This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, Summer/Fall 2021 (Vol. 90, Nos. 2–3), pp. 65.
Mary Kay Kane, longtime chair of NCBE’s Civil Procedure Drafting Committee (2012–2021), passed away on June 3, 2021. The following is a tribute to Mary Kay written by Dean A. Benjamin Spencer, who has served on the Committee since 2012 and will succeed Mary Kay as its chair.By A. Benjamin Spencer
The best mentors endow us with what we can’t give ourselves.
They nurture our talent and promise where we struggle to imagine either. They spot opportunity for us in places we’ve never explored.
But perhaps most valuably, they share themselves—their time, their experiences, their heart and humanity. They show us not only life’s complexity and nuance, but also how we can join them in making the world better.
Mary Kay Kane, Dean and Chancellor Emerita of UC Hastings College of the Law and distinguished professor, had a gift for giving that light. Her death this past June shakes generations of legal scholars, practitioners, and lifelong students whose deep grief reflects the profound power of her example.
When I first met Mary Kay, I was a relatively junior civil procedure professor who had landed a spot on the West Academic Advisory Board. Mary Kay was also a member of that board, as was our common mentor and teacher, Professor Arthur Miller. I was immediately impressed with her graciousness and wisdom. From that point on, Mary Kay took an interest in my work and the development of my career, becoming both a mentor and a sponsor.
Her generous support manifested itself in multiple ways: for example, bringing me onto NCBE’s Civil Procedure Drafting Committee or recommending that I become a co-author of Federal Practice and Procedure. I cannot express how immensely important she was to supporting me throughout my academic career. My story is just one among countless examples of Mary Kay’s resounding impact on legal academia and the lives of those who shape it.
Born in Detroit and educated at the University of Michigan, Mary Kay was among the world’s foremost scholars in federal civil procedure. I suspect no one—perhaps apart from Arthur Miller—knew more about the subject. Her contributions include co-authorship on multiple editions of 14 volumes of the renowned Federal Practice and Procedure treatise. As I continue her work, I am inspired by her immense respect for the field and its importance to litigants who must access our federal judicial system. She viewed summarizing and explaining civil procedure to jurists and practitioners as critical work that helped ensure that a system designed to be just and efficient could live up to that aspiration.
While she was a consummate legal professional in every sense—graceful, courteous, practical, and thoughtful—she was also a tremendous human being. It’s no exaggeration to say that everyone loved her. Her knowledge of wines and vast international travels contributed to her brilliant conversations and rich understanding of the world. I never tired of working with Mary Kay or enjoying a meal and libations with her; she seemed happiest in these moments, discussing the intricacies of civil procedure or regaling us with enthralling stories about the many amazing experiences she had throughout her career.
As our mourning subsides in time, her inspiration will endure. For those of us charged with bringing along the next generation, we can find no greater model.
A. Benjamin Spencer is dean of the William & Mary Law School. He has succeeded Mary Kay Kane as author of the removal jurisdiction volume of the Federal Practice and Procedure treatise and will succeed her as the new chair of NCBE’s Civil Procedure Drafting Committee.
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