Lavin asked Dershowitz, at the outset of a lengthy interview, just how autobiographical the book was. Dershowitz, while pointing out that "Ringel is my mother's family name and Abe is my Hebrew name," insisted that "it's not autobiographical. I'm more skeptical than Abe."

The novel, observed Kinky Friedman in the New York Times Book Review, "may not disrupt John Grisham's sleep patterns, but it earns a thumbs-up verdict in the pleasant-surprise department. Not only does this novel accomplish what was considered unthinkable by some—that is, a fun romp with Alan Dershowitz—it also acquits itself rather nicely on several semiliterary levels" in view of the legal insight it offers. "With his inside view of practically every sensational trial of the last decade," pointed out Cosima von Bulow in the Spectator, "it must have been a challenge indeed to create a work of fiction as bizarre and fascinating as his life." The reviewer added: "Bursting at the seams with topical details, The Advocate's Devil keeps its finger on the pulse of the American legal system today." A reviewer writing in Books commented: "In this debut novel Dershowitz has crafted with spellbinding precision a drama which opens the Pandora's Box of our most measured legal belief: innocent until proven guilty."

That issue would particularly attract the notice of reviewers when Dershowitz published Reasonable Doubts: The O.J. Simpson Case and the Criminal Justice System, his account of the Simpson trial; but in the meantime he offered up The Abuse Excuse and Other Cop-Outs, Sob Stories and Evasions of Responsibility. In the book he examines such prominent 1990s legal cases as those of Lyle and Erik Menendez, who killed their parents and blamed the act on sexual abuse suffered as children; Colin Ferguson, who opened fire on a Long Island subway, killing six people and wounding nineteen, because of "black rage"; and Lorena Bobbitt, who blamed her abusive husband for driving her to slice off his penis while he was sleeping.

"Although the title may suggest that you've read or heard all this before," wrote Clarence Petersen of The Abuse Excuse and Other Cop-Outs, Sob Stories and Evasions of Responsibility in the Chicago Tribune Books, "chances are you have not encountered it in terms of how the law is being violated in many high-profile cases." Referring to a point which would come to prominence during the Clinton impeachment inquiries three years later, Petersen noted: "Dershowitz takes up the 'everyone does it' excuse for official corruption, in which liberal Democrats and right-wing Republicans alike are scored."

"For all the fun that is made of him—and he is good grist for fun-makers—Alan Dershowitz is a deeply thoughtful man." So began William F. Buckley's National Review commentary on Reasonable Doubts. Regarding Dershowitz's stated opinion that the Simpson jury was right to maintain "reasonable doubts" regarding the guilt of Simpson, who was exonerated but widely believed to be guilty nonetheless, Buckley asked: "Does [Dershowitz] himself believe this? Therein hangs a tale." Nicholas Lemann in the New York Times Book Review observed that Dershowitz "is first out of the gate with a book on the O.J. Simpson trial—which is a good strategic move, because he doesn't have very much juicy inside stuff and might have been overwhelmed in a direct competition with some of the other entrants." But Dershowitz does offer some extremely strong criticisms of prosecutor Marcia Clark, noted A.W.B. Simpson in the Times Literary Supplement. "[H]is discussion and analysis of the [disagreement] between white perceptions and the outcome of the trial," wrote Simpson, "is valuable and moderately expressed."

With The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish Identity for the Next Century Dershowitz departs from his usual focus on the legal system and "inventories the Jewish elements of his and his generation's identity, then works his way toward a prescription for securing Jewish existence into the future," according to Yehudah Mirsky in New Leader. In addition to analyzing the future of Judaism in the United States, Dershowitz touches on related issues such as Jewish intermarriage, Jewish relations with African Americans, and anti-Semitism in the militia movement. Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper asserted that while The Vanishing American Jew is of primary interest to Jews, "Dershowitz's notoriety and lively writing style broaden its appeal." Jonathan Rosen, in the New York Times Book Review, also found Dershowitz's voice engaging, asserting that "Mr. Dershowitz writes with characteristic optimism and audacity." Rosen added that "only time will tell whether he is indeed leading [future generations] back to Judaism or merely following them into the wilderness."

In The Genesis of Justice: Ten Stories of Biblical Injustice That Led to the Ten Commandments and Modern Law, Dershowitz delves into the Old Testament stories of Adam and Eve, the murder of Cain, Noah's Ark, and others to show how injustices as described in the Bible led to a just system of law. In a review in Midstream, Milton Birnbaum noted: "Dershowitz approaches the book of Genesis in a lawyer's robes, with reason and logic as his guidelines."

The author tackles the 2000 U.S. presidential election controversy in Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000. The book revolves around the Supreme Court's ultimate decision on who won the disputed 2000 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, and Dershowitz presents his viewpoint that the court practiced partisan politics in making its decision that Bush won the election. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "an excellent analysis of a troubling case." Steven Puro, writing in the Library Journal, commented: "This well-reasoned and controversial book asks central questions about American democracy."

Letters to a Young Lawyer is a commentary written as thirty-six letters by Dershowitz on the law field with an emphasis on advice to fledgling lawyers. "His reflections touch on many of his longstanding obsessions, particularly the unethical practices he contends compromise our criminal justice system," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Mary Carroll, writing in Booklist, noted that "much of Dershowitz's advice can be applied in other workplaces as well." In a review in Trial, Carolyn Magnuson wrote: "Dershowitz's overall message is a good one. He advises young lawyers to vow, from the start of their careers, to keep their idealism and maintain their ethical footing despite rough terrain."

Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge presents Dershowitz's belief that much of the modern terrorism movement has resulted from factors such as Western misdeeds conducted around the world, as well as the lack of success in battling it effectively. The author also presents his take on how the war on terror should be conducted. "Sensible overall, with little of the grandstanding or self-aggrandizement," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. James R. Holmes, writing in the Library Journal, referred to the book as "bracing" and noted that the author "is always worth reading."

Dershowitz writes in the form of a legal brief in The Case for Israel, in which the author avoids discussing specific Israeli government polices but instead looks at overall prejudice and discrimination behind some of the criticisms aimed at the government. Jay Freeman, writing in Booklist, noted that the author "is a passionate but generally fair and honest advocate for his position." In The Case for Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can Be Resolved, Dershowitz presents a plan for peace in the Middle East and argues against extremists who try to thwart such efforts. Elizabeth R. Hayford, writing in the Library Journal, noted that the author's "analysis of the prospects for peace has some merit."

America Declares Independence is a look at the prominent rise of the Christian religious right in American politics and Dershowitz's argument that the idea of a "Christian nation" goes against the intentions of the America's founding fathers. Loyalist Gazette contributor William Manning commented: "Many of the author's insights may surprise the reader." Dershowitz writes about some of the most notorious and famous cases in American legal history in America on Trial: Inside the Legal Battles That Transformed Our Nation. Among the cases he discusses are the Salem witch trials, the Dred Scott decision, and the O.J. Simpson trial. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author "displays a keen sense of history to go along with his knowledge of the law."

Rights From Wrongs, focuses on the issue of "inalien-able" human rights, which are mentioned in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The author traces how the notion of "rights" evolved and states his case that these "natural" laws do not, however, stem from formal law or religion. Writing in Publishers Weekly a reviewer noted "the insightful thoughts that mark … [the author's] latest work." In Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways, the author discusses his views on how a government should respond to a perceived but as yet unrealized threat. In the process he discusses such issues as preemptive war and restrictions on freedom of speech. In a review in Booklist, Brendan Driscoll commented that the author "admits that constructing a jurisprudence for a democracy is a daunting task not well served by narrow political stances." Commentary contributor Andrew C. McCarthy noted that Dershowitz "has asked the right questions, pointed to the right data, and demonstrated the urgent necessity of confronting the most serious threats right now—while they are still at bay, though rising ominously on the horizon."



Book, November-December, 2001, James Schiff, review of Letters to a Young Lawyer, p. 59.

Booklist, January 1, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish Identity for the Next Century, p. 777; July, 2001, Brad Hooper, review of Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000, p. 1948; October 1, 2001, Mary Carroll, review of Letters to a Young Lawyer, p. 267; September 1, 2003, Jay Freeman, review of The Case for Israel, p. 2; November 1, 2004, Vernon Ford, review of Rights from Wrongs, p. 442; January 1, 2006, Brendan Driscoll, review of Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways, p. 21.

Books, January/February, 1995, review of The Advocate's Devil, p. 25.

Chicago Tribune, February 1, 1995, Cheryl Lavin, interview with author, p. T1.

Chicago Tribune Books, September 10, 1995, Clarence Petersen, review of The Abuse Excuse and Other Cop-Outs, Sob Stories and Evasions of Responsibility, p. 8.

Commentary, October, 1982, Joseph W. Bishop, Jr., review of The Best Defense; July-August, 2006, Andrew C. McCarthy, review of Preemption, p. 88.

Contemporary Review, June, 2002, review of Supreme Injustice, p. 382.

Detroit News, August 29, 1982, John Greenya, review of The Best Defense.

Harvard Law Review, June, 2005, review of Rights from Wrongs, p. 2932.

Humanist, May-June, 2005, David A. Niose, review of Rights from Wrongs, p. 41.

Journal of Church and State, autumn, 2005, Nathan R. Lynn, review of The Case for Israel, p. 896.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2001, review of Letters to a Young Lawyer, p. 1260; December 1, 2001, review of Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age, p. 1659; July 1, 2002, review of Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge, p. 929; January 1, 2006, review of Preemption, p. 26.

Library Journal, August, 2001, Steven Puro, review of Supreme Injustice, p. 136; February 15, 2002, Steven Puro, review of Shouting Fire, p. 164; September 1, 2002, James R. Holmes, review of Why Terrorism Works, p. 196; May 1, 2004, Harry Charles, review of America on Trial: The Cases That Define Our History, p. 128; June 1, 2004, I. Pour-El, review of The Case for Israel, p. 197; September 1, 2005, Elizabeth R. Hayford, review of The Case for Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can Be Resolved, p. 162.

Los Angeles Times, June 15, 1982, Elaine Kendall, profile of author.

Loyalist Gazette, spring, 2004, William Manning, review of America Declares Independence, p. 53.

Middle East Quarterly, winter, 2004, Max Abrahms, review of The Case for Israel, p. 79.

Midstream, January, 2001, Milton Birnbaum, review of The Genesis of Justice: Ten Stories of Biblical Injustice That Led to the Ten Commandments and Modern Law, p. 43.

Nation, August 7-14, 1982, David Bruck, review of The Best Defense.

National Journal, September 8, 2001, David G. Savage, review of Supreme Injustice, p. 2764.

National Review, July 1, 1996, William F. Buckley, review of Reasonable Doubts: The O.J. Simpson Case and the Criminal Justice System. p. 63.

New Leader, July 12-26, 1982, Barry Gewen, review of Best Defense; May 19, 1997, Yehudah Mirsky, review of The Vanishing American, pp. 22-23.

New York Times Book Review, June 13, 1982, Tom Goldstein, review of The Best Defense; January 1, 1995, Kindy Friedman, review of The Advocate's Devil, p. 12; March 3, 1996, Nicholas Lemann, review of Reasonable Doubts, p. 7; March 30, 1997, Jonathan Rosen, review of The Vanishing American Jew, p. 7.

Publishers Weekly, June 18, 2001, Sarah F. Gold, "PW Talks with Alan Dershowitz," p. 74, and review of Supreme Injustice, p. 75; January 7, 2002, review of Shouting Fire, p. 59; July 8, 2002, review of Why Terrorism Works, p. 39; March 3, 2003, review of America Declares Independence, p. 64; August 4, 2003, review of The Case for Israel, p. 67; April 12, 2004, review of America on Trial, p. 56; May 17, 2004, review of America on Trial, p. 48; November 1, 2004, review of Rights from Wrongs, p. 56; May 8, 2006, review of What Israel Means to Me, p. 58.

Reference & Research Book News, May, 2006, review of Preemption.

Shofar, spring, 2004, review of The Case for Israel, p. 194.

Skeptic, fall, 2005, Kenneth W. Krause, review of Rights from Wrongs, p. 75.

Spectator, March 4, 1995, Cosima von Bulow, review of The Advocate's Devil, p. 36; April 29, 2006, Jonathan Sumption, review of Preemption.

Theological Studies, March, 2006, Michael J. Kerlin, review of Rights from Wrongs, p. 222.

Times Literary Supplement, July 19, 1996, A.W.B. Simpson, review of Reasonable Doubts, p. 28.

Trial, April, 2002, Carolyn Magnuson, review of Letters to a Young Lawyer, p. 66; May, 2005, Emily Sack, review of Rights from Wrongs, p. 78.

Washington Post Book World, June 6, 1982, David S. Tatel, review of The Best Defense.


Alan Dershowitz Home Page, (October 5, 2006).

Harvard Law School Web site, (October 5, 2006), faculty profile of author.