Professor Abraham Has Influenced the Development and Application of the Law Through ALI

Insurance and Tort Expert Now Shifts to Emeritus Status at Peer Organization
Kenneth S. Abraham

Kenneth S. Abraham is a David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law.

May 11, 2017

How liability insurance law is understood and applied for years to come will be the subject of debate at this month's annual meeting of the American Law Institute, when the Restatement of the Law of Liability Insurance comes up for final approval. Professor Kenneth S. Abraham has played a major role in the development of the restatement, and in the business of the American Law Institute, for over two decades.

Abraham, a member of ALI's council, or governing board, set the preparation of the restatement into motion, and will be there when the ALI convenes on the matter, along with other agenda items, May 22-24 in Washington, D.C.

This is the last time, however, that Abraham will be voting at the annual meeting. That's because after 21 years of service on the council, under the rules of the institute, he is term-limited and will join the ranks of ALI's emeritus council members.

Abraham, whose service was honored at the council's most recent dinner, said that serving on the council has been a labor of love. He is also happy that, even though he will be taking emeritus status, he will still be entitled to attend council meetings and engage in debate.

"The only formal change is that I will have no vote," he said. "But discussion and reaching consensus is really at the heart of what happens at the council anyway. This is an important milestone for me, but it won't end my participation in the ALI. It's just the beginning of a new stage in my career."

ALI is the leading independent organization in the United States producing scholarly work to clarify, modernize and improve the law. Prominent judges, law professors, deans and practitioners generously volunteer their time and extensive experience to the effort.

"To prepare for these meetings, where four or five or six projects that are several hundred pages in length are discussed, takes a considerable amount of preparation and study," Abraham said.

UVA Law Professor Douglas Laycock, who serves as ALI's first vice president, and University of California President Janet Napolitano, a 1983 graduate of the Law School, are among current council members. The Law School faculty also has numerous elected and life members at ALI. Dean Risa Goluboff is an ex-officio member.

In shifting to emeritus status, Abraham can now let go of some of the heavy lifting, while creating an opening for another ALI member to join the council.

Abraham, a David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law at UVA, is one of the nation's leading scholars and teachers in the fields of torts and insurance law. He joined the Virginia faculty in 1983, and has been on ALI's council since 1996. He has served as a member of the Council's Membership Committee, which recommends new members, and most recently he has been a member of the Nominating Committee, which recommends new council members.

While he also was influential in ALI's Third Restatement of Torts, his greatest impact has been as it relates to liability insurance, he said. He recommended the current restatement project, which began in 2010, and has been a senior adviser to the work ever since.

It has also been the project closest to his heart.

"That's really been my principal ALI project over the last seven years," he said. "I'm very proud of being responsible for the project being undertaken, and for the quality of the project. I give the reporters most of the credit, but still, it wouldn't have happened without my pushing to get it going."

Law professor Tom Baker of the University of Pennsylvania, the reporter on the restatement, said Abraham has kept the endeavor cohesive.

"He worked with the ALI leadership to put together the advisers for the project," Baker said. "And he has been a constant source of guidance on the substance of the restatement as well as ALI's procedures."  

Abraham first got involved with the institute in the mid-1980s — as one of those reporters, whose role is to look at an area of law from one's expertise and report how it has changed in interpretation over time.

Throughout his involvement with ALI, Abraham said it has been fun rubbing elbows with the upper echelon of the legal field, making friends and learning from others.

"I think the most interesting thing about it all has been getting to see how very experienced judges and very experienced lawyers think about legal issues," he said. "Especially the judges. You don't normally get the opportunity, except maybe as a law clerk, to see how judges think."

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