Thomas Miles, Assistant Professor in the Law SchoolBy Sarah Galer
The Law School’s graduating class of 2009 has named Thomas Miles, Assistant Professor in the Law School, its Teacher of the Year.
Miles credits his fellow professors as a source of inspiration. “This is a faculty of outstanding teachers,” said Miles. “The high value the faculty places on teaching motivates each time I step into the classroom.”
Having received his Ph.D. in economics from Chicago before heading to Harvard Law School, Miles was exposed early in his graduate career to the University’s world-class teaching. It included taking a law class—one he now teaches—from William Landes, the Clifton R. Musser Professor of Law and Economics, and being a teaching assistant to Steven Levitt, the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and the College.
“Taking Bill Landes’ course in Economic Analysis of Law inspired me to make law and economics the focus of my career,” Miles said. “In that class, I learned a tremendous amount from Bill, and when I teach, I aspire to communicate to my students as many ideas and as much knowledge as Bill conveyed to me. To now teach the very course I took from Bill is a great thrill.”
In addition to teaching Economic Analysis of Law, Miles also teaches Torts, Federal Criminal Law, Empirical Law and Economics, and Securities Law.
“I also had the good fortune to serve as a teaching assistant in Steve Levitt’s enormously popular undergraduate course, the Economics of Crime. The unflagging intellectual curiosity and creativity that Steve brings to his course are an inspiration for me in teaching legal subjects.”
Miles also said the Socratic Method has been valuable in his classroom. It involves a professor engaging students in a discussion by asking a series of questions that progressively explores a topic.
Miles said some law students are initially apprehensive about it, but that they quickly develop a taste for the method. “The Socratic Method makes teaching a type of joint production. It requires the inputs of both instructor and students. Its prevalence at the Law School speaks highly of the diligence and acuity of our students.”
Miles said the method is helpful in prompting students to think about the broader implications of law. It also hones the skills they will use after law school.
“The ability to analyze cases and statutory texts is an essential lawyerly skill,” Miles said. “Conducting that analysis through a classroom discussion has a spontaneity that makes law teaching so much fun.”
Miles, whose research focuses on empirical studies of judicial behavior and of criminal justice, has been on the Law School faculty since 2005.