Role of the State Attorney General

In 2000, James E. Tierney developed a seminar course at Columbia Law School on the Role of the State Attorney General.  Professor Tierney continues to teach variations of this seminar and will be teaching it again this spring at Harvard Law School with former Maine Solicitor General, Peter Brann.

The syllabus below is for Professor Tierney's spring 2017 course at Harvard Law School, available both as a PDF download and online.


Syllabus — Spring 2017

The Role of the State Attorney General

Harvard Law School, Griswold Hall Room 110

Professor James E. Tierney
Lecturer-in-Law, Harvard Law School
Former Director of the National State Attorney General Program at Columbia Law School
Attorney General of Maine (1980 - 1990)

Professor Peter Brann
Lecturer in Law, Harvard Law School
Solicitor General and Assistant Attorney General in Maine (1981 – 1999)

Note: Syllabus is subject to change depending on the schedules of visiting attorneys general


Introduction

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 the Office of State Attorney General. There is no text for the course and all materials have been collected from over thirty five years of studying and participating in the decision making of attorneys general and their staffs.

The roots of the Office of State Attorney General run deep in American jurisprudence.  All thirteen American colonies had an attorney general and today all fifty states and the District of Columbia have opted for providing legal services through an office of state attorney general.  Each office possesses extraordinarily broad jurisdiction and to varying degrees is independent from the executive branch of state government.  Attorneys general in forty three states are elected statewide on a partisan basis.

The combination of sweeping jurisdiction and constitutional independence has given rise to a unique American legal institution of growing importance. The course will cover the day to day challenges faced by attorneys general and their staffs in delivering the high quality legal advice that will guide state government in a constitutional and ethical manner.  The course will also cover the relationship of attorneys general with the federal government, the private bar and a myriad of advocacy organizations.  It will focus on some of the most controversial of legal issues - consumer protection, public corruption and mass incarceration to name a few.  

Although each state is unique, the course will demonstrate the remarkable congruence that exists among state attorneys general when addressing similar challenges and issues. Unlike private and other government lawyers, who work subject to ethical rules that defer decision making to agency “clients,” for the 13,000 men and women it is the representing the "public interest" that is the day-to-day reality of their professional lives.

The course is weighted toward those decisions by attorneys general that reflect their independent status that is most often revealed when legislatures, other elected officials, state agencies or the federal government exceed their constitutional or statutory authority.

The Syllabus also focuses on those parts of the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility and various articles and statutes that govern representation by attorneys general. It also contains numerous hypotheticals, almost all of which have been drafted by Professor Brann, that are drawn from actual cases but because of their nature have not been studied or, in most cases, ever been made public.

Professors Brann and Tierney will hold office hours each Monday during the semester and Professor Tierney will hold office hours on Tuesdays.  In anticipation of the fist class, we urge students to watch this video:

 A Brief Introduction to the World of State Attorneys General


Teaching Schedule

In 2017, Professor Tierney will be teaching at Harvard Law School.