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Robert Nelson

Professor of Sociology and MacCrate Research Chair at the American Bar Foundation on leave AY 23-24

Area(s) of Interest

Sociology of Law, Professions, Inequality

Relevant Links

American Bar Foundation

Institute for Policy Research

Law School


Nelson is a leading figure in the sociology of law with a research focus on the legal profession and anti-discrimination law. He is the author or editor of 10 books, most recently Rights on Trial: How Workplace Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality (U of Chicago Press 2017), with Ellen Berrey and Laura Beth Nielsen and The Making of Lawyer Careers: Inequality and Opportunity in the American Legal Profession (U of Chicago Press forthcoming 2023) with several coauthors. He has held several significant administrative positions, including Director of the American Bar Foundation, Founding Director of the Center for Legal Studies, and Chair of the Department of Sociology. He has been recognized with a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, membership in the Sociological Research Association, membership on the board of the General Social Survey, Chair of the Sociology of Law Section of the ASA, the Distinguished Publication Award of the ASA. He currently is directing the After the JD Study of Lawyer Careers.


The Making of Lawyers' Careers: Inequality and Opportunity in the American Legal Profession 
(with Ronit Dinovitzer, Bryant Garth, Joyce Sterling, David Wilkins, Meghan Dawe, and Ethan Michelson) U of Chicago Press, 2023.

Rights on Trial: How Workplace Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality
(with Ellen Berrey and Laura Beth Nielsen) U. of Chicago Press, 2017-Honorable Mention Best Book, Sociology of Law Section of ASA.

Diversity in Practice: Race, Class, and Gender in Legal and Professional Careers.
(edited with Spencer Headworth, Ronit Dinovitzer, and David Wilkins) Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Global Perspectives on the Rule of Law
(edited with James J. Heckman and Lee Cabatingan), Routledge-Cavendish, 2010

Urban Lawyers: The New Social Structure of the Bar
(with John P. Heinz, Rebecca L. Sandefur, and Edward O. Laumann),
University Chicago Press, 2005

Handbook of Employment Discrimination Research: Rights and Realities
(edited with Laura Beth Nielsen), Springer, 2005.

Legalizing Gender Inequality:  Courts, Markets, and Unequal Pay for Women in America.  
(with William P. Bridges) Cambridge University Press, 1999.-winner of five book awards.

The Hollow Core:  Private Interests in National Policy Making (with John P. Heinz, Edward O. Laumann, and Robert H. Salisbury)  Harvard University Press, 1993.

Lawyers' Ideals/Lawyers' Practices:  Transformations in the American Legal Profession (edited with David M. Trubek and Rayman L. Solomon) Cornell University Press, 1992.

Partners with Power:  The Social Transformation of the Large Law Firm  University of California Press,  1988.


Courses Taught

Legal_St 207/SOCIOL 227: Legal Studies Research Methods Syllabus

SOCIOL 318: Sociology of Law Syllabus

SOCIOL 408: Sociology of Law Graduate Level Syllabus


Perceiving Discrimination: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation in the Legal Workplace, (with Ioana Sendroiu, Ronit Dinovitzer, and Meghan Dawe), Law & Social Inquiry (2019). 

Race and Representation: Racial Disparities in Legal Representation for Employment Civil Rights Plaintiffs, (with Amy Myrick and Laura Beth Nielsen), New York University Journal of Legislation and Social Policy, 2012.

Experiencing Discrimination: Race and Retention in America's Largest Law Firms (with Monique R. Payne-Pikus and John Hagan), Law & Society Review, 2010.

Individual Justice or Collective Legal Mobilization: Employment Discrimination Litigation in the Post-Civil Rights United States
(with Laura Beth Nielsen and Ryan Lancaster), Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 2010