Tamar Frankel to Receive Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award

The award honors a lawyer whose work has had a significant impact on women, the legal community, and the academy.

Professor Tamar FrankelProfessor of Law and Michaels Faculty Research Scholar Tamar Frankel has been selected to receive the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Law School’s (AALS) Section on Women in Legal Education.

The award, first presented in 2013 to US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was created to honor a lawyer “who has impacted women, the legal community, the academy, and the issues that affect women through mentoring, writing, speaking, activism, and by providing opportunities to others,” according to the AALS.

“Needless to say, I have admired Justice Ginsburg for a very long time,” Frankel says. “I followed her, and to some extent I identify with a lot of what she says.”

Frankel is a well-known expert in fiduciary law. She has taught at BU Law since the fall of 1967, when she joined the faculty as a lecturer. She became an assistant professor of law in 1968, and a full professor in 1971. She was the first woman at BU Law appointed to a tenure-track position, and the first to earn tenure.

“I was the first, yes? And the only one,” Frankel recalls, indicating a black-and-white photograph of herself as the lone woman among the BU faculty members. “It didn’t make a big impression on me, but it made a big impression on them.” Today, she says, about half the BU Law faculty “are women, and great ones.

As a pioneering woman in legal education, she learned to lead by example: “The most effective way for me at the time was not to talk about it, but to show it.” When her son was three years old, she remembers, she invited a class of students over to her house. “Years later, I received a letter from someone who was a judge by that time. She said she thought she would never marry, and never have children. And all of a sudden, she came [to BU Law] and she found it was possible.”

For her, self-image is the most important thing that has changed about the role of women in the legal arena: “It’s not what others think. It’s what I think of myself. And if I think of myself as an intellectual, nothing else should matter. What I offer is my knowledge, understanding, perceptions, and my help.”

Frankel’s knowledge and understanding of the law has been in demand since she first started teaching. She has published ten books, a few of which have been translated into Chinese or Japanese, and over 80 articles and book chapters. She’s been listed among the Top 50 Women in Wealth Management. She was deeply involved in the creation of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers, one of the most important organizations involved in the operation of the Internet. She has lectured at universities all over the world, including Harvard Law School, Oxford University, and Tokyo University, and she has served as a consultant for the People’s Bank of China.

Frankel says her proudest moments have been when she finds that people are benefitting from her work. “I received an email from someone I never met who said that he was a regulator in New York, and in 1972, he bought a Boston University Law Review that contained my doctorate on variable annuities. And from time to time when he had problems, he would take that off his shelf and reread it. And so, 40-plus years later, he thanked me for it. I walked on air for at least a week! That gave me an enormous satisfaction.”

Looking ahead, Frankel says that one of the changes she would like to see in the financial world is a greater awareness of how to treat others. She is an adviser with Mr. Jack Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, to the Institute for the Fiduciary Standard, an organization founded in 2011 that aims at promoting fiduciary standard of conduct for investment and financial advisors. “It’s still small—probably around 25 or 30 organizations. But these are large, and manage much money. And what they said is, ‘we are going to impose fiduciary standards on ourselves—never mind about the laws, we are going to impose a fiduciary way of behavior. I see a slow rise of this kind of recognition, that ‘even if we see someone who doesn’t know how to read and write, but they have a bit of a pension, we don’t grab it.’ ”

Frankel was born in Tel Aviv (then Palestine and now Israel) and served in the Israeli Air Force. Her father was the first president of the Israeli Bar Association. “I lived in one of the smallest communities, and afterwards in one of the smallest—at least at the beginning—states you can imagine. And I came to one of the largest countries in the world. But there was one thing that was similar, and that was the variety of cultures. In my little group, there were different languages, different food, different sensitivities, and so it wasn’t so complicated to come to another culture.”

One of her current projects is writing a short a book about “living in different cultures.”

“In that respect, the world is getting smaller, and Americans can’t close themselves in their little hut,” Frankel says. “Not anymore. So they better know not merely that there are other cultures and what they mean, but also how to deal with them. It doesn’t mean that you have to erase yourself and be exactly like others. You don’t. But you have to understand and you have to adjust to a certain extent, and know how to work and live with them. And that’s something Americans can share.”

Frankel will receive the award at the AALS Annual Meeting on January 6 at the Section on Women in Legal Education meeting in San Diego. “I’m thankful when what I deeply believe in is accepted, and it’s not usually always so. It takes time,” Frankel says, “But I have patience.”

Reported by Trevor Persaud (STH’18)

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