Robert Dinerstein

Prof. Robert Dinerstein

Professor of Law, American University; Washington College of Law

Robert Dinerstein is professor of law and director of the Disability Rights Law Clinic at American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL), where he has taught since 1983. His previous positions include serving as the law school's acting dean (2020-2021), associate dean for academic affairs from (1997-2004), associate dean for experiential education (2012-2018), and director of the clinical program (1988-96 and 2008-2018). He specializes in the fields of clinical education and disability law, especially mental disabilities law (including issues of consent/choice, capacity and supported decision-making and other alternatives to guardianship), the Americans with Disabilities Act, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, legal representation of clients with mental disabilities, and disability and international human rights.

Dinerstein has made numerous presentations on clinical legal education and disability law, among other topics, and has published a number of books, articles, chapters and other writing on these subjects.

He is the author/editor of two books. He is co-editor and co-author, with the late Stanley Herr and Joan O’Sullivan, of A Guide to Consent (AAMR, 1999). He is co-author, with the late Stephen Ellmann, Isabelle Gunning, Kate Kruse and Ann Shalleck, of Lawyers and Clients: Critical Issues in Interviewing and Counseling (Thomson West 2009) and the accompanying Teacher’s Manual.

Among Dinerstein’s recent publications in the disability law area, he is the author of:

  • “Implementing Legal Capacity Under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: The Difficult Road from Guardianship to Supported Decision-Making” (Human Rights Brief, 2012);
  • “On Torture, Ill-Treatment and People with Psychosocial and Intellectual Disabilities: Some Thoughts About the Report of the Special Rapporteur,” in Torture and Healthcare Settings: Reflections on the Special Rapporteur on Torture’s 2013 Thematic Report 219-226 (Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law Anti-Torture Initiative) (2014);
  • “Emerging International Practices in Guardianship Law for People with Disabilities,” 22 ILSA J. Int’l & Comp. L. 435 (Winter 2016)(with Jonathan Martinis & Esme Grant Grewal);
  • “The Olmstead Imperative: The Right to Live in the Community and Beyond,” 4 (1) Inclusion 16 (Winter 2016);
  • “Tales from a Supportive Guardianship,” 53(2) Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association 74 (2017); and
  • “Using the ADA’s ‘Integration Mandate’ to Disrupt Mass Incarceration,” 96(4) Denver Law Review 915 (2019) (with Shira Wakschlag).

In the area of legal education and lawyering, his recent articles include “New Wine and New Bottles (on experiential legal education),” 44 Syllabus 2 (Winter 2012-13), Publication of ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar;  as co-author (with Margaret Barry, Phyllis Goldfarb, Peggy Maisel and Linda Morton) “Exploring the Meaning of Experiential Deaning,” 67(3) Journal of Legal Education 660 (2018); and ‘The Clinical Law Review at 25: What Hath We Wrought?, 26(1) Clinical Law Review 147 (2019) (25th Anniversary Symposium Issue). He has written extensively on issues of clinical pedagogy and lawyering, in particular, client-centered counseling [especially in his article, “Client-Centered Counseling: Reappraisal and Refinement,” 32 Arizona L. Rev. 501 (1990).] He has also written and presented on the US Department of Justice’s record of enforcement of the rights of persons with disabilities under several administrations.

Dinerstein was appointed by President Clinton in 1994 to serve on the President's Committee on Mental Retardation (now called the President’s Committee on People with Intellectual Disabilities), on which he served until 2001. From 2018-2021, he was a commissioner on the ABA Commission on Disability Rights, and from 2021-present serves as the ABA Section on Civil Rights and Social Justice’s liaison to the Commission. Internationally, he has consulted for the World Health Organization (Ghana and Malawi) and the Open Society Foundations (Ghana and Zambia) regarding the revision of mental health laws and was a signatory to the Montreal Declaration on Intellectual Disabilities, adopted in Montreal, Canada in October 2004. He also has consulted with the Open Society Foundations regarding disability rights clinics and disability rights curricula in Latin America and Southern Africa. Domestically, he has consulted for the Ford Foundation, Public Welfare Foundation and the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Education on issues related to legal services, disability law and poverty law. He is the principal investigator for the Disability and Human Rights Fellows program, which receives support from the Open Society Foundations.

Prior to joining AUWCL, Dinerstein worked as an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section, where he handled federal court cases on the rights of people in institutions for people with psychosocial disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities and juveniles. In addition to the Disability Rights Law Clinic, which he founded (and which handles special education, supported decision making, advance mental health directives, Titles I-III of the ADA, and other cases), he teaches a seminar on law and disability and has taught interviewing and counseling, legal ethics, the supervised externship seminar, and the criminal justice clinic (which he directed from 1989-1996).

Dinerstein is actively involved in organizations related to legal education nationally. He was a member (elected) of the Council of the American Bar Association Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (2006-2011), and previously was on the section’s Standards Review Committee, where he was vice chair. He has been a member of 17 ABA-AALS joint site inspection teams, chairing four teams. Within the Association of American Law Schools, he was a member of the membership review committee and has, among other things, chaired the sections on clinical legal education, law and community, disability law and law and mental disability law, as well as the committees on clinical legal education, sections and the annual meeting, and the planning committee for the 2006 clinical teachers’ conference. He has been a member of a number of other planning committees, including for the AALS New Teachers’ Conference.

Dinerstein currently sits on the boards of directors of the Equal Rights Center (president), and the New Hope Community, Inc. and Foundation, and in the past has served on the boards of the Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities, Inc. (founding board member & president, 2001-2016), Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Inc. (founding board member and long-term treasurer, 1986-2015), Advocates for Justice and Education (treasurer), the District of Columbia Bar Board of Governors (elected; 2002-05), Society of American Law Teachers (elected), Mental Disability Rights International (founding board member; now called Disability Rights International), Legal Counsel for the Elderly, and the Maryland Disability Law Center; and the steering committee for the Jacobus tenBroek annual disability law symposium sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind (founding member, and member until 2019).

Among his many awards and honors, Dinerstein has received the WCL Outstanding Service Award (2017-18); been named a Fellow of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (2016) and received the Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights (ABA, 2013); (with Ann Shalleck) the Egon Guttman Casebook Award (2011-12) for Lawyers and Clients; the William Pincus Award for his contributions to clinical legal education (2010); American University Awards for Scholar-Teacher of the Year (2013), Outstanding Teaching in a Full-Time Appointment (2009) and Faculty-Administrator Award for Outstanding Service to the University Community (2002); and the Pro Bono Service Award from the International Human Rights Law Group (1988).

He has an A.B. degree from Cornell University and a J.D. degree from Yale Law School. He is listed in Who's Who in America).