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The Role of the Government Lawyer - Bates College - Short Term 2023
First published Mar 2023 and updated Apr 2023

Peter J. Brann
Lecturer in Law, Harvard Law School
Former Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School
Former Lecturer in Law, Columbia Law School
State Solicitor and Assistant Attorney General in Maine (1981 – 1999)

Note: Syllabus is subject to change depending on developing issues and the schedules of visiting speakers


In learning about government lawyers, we are going to concentrate on state attorneys' general, and generally follow the syllabus of a class that I have taught or co-taught for the past 13 years at Columbia, Yale, and Harvard law schools.

The roots of state attorneys' general run deep in American jurisprudence. All 13 American colonies had an attorney general and today all 50 states have an attorney general.

Each office possesses broad jurisdiction and, unlike the federal model, to varying degrees is independent from the executive and legislative branches of state government. Attorneys general in 43 states are elected statewide on a partisan basis.

The course covers the day-to-day challenges faced by attorneys general and their staffs in delivering legal advice that will guide state government in a constitutional and ethical manner. The course also covers the changing relationship of attorneys general with governors, state legislatures, state agencies, the federal government, the private bar, and a myriad of advocacy organizations. It focuses both on day-to-day responsibilities and some of the most controversial legal issues affecting society today. Although attorneys general are often in the news litigating both in favor and in opposition to Presidential policies, the focus of this course is not on suing or defending the President.

This syllabus contains federal and state statutes and case law, law review and descriptive articles from a variety of sources, and hypotheticals that describe the nature and function of a state attorney general.

All students are encouraged to participate in some fashion in each class. This includes both class discussions and the role-playing exercises. Because many, if not most, of the decisions of attorneys general and their staff are based upon judgment, and thus are not obviously right nor wrong, the class will create an atmosphere so that students of differing political and other perspectives will feel comfortable contributing diverse viewpoints to the class discussion. Students will be asked to submit a research paper on a topic of their choosing relating to state attorneys general.