Professor James Holbrook celebrates 50 years as a Utah Law alum

Jun 11, 2024 | Alumni

by Angela Turnbow

Professor James Holbrook, left, and Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner at the Golden Gavel Society in April
Professor James Holbrook, left, and Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner at the Golden Gavel Society in April

Clinical Professor James Holbrook recently celebrated his 50th year as a graduate of the S.J. Quinney College of Law. Now an inducted member of the Golden Gavel society, he is also a recent recipient of the Alumni of the Year award, which he received at the Alumni Awards ceremony April 12.

“The 50 years since graduation in 1974 have gone by so fast and in a blur,” Holbrook says. “The College of Law has been a most valued part of my life for five decades. I am deeply honored to have been selected as the Alumni of the Year for 2024.”

Holbrook has been a clinical professor at Utah Law since 2002 teaching negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and trail advocacy. Prior to that, he practiced law for 28 years, mainly in complex civil and federal white-collar criminal litigation.

“My greatest accomplishment, I believe, has been here at the law school, teaching hundreds of law students to negotiate and mediate,” Holbrook says. “Those are skills that they use every day in their lives both professionally and in their families, and that gives me great pride. Then also mentoring dozens of law students who have become and remain really valued friends.”

A strong believer in service, Holbrook established an endowed scholarship and dedicated a planned gift to the College of Law. At large, he has served the University of Utah’s Veteran Support Center since its inception and continues to be influential in its growth to support student veterans and their families.

“I believe strongly that each of us have been given unique gifts. We need to develop those gifts and put them into service of others who uniquely need us to help them avoid and to resolve problems that they can’t solve themselves,” Holbrook says. “I would encourage current law students not to measure their self-worth by the prestige of their job title or how much money they make but by the quality of service to others that uniquely need them.”

One lesson Holbrook has learned about the law in 50 years comes from his experiences managing a College of Law judicial assistance program in Iraq for four months in 2009.

“In Baghdad, I learned we Americans too often take the rule of law for granted—and how much it invisibly protects our contract rights, property rights, and individual rights every day,” Holbrook says. “And we often don’t fully appreciate our fair and open courts, which maintain and enforce the rule of law. We are so lucky to live here.”

Holbrook is also mindful of friends and mentors and the influence they have had on his career. One in particular is Judge Bruce S. Jenkins (’52), U.S. District Court, District of Utah.

“I tried a half-dozen criminal and civil cases in Judge Bruce Jenkins’ court before I joined the full-time law faculty in 2002. After 2002, I had lunch with Bruce three or four times a year until he died in 2023,” Holbrook says. “I learned so much from him about how to fairly manage an adjudicative hearing—things I use in every arbitration I conduct. I have edited his many speeches and compiled them in a ‘Memoir by Bruce Jenkins’ in his words and voice. I miss him. He was a terrific mentor and dear friend.”

Fellow classmate Bill Thurman (’74) remarked at the inaugural Golden Gavel Society event on April 12 that Holbrook, who was one of the speakers at the event, “was one of the 10 percenters.”

“The rest of us were the 90 percenters. Jim, I always thought of you that way, and I still do,” Thurman said.

Watch this video of Professor Holbrook reflecting on his career below.