Intervene When Justice Isn't Fair

Mar 03, 2018

Women Leading Research: T. Leigh Anenson

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Strict enforcement of the law sometimes rewards dirty-dealing and hypocrisy, which bothered T. Leigh Anenson as a business litigator. Her new book, “Judging Equity: The Fusion of Unclean Hands in U.S. Law,” explores a safety valve in the legal system designed to correct injustice.

“I do not like the abuse of power, and the abuse of the law is very similar,” says Anenson, who now works as a business law professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “If you are going to exploit the right that you have in a way that is not intended, I just do not think people should get away with that.”

Courts allow for equitable defenses, which invite judges to set aside legal requirements and apply moral principles in cases where the law might not deliver a fair resolution. But Anenson searched as an attorney for guidance on the doctrines of equity and found almost nothing.

Now that she has transitioned to academia, she is filling the gap. “I am writing the book that I wanted to have when I was a lawyer,” she says. Her book, more than 10 years in the making, is scheduled for release in fall 2018 by Cambridge University Press.

Unclean hands, the book’s focus, refers to cases in which a person shares blame in a situation but sues for damages anyway. “You are involved in it,” Anenson says. “Or it could be that you committed the same wrong as the person you are now suing.”

Examples abound in a variety of commercial settings comprising unfair competition, contracts, corporate governance and financial fraud. A technology firm might have unclean hands if it uses deceit to secure a patent, and then sues a competitor for infringing on the patent. A startup company might have unclean hands if it disregards the noncompete clauses of a rival firm, but then requires its new recruits to sign the same type of contract.

Anenson’s book lays out the underlying principles of the equitable defense, which has evolved over centuries. “One of the ideas of equity dates back to Aristotle,” she says. “The law, because of its generality, can’t possibly be fair in every single situation. There are unexpected things that lawmakers can’t anticipate, so they would want the law to be tailored just a little bit differently. Equity provides that tailoring.”

T. Leigh Anenson is a professor of business law at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and associate director of the Center for the Study of Business Ethics, Regulation, and Crime (C-BERC) and an affiliate faculty to UMD’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Selected accomplishments: She has earned numerous awards, including the two most prestigious international awards given by the Academy of Legal Studies in Business. Several of her articles have been published in the leading business law journal, as well as in journals at top law schools. Her research has been widely cited in academic articles, leading law textbooks, and court opinions. She has held visiting fellowships at prestigious foreign universities, including the University of Cambridge. She is a former editor of the American Business Law Journal and the International Business Law Review. She is past President of the International Section of the ALSB as well as its Pacific Southwest Region. Professor Anenson was a recipient of the academy’s Early Career Achievement Award.

Research interests: U.S. equity law and the related areas of remedies, private law and jurisprudence. Theoretical foundation for historic equitable defenses in modern litigation. Secondary research stream involves pension law and policy. She is currently concentrating on public pension governance.

About this series: The Smith School faculty is celebrating Women’s History Month 2018 in partnership with ADVANCE, an initiative to transform the University of Maryland by investing in a culture of inclusive excellence. Daily faculty spotlights support activities from the school’s Office of Diversity Initiatives, starting with the seventh annual Women Leading Women forum on March 1, 2018.

Other fearless ideas from:  Rajshree Agarwal  |  Ritu Agarwal  |  T. Leigh Anenson  |  Kathryn M. Bartol  |  Christine Beckman  |  Margrét Bjarnadóttir  |  M. Cecilia Bustamante  |  Jessica M. Clark  |  Rellie Derfler-Rozin  |  Waverly Ding  |  Wedad J. Elmaghraby  |  Rosellina Ferraro  |  Rebecca Hann  | Amna Kirmani  |  Hanna Lee  |  Hui Liao  |  Jennifer Carson Marr  |  Wendy W. Moe  |  Courtney Paulson  |  Louiqa Raschid  |  Rebecca Ratner  |  Debra L. Shapiro  |  M. Susan Taylor  |  Niratcha (Grace) Tungtisanont  |  Vijaya Venkataramani  |  Janet Wagner  |  Yajin Wang  |  Yajun Wang  |  Liu Yang  |  Jie Zhang  |  Lingling Zhang

Photo credit: icedmocha



About the Expert(s)

T. Leigh Anenson

T. Leigh Anenson is Professor of Business Law at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. She is an Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Business Ethics, Regulation, and Crime (C-BERC) and an Affiliate Faculty to the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. She is the Core Coordinator for the business law curriculum and helped form the Business Law Fellows Program. She serves as a faculty advisor to the Business Law Society. She was honored with the Smith School Distinguished Teaching Awards for the 2007-2008, 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2012-2013, 2013-2014, 2014-2015, and 2016-2017 academic years.

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