'Meticulous' Legal Mind Earns Professor Toby Heytens All-University Teaching Award

Professor Toby Heytens, one of this year's winners of the All-University Teaching Award, says his heroes have always been teachers.

April 21, 2016

Think you've thought out your argument pretty well? Think again. Students say University of Virginia School of Law Professor Toby Heytens' meticulous legal mind is always several steps ahead of them, but that his challenging yet accessible approach to teaching allows them to rise to his level of understanding.

Heytens, the David H. Ibbeken '71 Research Professor of Law and a 2000 graduate of the Law School, will be honored by UVA with an All-University Teaching Award, to be bestowed at a banquet this Saturday on Grounds.

A co-instructor of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, Heytens also teaches on the topics of civil procedure, remedies and ethical values. He began teaching at the Law School in 2006. He then spent three years working in the Office of the Solicitor General, during which he argued six cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He returned to UVA Law in 2010.

Lide Paterno, a 2015 law graduate, said Heytens never provided easy answers when a more complete examination was required.

"Although I know Toby could have written in a few hours briefs we worked on for weeks, he allowed us to wrestle with abstract concepts and concrete language to arrive at our own understanding," Paterno wrote in his nomination letter. Heytens was nominated by past and present students, along with UVA Law faculty members Dean Paul Mahoney (a past recipient of the award), Vice Dean George Geis, and professors Dan Ortiz and Julia Mahoney.

Third-year law student Reedy Swanson first met Heytens as a UVA undergraduate participating in Virginia Mock Trial. In addition to his duties at the Law School, Heytens also serves as the head coach of UVA’s two-time national champion undergraduate trial advocacy team, which just last weekend was the runner-up at the 2016 national championship tournament.

"His effectiveness as a teacher derives from his meticulous planning of each minute of each lesson (quite literally), his unparalleled ability to make legalese accessible to first-year undergraduates, and his dedication to personalized attention,” Swanson wrote in his nomination. “I cannot count the number of times we met at his house, at Starbucks, or in a Lawn room to go over a speech or examination line by line together, with him explaining the underlying theory behind every minute change. How he manages to dedicate this much time to our program and still publish in the nation’s top law journals and earn student feedback among the best in the faculty is beyond me.”

Paterno said Heytens’ humility is key to his teaching approach.

“To describe him as possessing one of the brightest legal minds in the country is no exaggeration — and yet, one would never know from him that he has already achieved that of which all other attorneys dream,” Paterno said. “He never boasts — rather, he modestly dedicates himself to strengthening the student experience and the field, even beyond the classroom and beyond the Law School.”

Last year, Heytens took home a Raven Award in recognition of his service and contributions to the University. He also has been acknowledged by The Green Bag for his exceptional contributions to accessible legal scholarship.

Heytens said he follows in the footsteps of the people he has looked up to most in life.

“It's an incredible honor,” he said of the latest accolade. “My biggest role models and heroes when I was growing up were all teachers, so I'm deeply touched to be receiving this award.”

Past UVA Law faculty recipients of the teaching award are Greg Mitchell (2013-14), Michael Collins (2012-13), Risa Goluboff (2010-11), Jim Ryan (2009-10), Caleb Nelson (2007-08), J. H. (Rip) Verkerke (2006-07), John C. Harrison (2004-05), Barry Cushman (2002-03, Law and History), Kenneth S. Abraham (1999-2000), Anne M. Coughlin (1998-99), Paul G. Mahoney (1997-98), Michael J. Klarman (1996-97) and Pamela S. Karlan (1995-96). (More past winners)

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