Decades of law students benefitted from Ray Nimmer’s teaching, whether contracts, internet law, electronic commerce, bankruptcy, secured financing, copyrights, information law, sales, contract drafting, or licensing law.
I was one.
In fact, I was one of his earliest—I will not say “oldest”—students. In Ray’s second year of teaching at the University of Houston Law Center, he briefly substituted in our first-year criminal procedure class for Newell Blakely, another Dean and renowned teacher. On one level, the contrast between Ray and Newell could not have been starker. Newell always wore a suit, usually gray, and an invariably conservative tie. He was taciturn, precise, gentlemanly, and organized. His class was orchestrated like a minuet, during which he called on each student to stand, recite, and answer questions over materials that we better-well-have-briefed beforehand. Into a class like that walks the shock of Ray, tieless, garbed in colorful slacks and shirt. He lectured on previously-assigned problem sets, rather than having students wrangle cases under cross examination. In the classes we took from Newell and Ray during the years following, we witnessed the same pedagogical techniques at work.
Though what Newell and Ray did in the classroom initially seemed quite different, their techniques actually had much the same effect: both required us to tackle the case or problem ourselves, in writing, before class as they marched us relentlessly through the case books they assigned. Then, in class, each had us focus on the case or problem anew, as he nudged us through the art of distilling essential and probable elements and piecing those elements into a coherent, though necessarily incomplete, design. That is what lawyers do for clients—in front of judges and juries and in boardrooms. We were fortunate to have superior teachers who taught us those essential skills and habits of thought before we started our careers.
Just how fortunate, my wife Susan and I discovered early on. She also was a student of Newell’s and Ray’s. We graduated in the same class and took the bar exam together—a stress test for marital bonds if there ever were one. Even worse, we put off intense studying for the bar exam to the last minute, so we had to give a light review to some subjects. They were, of course, the subject of the bar courses that Newell and Ray had taught us: Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, and Commercial Law. As to those subjects, at least, we were confident, for they had been taught to us by the best.
Ray and I kept in touch after I went into practice. Indeed, we became very dear friends. We were co-authors of Modern Licensing Law and started on a revision of another work, Drafting Effective Contracts that Ray had originally co-authored with Robert Feldman. We traveled and presented together. We taught together. But most of all we talked, keeping alive a conversation of almost four decades, ranging over a variety of topics, humorous and serious, personal and professional, but invariably ambling back to the connections and structures in the ideas, doctrines, and rules comprising the architecture of information law and policy. Parts of that extended conversation found its way into what we wrote, whether through updates and revisions or new material. When I recently wrapped up the work of updating the treatises Ray and I co-authored and two others Ray wrote, I realized just how much I missed the searching, lively discussions with Ray that leavened and informed a task that otherwise can be a real chore.
I was not the only student that became a friend for years. Ray took the profession of teaching in its broadest sense very seriously. Ray loved his students and they loved him. One recent testament to that love of him occurred when his students learned of his passing; they spontaneously began placing flowers at the parking spot reserved for him at the Law Center. Some of his former students are creating a permanent testament to his love for his students by establishing a Dean Raymond T. Nimmer Memorial Scholarship Fund to encourage and reward the talent succeeding us at the Law Center, Ray’s home for over forty years.
Those, like me, who were fortunate to share in the experience of being one of Ray’s students, also share the collective memory of an extraordinary life. For both I am truly thankful.
Jeff Dodd: Director, BBG Information Policy Institute; Partner, Hunton Andrews Kurth, LLP. J.D. 1979 University of Houston Law Center. I thank Professor Craig Joyce for his skillful surgery on the first draft of this Tribute.