Remembering Professor James T.R. Jones

The Brandeis School of Law is mourning the loss of Professor James T.R. Jones.

James T.R. Jones
James T.R. Jones

The University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law is mourning the loss of Professor James T.R. Jones.

Jones, who was on the law school faculty since 1986, died May 3, 2018.

Jones was well known for his mental health advocacy. In his 2008 article Walking the Tightrope of Bipolar Disorder: The Secret Life of a Law Professor, he for the first time disclosed his decades-long battle with the severe mental illness bipolar disorder, which is also known as manic-depressive illness. Since then, he wrote and spoke extensively about successful professionals who suffer from serious psychiatric diseases. He addressed numerous classes of law, medical, nursing, psychology, social work and occupational therapy students, demonstrating to them that many of the stereotypes their professions hold about at least some of their clients with mental illnesses are unjustified and inaccurate.

"Jim Jones’ scholarship and teaching have impacted generations of lawyers," says Brandeis Law Dean Colin Crawford. "His commitment to and care for the wellbeing of his students was remarkable, and he made incredible strides in reducing the stigma of mental illness.

"Although I worked with Jim for only a few months, the outpouring of support and love from his colleagues upon his death provides ample evidence that he was well-loved and deeply respected," Crawford says. "His fellow professors speak of his humility, his intelligence and his strength and his generous spirit and intelligence. He will truly be missed."

Jones was featured in a September 2016 Chronicle of Higher Education article about professors who built careers while living with mental illness.

In recognition of Jones' mental health advocacy efforts, Mental Health America of Kentucky presented him with the Clifford W. Beers Mental Health Consumer Award for 2010. 

In 2013, Jones was presented with the David S. Stoner Uncommon Counselor Award by the Dave Nee Foundation.

In his 2011 book, A Hidden Madness, Jones tells the story of his unrelenting struggle against severe mental illness. The story offers both real hope for those afflicted by serious mental illness and deep insight into their many symptoms, numerous drugs, periodic crises and potential triumphs.

In addition to his mental health advocacy and scholarship, Jones focused his teaching and research on domestic violence, professional liability, torts, decedents' estates, legal writing and written advocacy.

Jones was a member of the Florida Bar and the Legal Writing Institute.

He received his B.A. with highest distinction from the University of Virginia, where he was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society, and his J.D. with honors from Duke University School of Law, where he was selected for the Order of the Coif. He served on the Editorial Board of the Duke Law Journal.

Before entering an academic career, Jones clerked for a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and a magistrate judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. In addition, he worked in private practice for firms in New York and Florida. In 1985, he entered teaching as a Bigelow Teaching Fellow and Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He joined the faculty of the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville in 1986.

Several of Jones' colleagues at the Brandeis School of Law share their reflections about him:

Professor Jamie Abrams:

Jim made one memorable, thoughtful and proactive outreach to help Laura McNeal and I transition to Brandeis when we first arrived here with no family roots or connections to the area. He organized a lunch for us with Kathi at Huber's Orchard and we spent a fall afternoon there enjoying the food, wine, music and Halloween festivities. Through my entire first year here, he passed me articles of interest, checked in on class dynamics and very thoughtfully checked in on my family hardships. This is just one example of how he took the time to check in on colleagues and enjoy face-to-face conversation in a way that we so often bypass for quick exchanges and emails. 

Professor Les Abramson:

Jim was hired to teach Legal Writing. As a faculty, in the 1970s and 1980s we had talked about hiring writing specialists for years. Eventually we tired of Kentucky lawyers complaining that young lawyers “can’t write.” We hired Jim in 1986 as he was completing a year as a Bigelow Teaching Fellowship at the University of Chicago. His task was to teach a coherent, effective writing curriculum, beginning with a year-long first-year writing course that culminated in the dreaded “appellate brief” and oral argument for each new law student. He succeeded beyond our hopes. 

After several years, like many writing faculty Jim started suffering burnout.  Endless appointments and drafts wear out even the heartiest teacher like Jim. He and I discussed the courage necessary to tell the administration he should be able to teach doctrinal courses. At the time, even he believed that he was hired to teach Legal Writing only, but eventually he believed that he was hired as a law faculty member with no restrictions on the courses he could teach. Because Jim liked teaching first-year students, he was assigned to teach the year-long Torts course and a section of Legal Writing; shortly thereafter, he escaped the Legal Writing course completely and was assigned to teach Decedents Estates. Through Jim’s use of hypotheticals to illustrate whatever legal point he was teaching that day, his students learned about his wife, daughters, and even his dogs.  

Jim’s course repertoire grew again when he began teaching Written Advocacy. He probably missed teaching legal writing but this seminar was capped at 18 students. Through the seminar, Jim created an incentive for his students to seek the best grade possible. Simply, each student could submit draft after draft of the appellate brief until the student was satisfied with the grade. It was a creative innovation with positive effects. The students preferred the option of multiple opportunities to succeed.      

In the 1990s, Jim became a member of the Probation and Reinstatement Committee, a standing committee tasked with 1) advising students who had been placed on probation due to a GPA below 2.0, and 2) admitting students who had been dismissed after failing to remove themselves from probation status. Students had to prove a compelling reason for failing to succeed, not just any reason. In addition, they had to prove that if readmitted they were likely to succeed in law school by removing the grade point deficiency that had resulted in their dismissal. He became the resident expert for what qualified as a “compelling reason” and what constituted the “likelihood of success.”  For more than twenty-five years, he chaired the committee or was a member even when he wasn’t the chair. He was especially effective in advising students about removing themselves from probation and/or whether to seek reinstatement after dismissal.

Jim loved his wife, daughters, and dogs.  Like many of his colleagues, he also adored his students and loved this law school, hoping that all of our graduates would pass the bar examination on the first try and wanting all of them to have successful lives. I miss him.

Professor Goldburn P. Maynard Jr.:

I will miss Jim terribly. We were comrades in teaching an unpopular subject matter at Brandeis: trusts and estates. I still remember Jim’s interest in my career and his level of excitement during my interview in the fall of 2014. When I arrived on campus in the summer of 2015, Jim was one of the first faculty members to welcome me. He knew that Kentucky’s laws of succession are unique, so he walked me through all of the intricacies and offered his continued assistance. That saved me a tremendous amount of time and frustration. Jim was concerned with my future at Brandeis. He graciously passed the torch to me and expressed his confidence in my abilities. I will be forever grateful. 

Professor Laura Rothstein: 

The legal profession owes Jim a debt for his courage in sharing his story about his mental health struggles. Mental illness carries great stigma, but Jim knew that if he could let others know about his experiences, it could improve understanding and awareness of mental health within the legal profession. The recognition for his publications and presentations on this issue was well deserved.

We have been fortunate to have been his colleague, and we will miss him.