Texas Tech University

Professor Leaves Lasting Impact On Legal System by Inspiring Students

McKenzi Morris

May 6, 2020

Dustin Benham received a 2020 Chancellor’s Council Distinguished Teaching Award.

In February, the Texas Tech University System announced its 2020 Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching and Research Awards to honor outstanding faculty members who provide exceptional opportunities for students both in and out of the classroom. We are highlighting the seven Texas Tech University faculty members who were recognized. This is the first in this series.

Dustin Benham, a professor of law, is devoted to improving the civil litigation system in the United States. More so, he's dedicated to preparing the next generation of lawyers who will continue to improve the system for years to come.

Dustin Benham

His books, law review articles and essays help expand the knowledge of the law, especially transparency and confidentiality in civil court cases. Ultimately, Benham said his greatest impact on the legal system is what he teaches future lawyers and how they use those skills to help people.

Since joining the Texas Tech faculty, Benham has been honored numerous times for his work as a professor. He has been named the Texas Tech Law Advanced Professor of the Year five times in the last six years; he was elected to the Texas Tech Teaching Academy in 2016 and received the President's Excellence in Teaching Award in 2015.

On Feb. 5, Benham added the Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching Award to his collection.

Can you describe your research and its impact, both in academics and society?
My research interests mirror my teaching interests. Recently, my scholarship has taken an in-depth look at the costs and benefits of court confidentiality orders and agreements. My articles, published in law journals and presented around the country, have examined the line between helpful and dangerous court confidentiality. For instance, courts regularly sign orders in lawsuits that keep information about dangerous products or predatory behaviors secret. There are reasons for this trend – some of the reasons are legitimate and others are pretextual. Courts and litigants have used these articles and my analysis to assess what information should remain confidential and what information should be made public or shared between cases. Beyond journal articles, my opinions on the topic have also been featured in newspapers and other mainstream media.

What projects are you working on at this time?
I am currently completing research for several articles that will examine court secrecy issues in light of recent important societal and litigation developments. I also am working on research and revisions for my two textbooks.

What areas are you interested in for future research?
I am interested in making American courts more fair and more accurate in finding the truth. I'm also interested in litigation procedures that unfairly disfavor marginalized and underprivileged groups.

What rewards do you get from teaching?
I recognize that my greatest impact on the world will come from the thousands of students with whom I will have the privilege to work during my career. I love working with students to help them become lawyers, because each student I impact will, in turn, impact thousands of clients involved in the most important moments of their lives. No one hires a lawyer to solve a small problem, and I get great satisfaction in helping my students help their future clients navigate life's more difficult waters.

What motivated you to pursue a career in academia?
While working as a lawyer, I had the opportunity to teach on a part-time basis. Around the same time, I also had the opportunity to assist my mentor, Professor Mark Osler (who now teaches at the St. Thomas Law School), on some important academic and criminal justice issues. I realized that my calling was in academia.

How has Texas Tech helped you advance your research and teaching?
Texas Tech has given me tremendous support as I developed as a law teacher and scholar. My colleagues are extremely talented and shaped me in countless ways as I walked along the path to finding my own voice in the classroom and on the page. The School of Law has provided outstanding financial and logistical support for my projects. My students and research assistants make me better every day.

Who has had the biggest impact on you and your career, and why?
My students. They keep me connected and grounded, they push me to learn more and convey it effectively, and they are a constant reminder that this career is about much more than "me." Professor Rory Ryan at Baylor University and Professor Mark Osler at St. Thomas also deserve huge recognition – Rory fought for me to get my first full-time teaching opportunity. Without him, I wouldn't have been hired. Mark inspired me to become a law teacher in the first place. My colleagues here have also been fantastic.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you Texas Tech University for the opportunity, support and encouragement along the way!