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History and Traditions

Peter J. Hammer

Peter J. Hammer taught at the University of Michigan Law School, 1995-2003.

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Peter Hammer, a graduate of the University of Michigan's law and economics joint degree program, practiced for two years at O'Melveny and Myers in Los Angeles.  He focused on antitrust and health care law and assisted with expert economic analysis of cases.

Peter Hammer holds a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and bachelor of arts degrees in economics and in speech communication from Gonzaga University in Spokane, where he was raised. An excellent math professor who was a strong role model inspired him to teach. "It's a wonderful way to devote your energy and make an impact on people's lives," he said. "You can't change people, but you can guide them to places of strength inside themselves."

With such broad background and interests, the hard part for Hammer was deciding what field to teach in. He considered graduate study in math and other fields before he opted for Michigan's combined law and economics program. He earned his law degree in 1990 and his doctorate in economics in 1993. While completing his dissertation, he clerked for the Hon. Alfred T. Goodwin at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

When he joined O'Melveny and Myers in 1993, he also joined the legal team defending Exxon in the civil trials resulting from the 1989 Valdez oil spill. "In two years of practice I lost a $5 billion verdict for my client, more than most people lose in a career," he joked.

Jokes aside, Hammer said he found the Exxon case intellectually satisfying in many ways. For him, it was an opportunity to work with topnotch attorneys on both sides of the case and to devote his time to a case where important issues were at stake.

"For most clients, your job is to tell them what the law is.  It's not that often that you get to push the boundaries, to ask how strong a precedent is, can it be changed, and is it right - the same questions you ask in academics. The Exxon case involved such high stakes that nobody was taking the ground rules as given, and as a result, both sides made a lot of new law."

Even more rewarding than the Exxon trial was establishing a public defender program in Cambodia. Hammer helped win funding, establish comprehensive classroom training, and recruit a series of pro bono American attorneys who have gone to Cambodia to staff the project. Now a year and a half old, the program has offices in Phnom Penh and three provinces.

Hammer explains that Cambodia's legal system is a patchwork of remnants from former regimes that really form no system at all. Precisely because the legal process is so fluid, the project has been able to import and adapt some American defense techniques and put them to creative, effective use. Clients there are eager to have an advocate in an adversarial setting. "It's been incredibly rewarding because we really have had a significant impact," he said.

Hammer will teach Health Law, Antitrust Law, and Contracts. His research interest combines his expertise in law and economics: "My focus is on how health care markets work, how they should function and how they actually do function.

Surprisingly, there are disturbing gaps in our knowledge of how different kinds of health care structures affect outcomes such as access to care and quality of care."

-- From the University of Michigan Law School's Law Quadrangle Notes, V. 38, Iss. 02 (Summer 1995).


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