Skip Navigation

Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion and Ethics

Areas of Study

The Institute serves as an umbrella organization for many law and religion-related activities that have been developing at Pepperdine Law School over the years. It seeks to encourage, develop, and raise funds for these activities. At present, Pepperdine law and religion initiatives include the following:

Juris Doctor/Master of Divinity Degree

The Juris Doctor/Master of Divinity (J.D./M.Div.) joint degree program is designed to provide students with both legal and theological training in an interdisciplinary framework. Because it is a collaborative effort between the School of Law and Pepperdine's Seaver College Religion Division, students are able to draw upon the hearty resources of both schools in furthering their professional training. By allowing the methods and ideas from the two disciplines to complement, cross-fertilize, and enrich their learning, students in the program probe the depths of theology and simultaneously develop more fulsome understandings of the law, its effects, and its limitations. While in the program, students may choose to be involved in the work of the Institute for Law, Religion, and Ethics. Graduates of the joint degree program are uniquely prepared to serve their communities in a variety of ways, including traditional law practice, congregational ministry, human rights or other non-profit organizational work, public policy development, or legal advocacy on behalf of the underserved of society.

The J.D./M.Div. joint degree program allows students to complete the degree requirements in five years rather than the six years it would normally take for completion of the two degrees. Students must gain acceptance to both the School of Law and Religion Division, and then embark on a course of study comprised of 79 law school units and 74 theology units. Upon successfully completing ten semesters (five semesters in residence at each school), students will receive both a J.D. degree and a M.Div. degree. For more information, contact Prof. Joel Nichols ( ) or Dr. Randy Chesnutt, ( ) Chair of the Religion Division.

Law and Poverty

Our legal system was created for the good of all, but for the poor and powerless, minor legal difficulties often create insurmountable barriers to their recovery, re-entry, and active participation in society. In an effort to answer God's call to "do justice and to love mercy," Pepperdine Law School began the Pepperdine Legal Aid Clinic at the Union Rescue Mission in 1999. The clinic, directed by Assistant Professor Brittany Stringfellow Otey, is located in the "skid row" area of downtown Los Angeles, and provides Pepperdine law students the opportunity to interview, do casework, and represent indigent clients in court. We seek to meet clients where they are, as they seek to overcome their past, and re-enter their communities as productive, upstanding contributors.

Legal Ethics

Our newly approved legal ethics curriculum, developed at the initiative of Professor and Rabbi Samuel Levine, enables students to choose from a variety of courses to meet the law school's ethics requirement, including courses that focus on religious faith and law practice, as well as corporate, criminal, and public interest law practice. Legal Ethics is a primary teaching and research interest of Professors Gregory Ogden, Robert Cochran, Michael Gradisher, and Samuel Levine.

Religion and Law Collection for the Library

Our library staff, especially Professor Catherine Kerr, want to develop a broad law and religion collection for the library. The purpose of this collection would be to provide students and faculty with primary source materials in order to support research and learning about the interaction of law and religion. Yeshiva and Berkeley are well-known for having the nation's leading collections in Jewish and Canon law, but no school has developed a specialty in Protestant law materials. We would focus on that area. The Protestant law collection would include materials from the various Protestant churches reflecting their views of law, as well as church documents that govern particular denominations. We hope to make the law and religion collection available to scholars worldwide through the Web.

Religion and the Constitution

Professors Douglas Kmiec, Joel A. Nichols, Shelley Saxer, Mark Scarberry and Duane and Kelly Roberts Dean Kenneth W. Starr focus on religious freedom and the Constitution in teaching, writing, and public commentary.

One of America's best known scholars and popular commentators on the law, Professor Kmiec holds the endowed chair in constitutional law at Pepperdine Law School. A wide-ranging writer and engaging speaker, Professor Kmiec writes a syndicated column for the Catholic News Service, and for several years wrote a regular column in the Chicago Tribune. His scholarly research spans legal and non-legal subjects, from the Constitution and the federal system, to land use and the organization of America society. He is also a frequent guest on national news programs, such as Nightline, the Newshour, and NPR's Talk of the Nation, analyzing constitutional questions. Professor Kmiec has spoken at multiple Nootbaar Institute fora and conferences, including "The Roberts Nomination, Judges, and Religious Faith". Professor Kmiec also contributed an article on Catholic Natural Law to the upcoming collection "Law and Faith: How Different Religions View American Law", edited by the Nootbaar Institute Director Robert F. Cochran, Jr.

Professor Nichols' teaching and research centers upon the intersection of law and religion. His most recent article, appearing in the NYU Law Review, discusses the historical dimensions of religious liberty in early Georgia. He has authored several other articles and book chapters addressing theology and religion as they relate to constitutional law, human rights, family law, and legal history. Professor Nichols is a reviewer for the Journal of Law and Religion and is on the Executive Committee of the AALS Division on Law and Religion. Professor Nichols also serves as Faculty Advisor for the Pepperdine Law Review and advises students in Pepperdine's recently-created J.D./M.Div. joint degree program. His courses include Religion and the Constitution and Law and Morality.

Professor Saxer enjoys writing articles that address topics where land use issues intersect with constitutional concerns. She has published articles dealing with liquor store over-concentration in urban areas, the use of religious institutions for homeless shelters, conflict between local governmental units over commercial land use decisions that impact surrounding communities, eminent domain, and zoning conflicts with First Amendment rights. Professor Saxer has been admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dean Starr is an enthusiastic writer and scholar, and has authored many law review articles, including "Christian Service in the Practice of Law," (2005) and "Morality, Community, and the Legal Profession," (2005). His latest book is First Among Equals: The Supreme Court in American Life, published in 2002. During the Institute's Summer 2005 "Integrating Faith and Law Practice" program, Dean Starr taught a class entitled "Religion and the Constitution", which explored the relationship between individual liberty and society's history and tradition of religious acknowledgement and observance through the prism of Supreme Court case law interpreting the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Dean Starr is a member of numerous professional organizations and boards, including the American Law Institute, the Christian Legal Society, Advocates International, the Supreme Court Historical Society, and the American Inns of Court.

Religious Faith and Student Life

There are several religious student groups at Pepperdine Law School. Law students make up the vast majority of the Graduate Students' Bible Study, which meets on Wednesday evenings in the home of Professor Tim Perrin. Law school faculty members generally speak at that study. Pepperdine's Christian Legal Society Chapter is one of the most active chapters in the country, regularly sending the largest group of students to the CLS national conference. Professor and Rabbi Samuel Levine leads a weekly Torah Study with the law school's Jewish Law Students Association.

Peacemaking, Dispute Resolution, and Reconciliation

Pepperdine's nationally recognized Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution emphasizes means of resolving disputes without litigation. There is special focus on resolving conflict within religious organizations and on using religious resources to resolve disputes. Professors Peter Robinson, and Larry Sullivan have a special interest in the religious aspects of dispute resolution. Students can earn a certificate, a master's, or an LL.M. in dispute resolution. For further information, please visit

Student & Faculty Fora

The Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics sponsors a monthly forum for students and faculty focusing on morality, religion, and the lawyer's work. Faculty members and practicing attorneys seek to lay out, by personal presentation and example, realistic models of law practice from religious perspectives, exploring how people of faith live up to their ideals in the context of a large firm, a corporate entity, a public entity, or as a stay-at-home parent raising a family and participating in the community with the benefit of a law degree.