Anne Fleming ’05, a legal historian and professor at Georgetown University Law Center, died suddenly Aug. 26 from an embolism.

Fleming was a pathbreaking scholar whose article on the canonical contracts case on unconscionability doctrine, Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Co., changed the way many taught it. Fleming’s prize-winning first book, “City of Debtors: A Century of Fringe Finance” (Harvard, 2018), explores the growth and regulation of small-dollar lending institutions in the United States over the 2oth century. Her research interests included contract and commercial law, consumer finance, and American legal history, with a focus on the relationship between law and poverty. Fleming also had embarked on another book project, “Household Borrowing and Bankruptcy in Jim Crow America, 1920-1960.”

“Anne Fleming was the scholar, teacher, and colleague we should all hope to be—rigorous, insightful, empathetic, and kind. What she accomplished in a too-short career makes her loss even greater,” said HLS Professor Bruce Mann, one of her mentors when she was a Climenko Fellow.

“Anne was brilliant, generous-minded and wryly hilarious. As a colleague and friend in the Climenko program, she regularly gave transformatively insightful comments on others’ work even as she honed her own scholarship. Her students relied on her levelheaded advice and profound commitment to their success. When Anne talked, people listened. And even as her wisdom shone through in all she did, she also had unfailing comic timing and an acute sense of irony so welcome in the self-serious world of academia. We are all better for having known her and will miss her beyond words,” said Susannah Barton Tobin, ’04 managing director of the Climenko Fellowship Program at HLS, where Fleming had been a fellow in 2012.

Read a tribute to Fleming on the Legal History Blog.

While getting her law degree, Fleming worked at the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. After law school, she worked at the Foreclosure Prevention Project in South Brooklyn Legal Services, where she served as a staff attorney from 2007 to 2009. In addition to her law degree, Fleming held a Ph.D. in history from the University of Pennsylvania.

In 2012, when Fleming returned to Harvard Law School as a Climenko Fellow and lecturer in law, she focused on the research questions that had grown out of her public interest legal work and animated her history training.


Comments from colleagues:

Seth Davis, Climenko class colleague and professor at Berkeley Law:

“I will always be grateful to Anne for what she taught me about the life of a scholar. She was creative and meticulous, gracious and thoughtful. A few weeks ago I was re-reading her groundbreaking work on the Walker-Thomas case in preparation for a seminar. There’s a new lesson each time I return to Anne’s scholarship, and whenever I remember her calmness and kindness as a colleague. She was an extraordinary person.”

Seth Stoughton, Climenko colleague and associate professor at University of South Carolina School of Law:

“Anne was my Climenko classmate for two years as we taught the students of Section 1. I can’t count the number of times we had those small, critical exchanges that friends and colleagues use to support, constructively challenge, or just commiserate with each other: “Here’s my CRuPAC example, in case it’s useful.” “Five more papers to grade before bed. Ugh.” I went back through my old emails recently just to recapture some of those moments, but there weren’t very many. There weren’t many because there didn’t need to be; Anne was always just a few offices away and she was always happy to chat in person. Anne’s quiet competence and support were comforts in an uncertain time. Her diligence and compassion, which resonated through her scholarship and teaching, were an inspiration. Anne was the best of us. My world is a darker place without her.”

Sharon Jacobs ’09, Climenko colleague and associate professor at University of Colorado Law School:

“Our Climenko Fellowship class was like family, and Anne was my sister. She commuted to Cambridge for part of each week, and a light in her office two doors down from mine was the promise of a good day. Anne’s love of the scholarly enterprise was tangible. Her eyes sparkled as she described a recent visit to the archives. Her office was always stacked with books that had accompanied her on the train up from New York, and she seemed to know each like the back of her hand. Her work was meticulous and meaningful. As many have noted, however, Anne was equally remarkable for her calm, joyful spirit. She radiated goodness—there is simply no other way to describe it. I came to rely on her judgment implicitly.

“As we entered the job market season, Anne was too modest to share her successes with the rest of the group. However, when we found out that she had so many interviews at the annual job fair in Washington, D.C., that she would literally have to run from one to another all day for two solid days, no one was surprised. During callback season, we arranged to fly from San Francisco to Boston together one morning after completing interviews at different schools. Her calming presence was a blessing during that stressful period.

“I remember her joy at being offered a job at Georgetown Law, where she would be able to work with colleagues whose work had inspired her own. The week before we gave our first classes as baby law professors, a tin of cookies from NYC’s Milk Bar arrived for me in the mail without a card. The gift was typical Anne: thoughtful, understated and exactly right.

“Our lives grew in different directions, and yet we still found time for visits over the years whenever we could, frequently indulging our mutual love of good food. We shared a Cronut at Dominique Ansel in New York, and I met her new husband, Paul; we celebrated professional accomplishments at Bistro Bis in Washington, D.C.; she met my son over biscuits and gravy at Sassafras in Denver.

She left us far too soon. But Anne’s memory will be with me for the rest of my days, inspiring me to pursue work that matters and to live life with modesty and grace.”