Thomas W. Mitchell

2020 MacArthur Fellow
Professor of Law and Co-Director, Program in Real Estate and Community Development Law

Texas A&M University School of Law Professor Thomas W. Mitchell

"Law students and lawyers who make ​their mark in the law approach the law as a participatory sport. In terms of promoting justice, no matter how inevitable and permanent any injustice may appear to be, law is always susceptible to change. Never let anyone convince you otherwise."

Get to Know Thomas W. Mitchell

What drew you to the law?

In college, I led a campus effort to address some challenges our college had on issues of diversity and I realized later that I had used lawyering skills in doing so. It was empowering to see how some of the proposed remedies we crafted that were adopted by the administration ended up leading to positive and lasting systemic change. The legislative work I did just after college on Capitol Hill on behalf of a congressman from rural Texas, though frustrating at times, only reinforced the belief I had that law could be used to improve the lives of people.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

In general, I like helping students realize their potential both academically and professionally. I take particular joy in mentoring students in ways that help them achieve success in and out of the classroom during their time in law school and then as legal professionals afterwards, especially with respect to students who end up serving the public interest in some way.

What do you hope students gain from your courses?

My overall goal is to help train law students so that they can be successful attorneys. To this end, I enjoy helping students master specific legal concepts while also helping them to realize that the law is nuanced, complex and dynamic, not mechanical and static. I also want my students to understand that legal decision makers draw on policy, whether explicitly or implicitly, to justify shaping the law in the ways they do.

What did you do prior to entering academia?

I worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide then legislative director for a congressman from rural Texas before going to law school. After law school, I worked in Washington, D.C., first as an associate for a large law firm and then as a judicial clerk for a federal judge.

What are you passionate about outside the law?

My wife and I take enormous pleasure in spending time with our wonderful, caring and energetic daughter, including when we travel to places like California, New York and the Caribbean, when we go bike riding, or when we are being supportive soccer parents. I also enjoy the work I have done with nonprofit organizations, including one that works with disadvantaged family farmers and another that works on environmental stewardship and conservation matters.

What are your research interests?

My research primarily addresses real property issues that impact poor and disadvantaged communities, many of which are rural. More broadly, I research issues of economic inequality, specifically focusing on how the ability or inability of individuals or communities to build and retain assets can impact inequality.


Link to my publications.


A complete list ​​of presentations is available on my CV.

  • “Exploring Barriers to Scottish-Style Land Reform in the United States” and “Sentimental, Cultural, and Historical Value of African-American Owned Land,” Seventh Annual Meeting of the Association of Law, Property and Society, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland (May 2016)

  • Presenter, “Exploring Barriers to Scottish-Style Land Reform in the United States,” Land Reform in Scotland, A U.S.-U.K. Round Table, University of Glasgow School of Law, United Kingdom (May 2016)

  • “African-American Property Ownership: Racialized Opportunities, Unjust Legal Regimes, and the Racial Wealth Gap,” Race, Property, and Debt Symposium, Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Wisconsin – Madison (March 2016)

  • Panelist and organizer, Law and Society Association’s Annual Meeting, Seattle, Wash. (May 2015)

  • Panelist, 6th Annual Meeting for the Association for Law, Property and Society, University of Georgia School of Law, Athens, Ga. (April-May, 2015)

  • Panelist, Historic Black Towns and Settlements Workshop, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (April 2015)

  • 20th Thomas R. Gallivan, Jr. Conference: Kelo: A Decade Later, University of Connecticut School of Law, Hartford, Conn. (March 2015)

  • New Legal Realism 10th Anniversary Conference: Future Directions for Legal Empiricism, University of California, Irvine School of Law (August 2014)

  • Southern Historical Association Annual Meeting, St. Louis, Mo. (November 2013)

  • Poverty Law Conference, American University Washington College of Law, Washington, D.C. (October 2013)

  • 4th Annual Meeting for the Association for Law, Property and Society, University of Minnesota Law School, Minneapolis, Minn. (April 2013)

  • 9th Annual Wiley A. Branton-Howard Law Journal Symposium, Howard University School of Law, Washington, D.C. (November 2012)

  • Panelist, Mid-Atlantic People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference: Law and the Historical Movement: Law’s Response to 21st Century Issues, Howard University School of Law, Washington, D.C. (January 2012)

  • Panelist, “Geographies, Nature and the Environment” plenary session, Law and Society Association’s Annual Meeting, San Francisco, Calif. (June 2011)

  • Panelist, Journal of Race, Gender and Poverty Symposium: We’re Taking your Property: Expropriation and Property Rights, Southern University Law Center Baton Rouge, La. (May 2011)

  • Panelist, Association for Law, Property, and Society, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C. (March 2011)


  • Property law
  • Land use law
  • Minority ​land ownership
  • Legal ​reform


  • Property
  • Land Use

Academic Experience

  • Interim Dean
    Texas A&M University School of Law (August 2017-July 2018)
  • Professor of Law
    Texas A&M University School of Law (2016-present)
  • Co-Director, Program in Real Estate and Community Development
    Texas A&M University School of Law (2016-present)
  • Professor
    Texas A&M University Department of Agricultural Economics (joint, secondary appointment) (2016-present)
  • Professor of Law & Frederick W. and Vi Miller Chair in Law
    University of Wisconsin Law School (2015–present)
  • Professor of Law
    University of Wisconsin Law School (2012–2015)
  • Associate Professor of Law
    University of Wisconsin Law School (2006–2012)
  • Associate Professor of Law
    DePaul University College of Law (2004-2006)
  • Visiting Research Fellow
    American Bar Foundation (2003-2004)
  • Faculty Fellow
    University of Chicago Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture (2002-2003)
  • Assistant Professor of Law
    University of Wisconsin Law School (2000–2006)


  • LL.M., University of Wisconsin Law School
    • William H. Hastie Fellow
  • J.D., Howard University School of Law, cum laude
    • Special Articles Editor, Howard University Law Journal
    • Highest grade in Constitutional Law
  • B.A. in ​English, Amherst College

Awards / Honors

  • 2020 Fellow of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
    • The "genius" grant will help Mitchell further his mission to help disadvantaged families and communities maintain ownership of their property and real estate wealth. Learn more.
  • Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Award (1 of 10 professors in the United States recognized as a transformational educator who inspired a former student to create an organization which has conferred lasting benefits within particular communities) (2013)
  • Uniform Law Commission, Reporter (principal drafter) for Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (2007-2010)
  • Spirit of Land Rich Award (award from Land Rich nonprofit organization presented at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill for my work on behalf of minority landowners) (2007)

Other Professional Activities

  • Fellow, American College of Real Estate Lawyers (2014-present)
  • Contributing Editor, Journal of Things We Like (Lots) (for Jotwell’s Property Section) (2015-present)
  • Affiliate, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin-Madison (2012-present)
  • Member, Board of Directors, Farmers’ Legal Action Group (2001-present)
  • Member, Insight Center for Community Economic Development, Experts of Color Network for the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative (2007-present)