Mai Linh Spencer Honored with Teaching Excellence Award

"As a clinical teacher, she works side-by-side with students to ensure that they feel competent and ready to successfully represent their clients.”

“Work hard and be your authentic self.”

That short, simple sentence echoed in the ears of UC Hastings College of the Law’s 2018 graduating class. The inspirational line was delivered by Clinical Professor Mai Linh Spencer, whose commitment to teaching and inspiring students has been recognized with the Rutter Award for Teaching Excellence.

“I can’t think of a higher honor than the Rutter Award,” Spencer said after receiving the award during a ceremony on Feb. 6. “There’s nothing more rewarding than teaching UC Hastings students to be excellent lawyers.”

Spencer’s tireless commitment to putting the needs of students at the forefront was on full display during the ceremony as she offered $1,000 of her own money to start a “students’ choice teaching award” fund.

Founded by law-guide publisher William Rutter in 1979, the Rutter Award honors outstanding professors at California’s top law schools. The Rutter Endowment provides UC Hastings an annual award of $10,000 for the winner of the award.

This year’s Rutter Award selection committee—made up of Professor Dave Owen, Kelly Matayoshi ‘12, Associated Student Union President Katie Gross, and Academic Dean Morris Ratner—unanimously selected Spencer.

“As a clinical teacher, she works side-by-side with students, often late into the night, to ensure that they feel competent and ready to successfully represent their clients,” said Ascanio Piomelli, associate dean for experiential learning and professor.

“In the large classroom, she is committed to supporting the broadest participation in discussions, encouraging those who talk often to step back and those who don’t normally talk in other classes to step up,” Piomelli said. “Her fervent belief that all of her students belong here and can succeed here is palpable and inspiring. It also helps that she’s brilliant, self-effacing, and wickedly funny.”

Spencer has been a steadying force in UC Hastings’s clinical program since 2009, when she arrived as a teaching fellow. She is the academic director of the Lawyers for America program and she also teaches the Individual Representation Clinic, Evidence, Legal Externship seminar, and Essential Lawyering Skills courses.

Prior to joining UC Hastings, Spencer worked as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. She also spent time representing capital and non-capital defendants on direct appeal and habeas as a deputy state public defender.

“She is an exceptional teacher because of her tenacious commitment to students’ learning and to zealously advocating on behalf of clients–she leaves no stone unturned in either realm,” Piomelli said.