Sarah Winsberg

Climenko Fellow and Lecturer on Law



Sarah Winsberg’s research in legal history examines the process of making legal categories. Looking beyond the courtroom and the best remembered legal thinkers, she shows how long-forgotten writers’ and editors’ work in labeling and annotating cases produced gradual, yet ultimately profound, change in the law. In her current project, she argues that nineteenth-century legal writers reshaped American understandings of labor by distinguishing business partnership, marital and family labor, slavery, and servitude from an emerging category of “employment” and from each other. Her work makes contributions in employment law, contracts, and legal ethics.

Sarah graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School summa cum laude in 2017 and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is supervised by Sarah Barringer Gordon. In 2018-19, Sarah clerked for Judge Anthony Scirica on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Earlier, Sarah worked as a paralegal in civil legal aid at Legal Assistance of Western New York and earned a B.A. in history magna cum laude from Yale University. Sarah’s article in Legal Ethics received the Deborah Rhode Prize from the International Association of Legal Ethics. Her research has been supported by the New York Public Library, the Program in Early American Economy and Society at the Library Company of Pennsylvania, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Areas of Interest

Sarah Winsberg, Attorney ‘Mal-Practices’: An Invisible Ethical Problem in the Early American Republic, 19 Legal Ethics 187 (2016).
Legal Profession
Legal History
Legal Ethics
Type: Article
Lawyers and judges in the early American republic were surprisingly reluctant to penalise colleagues for malpractice and misconduct towards clients. Though they were part of a legal culture obsessed with preserving lawyers’ moral rectitude, they nonetheless remained sceptical of attempts to address malpractice. This article explores that apparent contradiction. I analyse allegedly wronged clients’ unsuccessful attempts to seek legal satisfaction, whether in civil, criminal, or professional suspension proceedings. I find that the period’s public-spirited legal ethics was in fact a major contributor to these former clients’ difficulties. Legal reformers worried constantly about the dangers to the republic of too-zealous advocacy, which might undermine the public interest. These concerns helped render the opposite problem – of lazy or even duplicitous client ‘advocacy’ – invisible and irremediable. Stories from the past, I argue, help illuminate a tendency to overlook malpractice that continues to this day.

Education History