Robert Spoo

Robert Spoo

Robert Spoo

Chapman Distinguished Chair in Law


Robert Spoo has managed to do what few people have: intertwined his academic passions and turned the resulting marriage into a successful career.

In another life, Spoo was a tenured faculty member in the English Department at The University of Tulsa in the 1990s. A Princeton University Ph.D., he served as editor of the James Joyce Quarterly based at TU and was publishing books and articles on the modern literary figures he had loved reading since high school.

However, when one of Joyce’s descendants began threatening scholars over copyright issues, Spoo began reading about intellectual property law. Soon, he found himself yearning for more knowledge and enrolled in the TU College of Law as a part-time student while continuing to teach in the English Department.

After deciding to pursue a law degree, Spoo transferred to Yale Law School where he served as executive editor of the Yale Law Journal. After graduating in 2000, he went on to clerk for now-Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and practiced law in New York, Oklahoma and California.

While working in San Francisco with Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, P.C, he joined a team of high-powered attorneys assembled to litigate a suit filed by Stanford University Professor Carol Shloss against the James Joyce estate. Spoo said Shloss was very successful in that the two sides signed a nonconfidential settlement in 2007 giving the professor “everything she asked for in her lawsuit and more.”

In June 2008, Spoo received the Lucia R. Briggs Distinguished Achievement Award for “outstanding contributions and achievements in a career field,” from Lawrence University, where he had completed his undergraduate work.

Also in 2008, Spoo was offered another tenured position at TU – this time in the College of Law – “and I’ve loved it ever since,” he said. Here, Spoo shares his insight and expertise with students while continuing to practice law as time allows. He teaches courses in contracts, wills and trusts, constitutional law and copyright law and even offers a popular seminar called Law and Literature.

Perhaps most importantly, Spoo is writing as much as ever. He is finishing a book examining how copyright law affected modernist authors.

“For the first 150 years of the United States, we were copyright pirates and our laws discriminated against foreign authors,” he said. In fact, “Joyce lost his copyright in Ulysses in the U.S.” Joyce sued pirate-publisher Samuel Roth in a famous case, and Spoo said he has obtained redacted copies of the original case files after tracking them down at the New York law firm that represented Joyce many decades ago.

The return to TU brought Spoo and his wife back to the city where his twin daughters were born a decade earlier. Having grown up in Wisconsin, Spoo spends his downtime with his family and cheering for his beloved Green Bay Packers.